Urbane renewal: Sim City 4 breathes new energy into city management franchise

Sim City 4 from Maxis and Electronic Arts is packed with brand new features. Frankly, it’s just an amazing game to watch – you can zoom to a pedestrian level and see your citizens playing a pickup soccer game in the park you just built, or see the brave firefighters of your town rushing off to extinguish a blaze in your industrial district. You can unleash meteors and cause volcanoes to erupt. You can smite buildings with a click of the lightning bolt tool. Your citizens walk the sidewalks of your street during the days and your city glows at night. But how good is the new Sim City? Well, my experience with the game was a four-day descent into complete computer geekdom, culminating with the un-installation of the addicting program from my computer.

Day 1: Installing Sim City 4, which took up almost a gig of space on my computer. After loading from the two-discs, I first started out with the Mayor Tutorial, which teaches you how to use the basic features. Though I’d played all the previous editions of the series, it was really helpful. After playing around and peppering the ground with meteorites for a few minutes, I went and founded “Andrewville.”

Nestled in a quiet bay that I formed in God Mode, I decided that it would rise to become the preeminent beach-side community. I cautiously placed the pollution-generating power plant a good distance away from where I wanted to start the city, and built an industrial area around that. Soon after, I built a few roads leading into a residential area, and buffered the homes from factories with a commercial area. So far, so good.

Day 2: I was losing a bit of money each month but my ratings were high. Police and fire coverage were good. Somewhere in the fourth year the health and education advisor recommended a school. No problem. I plunked down a brand new elementary school close to all the homes. Not surprisingly, the price of education was just as expensive in the virtual world as well as our own. The citizens of Andrewville weren’t happy with that and soon were clamoring for a hospital. Andrewville General Hospital took another chunk out of the budget and I quickly decided that I needed money.

Raising taxes slightly, I took out a $10,000 loan and started building huge residential and industrial areas to expand my city. I quickly ran a main road to the beach and built several beach parks. A set of beach houses was planned nearby. Unfortunately, the population of Andrewville faltered. The dirty air from the factories kept people from moving in and the luxurious beachfront properties were left vacant. Ten thousand in debt and losing more and more money each month, the future was grim.

Day 3: Paxton is founded. I took care and learned from my Andrewville mistakes. To avoid the pollution problems created from factories, I decided that I’d reduce heavy industry and go along with an agricultural approach. It looked like everything was working well. My city was blooming just an hour or two later with over 2000 citizens. However, the runoff from the farms started poisoning my water supply; building water processing plants was the logical answer. These came at a hefty price, and just a few months after I had finally gotten back into the black, my budget was thrown back into the red. This time, the federal government stepped in and offered Paxton a monthly payment for space for a military base. It was fine with me and I was back in the black.

Day 4: Battling demands for industry and a growing population, the farms were slowly being replaced by computer chip factories and other high-tech, lesser polluting industry. Paxton got a large casino, towering over the northern part of town. The population was climbing and Paxton sprawled across the entire region. But the factories alongside the seashore were starting to pollute and murky brown water hung on the coast. Smog rose from the industrial south side of the city, while posh apartments rose up around the very expensive park I had built in the western part of the city. Things were looking good for Paxton. I however, had neglected to do any reading for the past three days and still had a paper to write. In a final act of desperation, I condemned the town and two volcanoes erupted in the middle of the busy downtown. I quickly uninstalled the game and went about writing my paper.

Sim City 4 is incredibly addictive. It’s difficult enough to be a constant challenge, and as your city grows, you always encounter new problems. The game is complex enough to be realistic, but not so much that it becomes annoying. It’s a constant battle over the budget, which never becomes tedious. The game constantly gives you bonus buildings as your city grows and develops so there’s always something to be working for.

Visually the game is amazing. Clouds float by, smog rises from the city, and waves lap the beaches. It’s fun just to look through your city and watch it at work. The level of detail devoted to the buildings is incredible. It’s incredible to see every detail of each building in your city and night mode even shows you the headlights of the cars driving through your city.

Unfortunately, what all these incredible graphics details mean is that you need to have a pretty fast computer and good graphics card to be able to see all of this. Great graphics and gameplay come at a cost this time and many players have reported that even the newest systems can struggle when handling large cities. Maxis has created another addicting procrastination game on par or even better than any other game they have ever created.