SimCity (2013) excels when it stresses you out, prodding you, telling you the many ways in which your city currently isn’t adequate. It’s a game about putting out fires, literally and metaphorically, you need to manage resources to provide essential infrastructure that will stop residents from setting their homes alight, dying from sickness or getting murdered by criminals. There isn’t enough room in the budget to do everything at once, so it’s always an enjoyably nervy struggle to decide which needs are a priority at any given moment.
Everything about these tasks is conveyed with such clarity. Problems draw your attention by highlighting specific parts of the building UI when they need to be worked on. City not getting enough power or water? The button that governs that need will turn red, then when selected you’re shown the areas of the map that are currently blacked out.
An overlay can be chosen for each bit of management information you’re interested in knowing more about. It’ll blank the textures down to white and grey, then display colour coded shading or bars that easily show off knowledge. Want to know more about population density by area? It’ll show you using massive green blocks in places that are filling up. Interested in finding out about ground pollution? The parts of the map coloured a disgusting brown are where it’s the worst. These are great features that are a huge help with running cities, and certainly they're best in class for city building games.
This doesn’t mean that all of the visual flair is successful. The game purported, before launch, to simulate each character’s day to day life with intense scrutiny, but this isn’t true. Each person leaves their house, goes to a different job each day and comes back to wherever’s closest and unoccupied. It hardly makes sense to even market in depth simulation when it’s patently false and not realistic at all.
Even though most of the troubles have subsided, it’d be remiss not to mention issues with the always online service. The game was simply unplayable for the initial days after launch and continued to have a few issues some days later. Thankfully the worst of the hiccups seem to be behind us at this point (except for the highest game-speed, which has still not been re-enabled). Nonetheless, it’s an unfortunate side effect that should hopefully serve as a warning in future. Ultimately, it's a truism that we should be wary of any game that exists solely online and really should just be avoiding them entirely for the first week.
On a micro scale, Sim City is a great city-building game, with stunning visuals, an intuitive and easy to use management system, and helpful task reinforcement. But, on a macro scale, the whole thing breaks down. Within hours you're hitting the enforced limits of the games multi-player-focussed restrictions. Add in the limitations of only being able to play when connected to the internet and you've got a fairly unsatisfactory experience overall. A great City building tool? Yes. A great game? No.