SimCity is one of the oldest and most successful series in the PC gaming world. The original SimCity was launched back in 1989 into a world that had never seen a world building or god games before. The game was a huge financial success and ended up showing up, in one form or another, on a swarm of different systems. Still, in the long run, the biggest measure of a game's success is in the number of other games influenced by its design. In one way or another, Maxis' flagship product has influenced countless titles from early god games like Populous and Civilization to today's latest world-building adventures like Caesar 3 and Alpha Centauri. Meanwhile, Maxis has kept busy refining their product and releasing a new version every few years, from a basic graphics overhaul in SimCity Classic to adding a host of new features in SimCity 2000. Now the company has released their Magnum Opus. With its high level of detail and loads of new features, SimCity 3000 has everything that fans of the earlier games could ever hope for.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, I hope you're enjoying your new computer. SimCity 3000, like all of the earlier titles in the series, put you in the shoes of a city manager who's task it is to turn an empty plot of land into a thriving metropolis. The tricky thing is, you can't actually force anyone to build anything in your city. While you do have control of municipal construction like police and fire stations, hospitals and schools, the most you can do to encourage commercial, industrial and residential growth is to zone space, supply power and water, and make the city more appealing. As the game progresses, you'll start running into financial problems as you attempt to balance the cost of building and running a city with taxes.
Those of you who have played the earlier games in the series are probably saying to yourself right now, "So what's changed?" Quite a bit actually. First off, the game offers a whole new panel of advisors who offer suggestions on how to run your city better. These advisors cover each of the major facets of city activity ¿ Financial, City Planning, Environment, Public Safety, Transportation, Health and Education, and Utilities, so that with a simple click, you can get a rough idea of how things are going for your sims in a particular sphere. Like real advisors though, these appointees tend to think only of their own specific sphere of interest. No one is ever going to tell you that their department is getting too much money, and no one ever thinks that someone else's project is more important than their own. That's your job, sorting out what's important and has to be fixed right away, and figuring out what can wait a while.
There are also a whole host of new city ordinances, covering everything from leaf burning to recycling. The first few times you play the game, you'll be tempted to agree with every petitioner that comes along until you realize that no matter how good their arguments, there's a side to every request that you're not hearing in terms of cost, time, and population happiness (telling people they can only drive their cars every other day is NOT popular with the people). You can ask your advisors for advice on the topic, but a lot of times their self-serving agendas still won't give you the full story. Every ten years or so, you'll have to go in and take a quick look at just how much the various programs are costing you. They may make a few people happy, but unless you've got special deals going with outside agencies you're going to have to raise taxes to pay for everything... and that's going to piss everyone off.
The really big difference between SimCity 3000 and its predecessor is the addition of opportunities and special awards. Every so often, depending on various factors in your city (how intelligent or how healthy your sims are for example) you'll be offered a chance to add a new facility to your city. Some of them are no brainers ¿ since the City Hall, or the Arts Center are donated to the city, they don't cost anything and offer significant benefits. Others require quite a bit of thought. The defense contractor will cost your city $75,000 and while offering a great number of jobs to the city, spews pollution everywhere. The Country Club is another dilemma. While it definitely raises land values around it, its $75,000 price tag will have a lot of sims convinced that its nothing more than an expensive waste of space. Best of all are the agencies that will pay your city a certain amount every month in order to house one of their structures. If you're willing to put up with the downsides of a Maximum Security Prison or a Toxic Waste Dump (and there a LOT) certain companies will pay you a substantial fee each month. This is a great way to make money, and if handled correectly won't really cause all that much trouble in the long run. Just remember folks, don't put your Toxic Waste Facility right next to your drinking water pumps. I had to learn this the hard way, and I find that the sims get pretty punchy when their water tastes like kerosene. Other offers like statues and a Mayoral Mansion will be offered up after a certain amount of time or a certain level of success to lucky mayors. Although something like this system was implemented in SimCity for the Super Nintendo, SimCity's version is much, much deeper and will have you dealing with all sorts of checks and balances as you try and craft the perfect city.
Another way to earn cash (or get rid of nasty problems) is to make deals with neighboring cities. A far cry from the somewhat shadowy sister towns of SimCity 2000, which were good for nothing but figuring out how big your population was and exciting commerce, your new city companions have wily mayors of their own who will make deals with you for the purchase or sale of water, power, and garbage. By connecting your cities to others with power-lines (power), pipes (water), or roads (garbage) you create a chance that another city will offer you a deal. Selling your extra power and water or offering to accept other cities' garbage is a great way to earn some extra cash, but obviously puts a increased strain on your infrastructure. The scary thing is, if you decide that you no longer want to deal with another city, or your infrastructure isn't able to deliver on the goods, you'll have to pay a penalty fee that can be downright painful if the deal was for a large amount of cash.
Although most of the basic functions of the game are the same, veterans will notice a few buildings they've never seen before. Like everything else in the game, these structures have a tendency to offer you a solution to one of your problems by making another problem worse. As time goes on, your structures become more efficient, and although more expensive, will tend to offer more benefits than disadvantages. A good example of this can be found when dealing with garbage disposal. In the beginning, you can't do much more than zone large patches of land as landfill. Your citizens' garbage is transported to these dumps where it sits and causes ill will and pollution problems. Soon you'll be given access to the incinerator. This building will let you quit worrying about the eventual overflow of your landfill space (since you're burning the garbage up) but makes air pollution much, much worse. Later in the game you'll be given a chance to open a recycling center. It's clean and it cuts down on the total amount of trash you have to process, but no one wants to live anywhere near it. Worse still, it's really expensive, a harsh reality that may keep a lot of well meaning mayors from ever going eco. Later still, you'll have a chance to build a waste to energy converter. This unit is basically a glorified incinerator, but instead of just trading garbage for pollution, it generates a little electric power as well. Of course, it still dumps a load of pollution into the air and it costs a whole lot, but as I said earlier, nothing's for free in this game.
Artistically, SimCity 3000 is leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor. In addition to a load of new building types that change as the years go buy, you can now zoom in a whole level of detail closer. This new zoom lets you see details previously indiscernible, like sims walking around, garbage trucks going through their rounds and cars wrecked at an intersection. Unfortunately, on computers with less memory, all of this detail starts to bog things down and as your city grows, your simulation will crawl. Worse still, when disasters take place, you'll have to wait for the computer to load 'em up and then wait again while it returns you to your original pace. While those with powerhouse machines probably won't notice any of this, it's pretty important for low-end users to be aware of.
So with all of this said about the new game, the question remains... how much fun is it to play? I think the answer to this question depends in a large part on how much SimCity experience you have. Those who are new to the game will find it endlessly engrossing and can expect months of entertainment value out of the game before they finally get tired of it. Those who have played the previous installments, on the other hand, may find that the game, despite its new additions and look, plays too much like the previous installments to offer them the same sense of wonder they felt on playing the earlier games. Although I was completely spellbound for the first few days of play, I found myself feeling like I had done all of this before fairly quickly. The fact is, SimCity 2000 was so well made that it's a formula that's very hard to improve upon. Because of this, SimCity 3000 becomes little more than a graphics upgrade and scenario pack.
It's hard to fault SimCity 3000 for not falling too far from the SimCity 2000 tree. And let's face it, fans are going to run out and buy this new title simply because they've been looking to recreate the experience that earlier titles offered. Still, in the end, if you're looking for something that's going to keep you as entertained as long as the original games did, you're probably going to be a little bit disappointed with how fast the new car smell of this game wears off.