Hands-on with the new SimCity at the Eurogamer Expo
Last Thursday I attended the Eurogamer Expo that took place at Earl’s Court in London. At the expo you could find all the latest and upcoming games available to play, sometimes for the very first time in public. The Wii U was also there and it’s great fun! But the first game I went to get my hands on was of course the new SimCity. The pre-alpha version at the expo was the same demo that was present at gamescom and PAX not long ago, so don’t expect to find anything new here, but if you’re interested continue reading on to find out how I got on with the game.
The demo starts with a small pre-built city consisting of small residential areas surrounding a commercial district with an industrial zone on the outskirts. It’s a nice little town, but all is not as it seems. There is a protest taking place at the town hall of which the game points out by sweeping the camera over to it. The Sims in the city are asking for a road to be connected from their city to the main road in the region so Sims can move in and out of the city. As Mayor of the city it is your job to make sure your Sims are happy, so placing a road to the highway is your first task. Three types of roads were available (though more will be available in the final game), and the game suggests on using an avenue for better flow of traffic. Selecting it is as simple as clicking the roads icon at the bottom of the screen, selecting the type of road you want and clicking on the start point. Moving your mouse around changes the direction and length of the road and clicking a second time will place the road where you’re currently aiming the cursor. Holding the shift key initiates the new curvy roads feature if you wish to use it. By connecting the town’s road to the region’s highway, the Sims are happy again and the protest ends. The city’s population also starts to rise as new Sims are able to move in.
But it’s not long before some of the Sims are unhappy again. It turns out that your city actually has no power despite there being a power plant in the industrial zone. A sleek popup balloon from an unhappy Sim notifies you that your power plant is currently switched off. In this SimCity, you can easily turn on and off buildings in your city by clicking on them to save money or just to see what affect it has on your city. Selecting the power plant and turning it on via an icon tells workers to begin producing electricity for your city. You begin to see the electricity spreading through your city via the roads, visible as yellow lines, with street lamps and housing lighting up as the electricity flows by. It’s a neat effect, and coupled with electricity sound effects, you really begin to see and hear your city come to life as the electricity makes its way throughout the city. It is worth pointing out that water, power and sewage all travel through the roads. As long as buildings are connected to roads with a connected power plant or water tower for example, they will receive resources.
Once your city is powered up, the game explains that you can find out what your Sims need by clicking on various thought bubbles that pop up around town. These can range from wanting more garbage disposal units around the city to deal with all that trash Sims and the city produce, to pointing out that they’re worried their children will turn to crime due to the lack of schools. Answering their concerns will make your city thrive and its residents happy. You could of course decide to ignore them and cause them misery. It’s up to you.
After a while, a fire breaks out at one Sim’s home. They quickly point out that the city currently does not have a fire station and that their house and the surrounding houses will burn down without one. As Mayor it is your duty to ensure that this doesn’t happen. By selecting a fire station from the menu at the bottom of the screen and placing it somewhere in your city, firemen are then able to rush to the blazing house to put out the fire. When clicking on the fire station, you can see what area of the city is covered by its protection by coloured lines that appear on the roads. If roads are green, they will receive help from firemen when in need. The more red roads become, the less protected they are and placing down more fire stations in those areas is probably a good idea.
Once that’s covered, the game tells you that you are free to do as you please. It also gives you a task to reach a population of 3,000. To do this you need to place down more residential zones. Zones are slightly different in this game than previous SimCities. Once you’ve place a road, its surrounding areas are available for zoning. You simply select the type of zone you want and then click on the sides of roads to place zoning in those areas. In essence, it’s like you are painting zones alongside roads. The shapes of these zones depend on the surrounding area and other roads and buildings that are nearby. The game does a good job at filling the space too, so don’t worry about areas looking too bare, especially if you are using curvy roads. Though not available to use in the demo, it appears there is an option to place down zones with automatic road placement similar to past titles if you prefer to plan that way. RCI is also back so you always know what zones are needed more than others.
Graphs and statistics are a big part of SimCity. They inform you of how well or how bad your city is doing and the necessary steps to make your city the best it can be. This new SimCity does a great job of laying out all this information for you. Rather than just sticking to plain graphs on the interface somewhere, the city itself can also shows you what you need to know. If you want to know how populated your city is in certain areas, data bars will literally raise out from areas of your city, giving you a very clean and easy to understand look at the population. All this takes place in a greyed out version of your city which helps to make data stand out even more. It also looks very cool.
This greyed out view of your city is also used when looking at other aspects of your city such as water collection and the new building customisation feature. Certain buildings such as fire stations, health clinics and more can be customised by the player. By selecting the customise button on the building, the city goes into the greyed out state except for the building in question. You can then add different elements to the building to improve it, for example an extra ambulance lane for a hospital so the hospital can reach out to more emergencies at once. Some are also purely for decoration and there are a good number of spaces available to place down these extra components so you have a lot of freedom with it too.
At the end of the demo, after around 20 minutes or so, your city becomes under attack from a number of meteorites. A breaking news ticker similar to TV news channels appears on the screen and all havoc breaks loose. It’s very dramatic and very cool, though perhaps not so cool for your citizens. At this point I lose control of the game and I get to see the city be destroyed. The town hall blowing up was quite a sight.
Presentation wise, the game looks great. Although the resolution was not set to maximum at the booth for whatever reason (I assume they just didn’t realise and I didn’t dare change it), the game’s graphics are beautiful. The city really pops out with its bright colours, detail and tiltshift effect. It also feels so much more alive now that you can really zoom in and see what is really going on in town. I spent a lot of the time just admiring the views. The sounds are also great. When you zoom out you mostly hear the wind and the game’s amazing soundtrack, but when you zoom in you’ll begin to hear the hustle and bustle of your city, with traffic flowing around the city, Sims talking to each other and buildings producing noise. It’s really quite something. Sims talk with the same voices as they do in The Sims 3 if anyone wanted to know.
The interface is also very sleek and easy to use. I do feel that some parts of it look a little cheap, mostly the parts nearer the top of the screen, but overall it is quite nice. It’s easy to get around and find what you want, and the way data is presented to the player is also very good. Sim portraits for tasks and popups are created from Sims from The Sims 3 and they really suit the style of the game.
That pretty much covers it. I didn’t get to check out the social and online features of the game so what I was playing felt like your typical SimCity game but on a whole other level. I can’t wait to see more and eventually get the game in February. It should be a blast.
Don’t forget that next Tuesday, 9 October, Maxis will be holding a live presentation where they’ll be showing off real gameplay for the first time for those that have yet to see the game in action. I also imagine that the beta will start rolling out to people in the weeks after the chat, but that’s purely speculation on my part.