SimCity hands on: quite a turn on


I find I’m getting the strangest of sensations as I’m playing SimCity: I feel like I’m young again. With my town laid out before me, i find I’m regressing back to that same child who had a fascination with Lego and who found himself mesmerised by miniature railways and model villages. The immediate impression that Sim City gives you is one of detail, so much detail. As you pan and zoom your way through the neighbourhoods, the depth of field narrows, blurring the distant buildings and giving even greater emphasis to those immediately in front of you.

The twee and sleepy town that Maxis have given me a quarter of an hour to play with is young. I’m tasked with connecting it to the rest of the world, with getting its infrastructure built, with getting the water and the electricity flowing.

Turning the power on is one of my first tasks. Much as I know Maxis are using this as an opportunity to show off, this is the moment that the child inside me wakes up. The power plant has been closed to save money, the game tells me, but with a click of the mouse I can get it going again. As the sun sets, I watch as plant staff drive to work, enter the building and then flick a switch that lights up the town, road by road, street by street, gradually revealing a constellation of tiny lives laid out before me.

As morning arrives, I’ve got to get the sewage system online. With a goldy thud, I throw down a processing plant at the end of a backwater lane that leads out of the town. The pipes that run under my streets mean the building’s already connected to all my neighbourhoods and, as I switch to a sewage system overlay, a train of brown blobs make their way from the residential areas toward the utility, showing me that everything’s functioning just as it should be.

Yes, it appears that Maxis have simulated effluent flow.

It’s a shame the demo’s so damn short, because even this modest town is packed with things to things to play with, things to study, things to just watch. Along with Maxis’ signature chirpy music, the whole experience exudes a wonderful innocence, a bright and airy charm that makes me feel like there’s nothing better than suburban living, than just plain being alive.

Lights wink on, cars pull out of driveways and construction crews get to work on new builds. A group of children have gathered to play on the football pitch in the centre of town and I can click on every one of them to see their name and where journeyed from to get there. Clicking on houses lets me see who lives there and how happy they are. The local shops tell me how business is. Now and then, thought bubbles appear over some of the houses. The families who live there tell me how happy they are with the new fire station, or voice concerns that I haven’t provided any education for their kids.

Then, pretty much out of nowhere, flaming meteors rain down upon all of these people.

I was just getting to know the Poole family, one of whom’s kids was playing football, when a burning rock the size of a battleship levels their home.

This is a strictly timed demo and Maxis don’t want me to play any more. This means I don’t really get to study the city’s systems in greater detail, to get to know its economy or to understand what happens when I start to seriously tweak this town. Still, it was beautiful while it lasted.

I absolutely must have more.