So as I said before, I like looking for cool games at discounted prices in bins. Last week I got lucky and found SimCity Societies for under five bucks.
SimCity is a game I have always held in my heart. I never got into the original but I recently played my old copy of SimCity 2000 in DOSBox because 64-bit Windows is too good for legacy games…elitist. Anyway, I had a fun time with it. SimCity 2000 has a depth to it that as a child I was never able to grasp. Plopping down buildings was not the only game mechanic. You also had to manage your city’s budget by adjusting the taxes to promote growth while still earning enough money to support police, hospitals, fire service, transportation and education. You would receive information through mini maps and various stat windows and could adjust your actions in response.
In SimCity Societies you get none of that. All you do is plop down buildings, but if you just look at that mechanic alone it has a unique depth that can be quite intriguing. It features a resource management mechanic that comes in the form of (what I call) social engineering credits. These credits can represent one of six social attributes: productivity, prosperity, creativity, spirituality, authority, and knowledge. Some buildings produce credits and some consume them. It forces one to ensure they create a sort of balance between buildings that require knowledge to operate and those that promote knowledge. So the city doesn’t suck the life out of it’s citizens.
But what the game makes up for in social engineering control, it looses in total lack of any other control. You earn money by waiting for the businesses to give you what they earn at the end of the day…as if you own all of them somehow. You built them so I guess that’s what it is. You are not the mayor, you are the owner. So why can’t I build anything other than buildings? In other SimCity games you could build a power grid, subway systems and water pipes. You had control over that. In SimCity Societies all you can do is build roads. For the power supply, all you need to do is build a power station somewhere on the map and power gets to the buildings you build magically. As for the subway stations…I’m not sure they are actual subway stations, I think they are teleportation stations, because while I built the stations, I don’t remember building anything linking them. As for water? Well they must be making a regular pilgrimage to the small lake on one edge of town or they have rain collecting equipment because I don’t think there is any other way they are getting valuable water. How do I know water is valuable? BECAUSE WE REQUIRE IT TO LIVE!!! It’s like food.
Then there is the problem of the game being all but impossible to loose. It’s possible to loose SimCity 2000, by pulling the city so far into debt that the citizens kick you out of office. How do I know? Because I did that once. I told you I sucked at that game. Anyway, in SimCity Societies you can’t loose money because there are no real expenses beyond construction. If you are having a funding problem all you need to do is stop building and wait until the various businesses cough up more money before you start again. Also, if your citizens get too sad or upset, just build some entertainment venues and you’ll be fine. It’s very difficult to screw up, you would have to do so on purpose, and even then I’m not even sure.
Then there is the problem of feedback…there is none. All you get is the happiness level of your citizens and how much money you have in the bank. Not a whole lot of information to go on. Every once in a while you can activate building actions to do…stuff…and the benefit is not always clear. It’s possible they give you more money or make your citizens happier, but I can’t tell. Some of the building actions have an obvious impact, like the one for the software studio which gives you 2,500 bucks at the click of a button, or the fire station, which allows you to put out a fire, but the first time I realized that, the fire was already a raging inferno.
But one of the biggest things is the product placement by BP. In the game the more environmentally friendly power stations have the BP logo smack dab on it. Which makes no sense because they live in a world with no English. How can an English petrol company exist in a world with no English? Short answer: it can’t. It feels shameless and out of place. Especially considering there’s no McDonalds.
So all in all this feels like a let down. Like SimCity for babies, and they already made that, it’s called SimTown, and that’s exactly what this feels like, a SimTown remake. All you can do is plop down buildings and do some minor resource management, only in SimTown it was in the form of natural resources, and you didn’t need to worry about money or power because you didn’t have any and it was unnecessary. You built stuff by using up the forest, and the buildings seemed to be powered by the energy of their own existance.
Now don’t get me wrong, adding new gameplay mechanics is fine, but don’t get rid of older gameplay mechanics for no apparent reason. SimCity Societies can be defined as a city-building game, but SimCity 2000 can be defined as a city-management game, one where you are not simply plopping down buildings like you’re using a glorified paint program, but are also managing the budget, infrastructure and various resources.
This isn’t nostalgia talking, I was honestly hoping the later game would be better than the former, instead it fails to impress. The only real improvements are the enhanced graphics, the day-night cycle, and the social engineering mechanic, but they could have integrated those elements without taking so much away, making the game feel shallow. I guess this is what you get for shifting development of the game from Maxis to Tilted Mill, however that doesn’t necessarily mean Maxis couldn’t have found a way to screw things up as well, like Cyan did.