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Review by: Jack King
Published: February 25, 2003
The SimCity series has been hailed as a wonderful microcosm of entertainment, delighting strategy and simulation fans (as well as would-be evil dictators) everywhere. This month, Maxis and Electronic Arts bring us the latest rendition: SimCity 4, with a high-octane graphics engine and enough mayoral powers to build the utopia (or slum) of your dreams. It’s safe to say that from the start, this new title represents an evolution of the original Maxis idea, and a step in the right direction to making a classic better than ever.
To appease both current and new Sim fans, the basic gameplay elements of SimCity haven’t changed. You still portray an omnipotent mayor with the power to zone, construct, and demolish your city as you see fit. Following in the footsteps of previous iterations, the first step towards building a thriving city is scoping out the land, or applying changes and finding a good spot that offers everything necessary to build a thriving metropolis. When entering a potential area, players are offered the chance to alter the landscape first without impacting funds or advancing the clock. The Terrain mode has a number of nifty tools to raise, lower, or flatten the environment. Adding trees and herds of wild animals has never been easier; there’s even an option to erode the landscape and smooth border edges. Building good terrain is crucial to a city’s growth in the future; flat areas with no detail tend to make boring places to live. Water and elevation play an important part in doling out city resources and setting the land value (and thus taxability) of property.
Once the terrain is perfected, potential mayors can get down to business, the first order of which should be setting down some power and scoping out zones. Just like in earlier renditions, there are three basic types of zones (housing, commercial, and industrial) with three types of densities (low, medium, and high), all with varying costs. Laying out a zone is easier than before, since they now include roads across tiles to keep from accidentally setting up sections without road access. Mayors who want a more micro-managed approach can draw out their roads first, and then place the zone overtop. Zones only need power to begin becoming populated, and will require power lines to the zone unless connected directly to a power plant or to another zone with power. Once zoning has been set and power provided, businesses and citizens will begin to settle in. The RCI graph, a bar graph display of the demand for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial zones, has been expanded to show not only what kinds of zones are being sought, but also what kinds of densities and zone values are needed.
Cities begin with $100,000 in the bank, which sounds like quite a bit of money, but really isn’t all that much. Everything has a price tag, from drawing new zones to dropping down a power plant, and most features require some form of monthly upkeep that is considerably more expensive than previous versions. The upkeep can be fine-tuned with each city-run building, but tends to have a negative impact on how a given building functions. Lowering the budget on a power plant will decrease its lifespan and increase the chance for a disaster, while downsizing the budget on things like police stations simply decreases the service area, which can be useful for beginning cities. Managing a city’s budget requires drawing a fine line between public utilities (like power, police stations, schools, roads, and water towers) and taxes; the city’s bank accounts will quickly run dry if not kept in check. Mayors can arrange for additional income, such as government funding for a federal prison or military installation (all of which have a negative affect on the city’s population), or sale of power and water to neighboring cities.
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