SimCity Deluxe Review on the iPhone
Along time ago, on a computer system far, far away, well 1989 to be more precise, a guy called Will Wright finally saw a computer game he'd designed hit the shelves, first turning up on the Amiga and Apple Macintosh (what ever happened to those guys?), then the PC and Commodore 64. Who would have thought, twenty year ago, when men were men, and sheep were nervous, and having a Yorkshire accent made you sound funny, that in 2010 this little city building game would still be around in some form or another, or indeed that Yorkshire accents would still sound funny.
Wright created a game called SimCity, the object of which is to build a city, as big or small as you like. The game part coming from the fact things cost money, so you have to make that out of your residents, whether they be people living there, industry making stuff, or commerce flogging stuff. Sounds easy, but much like real life things are complicated by small facts like nobody wants to live next to a power station, and nobody likes to pay too much taxes! Whilst not a big genre, Will created the city building genre all those years ago.
And here we are, with numerous sequels gone by, on not the first but second iteration of this classic computer city building simulation for the Apple iPhone (oh that's what happened to those guys). Having pulled the original SimCity from the AppStore, EA Games have added what they call an all new version, SimCity Deluxe, claiming to add such new wonderful features as an easier UI, seven scenarios, seven starter cities, updated terrain modification, four distinct seasons, new disasters, city rotation and new building art.
Wondering where this sits complexity wise amongst the series so far? Well I would firmly place this around the Simcity 2000 mark, which is, if you ask me, and by reading this technically you are, a good thing. You see, SC2000 was for me the height of the series, and the only one I ever managed to make huge cities with. The sort of size where you could only make improvements by bulldozing whole neighbourhoods. It had so much charm, the graphics were great, the music catchy, adding underground water systems to the mix was a great touch too. Not a single version after that ever quite grabbed me, sure the visuals improved and the amount of complexity rose to new heights, but it just lost that magic as far as I was concerned.
So the chance to revisit those years with a gadget that rarely leaves my side, for a mere slither under £4 is an opportunity too good to pass up, surely? After reading this you might want to think again. But before I engage in a maddening tirade of abuse towards the developers, first a quick look at what is supposedly new, just for those people who did have the first iPhone iteration and want to see what new toys they get to play with.
The user interface has been given an overhaul, and bar a few minor irritations such as the inability to back-step through menu selections and fiddly list selections, this is nearly it folks. Touch is not the best way to control such a game as this, you ideally need a mouse, but EA have come very close to making it pleasurable. I had read reviews of the previous version that said that suffered from over-complication in this department.
However, the addition of city rotation looks like a complete afterthought. This possibly useful way of viewing your city from a different angle is rendered extremely irritating simply by the fact that it never rotates around the centre of your view. You can be nicely zoomed in on a street, actually you don't even need to be that zoomed in for this to annoy you, want to check round the back? Click one of the rotation buttons and voila, you are looking at everything rotated 90 degrees, unfortunately now you aren't looking at the same place as before, but somewhere completely different. Didn't anyone test this??? See, I'm so shocked I've used three question marks, three!
The seven scenarios and starter cities, well I never got as far as testing those, the deal breakers hit me long before I got to explore that side of things, so on these I shan't comment. New disasters, meh, new building art apparently, it is all a bit too soft for my liking. Oh and all that effort to tart up the graphics and UI, yet no iPhone 4 retina support, a wasted opportunity. Hay if you aren't going to use proper 3D rendered artwork, at least bring back the crisp visuals from SimCity 2000. Oh and animation, why is there absolutely no animation once you zoom out a certain level, the cities just look dead static entities, there isn't even any dots on the roads to indicate traffic, no you must zoom in to the point seeing it becomes useless as a visual aid before you see cars and trucks.
The game now has seasons, wow, seasons! I'm not sure what the point if them are, the ground goes a bit white in winter, a bit sandy desert like in summer, a little animated overlay indicates the movement from one to another, yet it all seems totally meaningless. One might say that the marketing department was scratching around for reasons to convince owners of the previous version to buy the new one, found little and grasped this minor change with the sort of desperation a squirrel clings to the last nut of Autumn.
The terrain editor has also apparently been bolstered, but don't get remotely excited. You can easily create lakes, change the shape of your river, but hills, no you don't get no hills. The entire map is only two levels, under water or flat ground. Whatever they made easier for you in this version, it was close to a pointless exercise. Like a Chelsea tractor, like seasons, this addition is another one just for show.
