on March 8, 2013
In an internal memo today, Maxis' general manager Lucy Bradshaw stated, "I'd like to say that it's not fair -- that the game score shouldn't be punished for a server problem. But it is fair." So with that, I present an attempt to provide a fair review of this game in its current state. A lot of the reviews here are mostly rages against EA and their insistence upon forcing "draconian" DRM policies upon their customers. DRM is the least of the problems with this game.
It's definitely not all bad. The game itself is beautiful, and serene. The aesthetics are a huge step away from previous releases and in the right direction. Some may complain that it is too "cartoon-ish" but I was a big fan of the solid colors of the game. I found myself just staring and appreciating random buildings. The game looks very clean and polished. I want to live in this city. Lens effects and filters help you create a perfect look for your city. A city with a lot of heavy industry looks great with the vintage filter, and the black and red filter would accentuate a crime-ridden casino town.
As with most SC releases, the music is gorgeous and creates an atmosphere that sucks you in. It is not at all annoying, harsh, or blaring. When you go to different data views, building menus, or just pause the game, the music transitions seamlessly to a "lite" version. When I did notice the music, I loved it.
Building upgrades and improvements are a big part of the gameplay, and necessary for your city to succeed. Almost every ploppable building has an upgrade, from adding signs and flagpoles, to entire wings of a petroleum or mining headquarters. You find yourself having to really think about what you want your city to specialize in, and you have to plan accordingly. If you want to have a highly educated city, you better remember to allow yourself plenty of room for university dormitories and schools.
Which brings us to strategy. With the small tile size, you have to meticulously plan. Wind direction, resources, and location within the region all come into play. A tile heavy with coal could possibly be a great industrial and power district, but you have to account for where it stands in relation to its neighbors within the region. If it's upwind, all that air pollution will spill over into the next town. If there's a huge water table, you may want to consider not polluting it, and instead using it to provide water to neighboring cities. Resources are finite, and solely devoting a city to the exploitation of any resource will go bad for you when it's all dried up. The game is very challenging, and can present unforeseen circumstances to your every move.
Traffic is a huge problem that I ran into. Fully upgraded avenues with plenty of mass transit would still clog up, and cause havoc all over the city. Power plants will shut down because the trucks delivering resources would be unable to push through the traffic. The effect on emergency services is the worst. Sims are hardheaded and do not move out of the way for firetrucks, so your city will burn to the ground while the firefighters are stuck in traffic. This is a problem with the simulation, and needs to be remedied. Again, with the small tile size, it's very hard to get around that once your city gets to a certain size. Bottlenecks at the entrance to your city is an all too common occurrence. And you only have one entrance.
Now for the really bad. The game's simulation relies heavily upon the client-server relationship. When those servers are flaking out, the game flakes out. This isn't simply a multiplayer issue, but a problem at the core level of the game. Resources, money, workers, and utilities don't get transferred between cities, utility upgrades have a slow effect within the city, and upgrades aren't shared in the region. Those are the least troublesome issues. Actually being able to play is the larger issue. When I could get onto a server, my regions would disappear and reappear at random and loading another city would seize up the game.
The small tile size is another problem, but I won't spend too much time on it. Maxis has stated that future patches (hopefully not DLC) will fix that. As it stands right now, the tile size forces you to play as a region. That's all well and good in practice, and something I actually appreciate and love. However if the servers are flaking out, you can not play as a region. All of the interaction between regions is handled by the servers, so it becomes an exercise in futility and you're stuck in your single, helpless, miserable, and rapidly failing little city.
This is, of course, assuming you can get into the game at all. A problem that I'm sure will soon be remedied, so I won't drill them on that. I have faith they will fix the current server issues. With that said, this isn't a launch day (week) problem. It is a problem with the core functionality of the game. Your regions are not synced between servers. All your hard work would come to a dead stop if the server upon which it is built is unavailable. Logging on to a new server will have you start from scratch. How in the world, in a game built primarily around progression and creation, are we to create and progress under those circumstances? All my hard work would be at the mercy of a single server. As beautiful and challenging as the game is, this is a deal breaker. Bear in mind, this is all from a single-player perspective. I have no idea of the quagmire that is multiplayer.
I have devoted a lot of time and faith to this franchise. I've purchased every release of SC since it's inception, and I've spent countless hours enjoying it immensely. I would consider myself a part of its faithful fanbase; one which continues to build, mod, and enjoy SC4 10 years after its release. I feel as though Maxis has turned their backs on us. I know they put a lot of love and hard work into this release, and the aesthetics and depth of simulation are to show for that. However, aesthetics and depth of simulation are for naught if we can't play the game as its forebears intended. The soul of this franchise is creation. In this release, creation is dependent upon the health of a single server. This isn't conducive to the needs of SC's loyal and patient fanbase. We won't be willing or able to play this game 10 years down the road, and there won't be a huge modding community built around it. It saddens me to walk away from it. I requested and was granted a full refund. If they allow us to play the single player game offline, where we can use mods, and for Pete's sake, simply save our hard work on our own hardware, then maybe they can have my money back.
UPDATE 2014-05-14: I've since repurchased the game (on sale) after Maxis patched it to allow offline single player mode. This was back in March. Other than that, I don't have much to add because I really haven't played it that much. Which I guess sort of says something within itself. It is far less frustrating when you're not depending on servers. Traffic problems seem to be better. That said, I still see myself getting bored, because of the low tile size. I find I'm constantly switching back and forth between cities to deal with resource issues. That gets dull rather quickly. I'm hoping for bigger tiles in a future patch, or that EA will open the thing up for modding. +1 star for offline.