E3 2012: SimCity Preview

By Jordan Douglas on June 21, 2012, 11:15PM EDT

The latest edition of iconic developer Maxis' world-building series, SimCity, will be its first major update in nearly a decade, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, it's about time! SimCity 2000, with its seemingly endless freedoms and imaginative possibilities, had a big impact on my childhood gaming vocabulary, so the announcement of a modern-day revival filled me with excitement... and critical objectively, of course. To my delight, SimCity stays true to its roots, while adding intricately-detailed models, increased customization across the board, online multiplayer, and much more.

Let's get something out of the way early: SimCity looks fantastic, although not in an original Crysis, polygon-pushing way. For starters, it has a very clean, colourful aesthetic, but more importantly, the incredible environmental detail brings today's SimCity to life like never before. Everything from the individual pedestrian sims, to the dynamic housing lights and staggering variety of structures give each metropolis a unique personality. Being able to create curved roads doesn't hurt either... European cities! The game's presentation may seem like a strange thing to point out so strongly, but I swear, it's striking.

Alongside these macro-level details, SimCity also goes above and beyond to give each "sim" a life of its own, or at least the illusion of one. This was shown during our behind-closed-doors demonstration through the sim's daily commute to work, among many other things. We also saw a complicated scenario in which a group of criminals from a neighbouring city held up a bank at gunpoint. Police cruisers eventually showed up, leading to an armed standoff as we watched from an incredibly close-up isometric view. Maxis went on to say that this situation only arose as a result of the neighbouring city's persistent neglect of law enforcement and generally poor quality of life for its inhabitants.

The SimCity series continues to benefit from its close association with Will Wright and Co., as the game incorporates Spore's creation tools to allow for an unprecedented level of freedom. In a similar way to tinkering with evolution and growing new species, players can mod their buildings on the fly to create personalized architecture throughout their city. It's just one of the seemingly many tools SimCity provides with the aim of creating living, breathing worlds.

In another modern-day development, these worlds can be shared with others online for the first time in the series' history. While singleplayer options remain intact, online regions allow friends to build neighbouring communities, and potentially, cooperate to create impressive landmarks. For example, the costly development of an international airport could be undertaken by multiple cities to grow their respective economies. However, participating in these interactions can also lead to negative consequences - e.g. if one player decides to focus entirely on coal energy, the other will suffer from increased air pollution. Let the griefing begin!

SimCity is slated for a February 2013 release on PC.

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