If I sound a little sarcastic by now, it'll be because of what comes next. I know that everything before is nothing more than niggling issues that is perhaps expecting too much for from what is essentially a cheap little portable version of a classic game on a device you can carry around in your pocket. They are the sort of livable things that you'd soon get over if something wasn't drastically broken with the main product, and alas there are a few things drastically broken with SimCity Deluxe.
So perhaps rather than describe the annoying help system, the actually quite good tutorial that covers all the basics and passes on some information that is subsequently impossible to find in the actual in-game help, I'll just drive straight in and whack you about a bit with the bugs, and boy does this game have some bugs. Not just minor irritants, we are talking the sort that renders it unplayable.
As the great Doc once said, "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." Only you do, yes you really do, lots of them, SimCity does these perfectly fine providing the ground is flat. The moment you try to use them to cross a river however, the game engine decides to do a little landscape gardening on the surrounding squares, sometimes ruining whatever you had zoned or built there, other times actually cutting off perfectly working roads.
Which leads us on to traffic, a minor irritant in comparison, the game just cannot make up its mind on the whole traffic situation. One moment it is complaining about the build up of heavy traffic being a problem, the next it is praising you for having a traffic jam free city, mere seconds later! Even more confusing is the city advisers recommended you fix the traffic issue, you know the one that'll be gone two news tickers later, with bus routes, build a few depots it says, twenty years before you are even allowed to build them!
Oh and water, don't even get me started on water, no, too late I've got started on water. Pumping stations do nothing, I built loads around various lakes, rivers and seas, trying to find one that would indicate it was working. Most of them didn't, one or two did work even though they were right on the same source of water as the ones that didn't. Those that I could get to work decided to not actually pump any of the water they were making into the water system. The only way to feed water everywhere was with carefully placed Water Towers, which seem to have a range limit on them, something not mentioned anywhere, you are just supposed to know that. Or maybe you aren't, maybe this is just another bug.
Much like traffic, the news ticker can moan about water shortages when there are none, or the only place it isn't reaching is landfill which doesn't need water surely. Whilst you can work around a lot of these sort of issues in SimCity, half the time you aren't sure if they are meant to be there or a bug, the documentation is difficult to read, badly indexed and in a horrendous font.
Arg the font, kerning, what the hell is up with the kerning! MY EYES! MY EYES! Don't worry folks, we are near the end now, not because I ran out of bugs which completely ruined the game, but simply because I stopped playing it. I only played it as long as I did for review purposes, if this was a game I'd bought from a shop, I'd be demanding my money back by now.
Oh did I mention the fact that whilst water pipes can be built under most rivers and lakes, it seems impossible for electricity pylons to do the same? Meaning you must build a power station on both sides of a river if each is to get juice? In fact a lot of things seem to be ruined by the act of river separation, garbage for example will only be collected and dumped in landfill on the side of the water it was collected.
This is not the SimCity I know and love, it's some awful bug ridden time sink, that drags you in promising riches and then slaps you round the face with a huge sign saying, LOL I JUST WASTED HOURS OF YOUR TIME. On my second city, after deciding I could work around enough of the bugs from the first one to get something reasonable going, I started to be on a bit of a roll. Sure I had the odd road that got disconnected because I built a bridge near it, and yes I had to take out a few loans to build power stations on both sides of the river, but maybe just maybe I was into the groove now.
Nope, fire ruined all that. Something caught alight, my city began burning down, time to dispatch firefighters by clicking on the dispatch firefighter icon. I know you can do this because it says so in the help, it even shows you the icon. However it seems the only place in the entire game that icon appears is actually the help. So I sat there watching my city slowly burn to the ground, building fire stations anywhere I had room, definitely in range of the aforementioned fires, but the sirens, they never came.
I really hope these problems are fixable, it would be great if EA Games brings out updates to address the gamebreakers, if they do I'll revisit this title, until then definitely save your money.
- Good interface
- Supports multitasking
- Save option for multiple cities
- Pumping stations don't work
- Water supplies seem buggy
- Fire stations are buggy
- Rotating view is buggy
- Traffic reports seem buggy
- Water reports seem buggy
- Any map with a river seems buggy
- Cities look dead unless zoomed in
- No way to dispatch firefighters
- Placing bridges ruins nearby squares
- No Retina support
- Can't build pylons over water
- Closing app whilst backgrounded loses entire city
- Poor in game help with awful font