SimCity Closed Beta Observations

This past weekend, I got to partake in the SimCity Closed Beta, which appears to be the final beta before the release of the game on March 5th for PC. And I can hear you asking through the interwebs, “dude, how was it”? So here are my impressions of SimCity.

*Just as a quick note, the screenshots taken are not representative of my playthough, but were provided by Maxis.

SimCity

To begin, beta participants were able to play through a tutorial session, which gives you the basics on how the new SimCity works. From what I played, I saw nothing really that new during the tutorial that I hadn’t seen from the videos posted by Maxis on YouTube, but it was fun to actually play through these early challenges that will crop up when you do begin to start your new city from scratch. While the city in the tutorial was already laid out for you, there was much still to do that the previous mayor neglected. I also got to catch a glimpse of the region view by touring around a nearby city, and you immediately observe ramifications of how that the decisions made by that mayor will affect your own city. It just so happened that it was a gambling city, and with gambling comes crime, which started seeping into the tutorial city. Best have a police station built if you find yourself in a region with a city that focuses on gambling (especially if it’s your own).

SimCity Water Data Layer

Water Data Layer - "Letting the days go by, water flowing underground"

The tutorial also gave me the run down on water, electricity and sewage needed to keep your citizen Sims happy. I laid down zoning for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings, and watched these new zones grow. I discovered that without proper education, the Sims living in my town would become stupid, leading to them inevitably burning their own houses or places of work down. While building a fire station solved the problem immediately, it was apparent that a school built nearby would be the long term solution. Then, my tutorial guide, who was also my mayoral assistant, decided I knew all I needed to start my own city.

SimCity Firefighters

When will my Sims learn that you can't microwave aluminum foil?

So that’s what I did, but as I was about to start, a server message popped up saying that I would only have an hour to create and play a new city before the map reset. An hour? For real? What the hell can I get accomplished in an hour? I had to tell myself that this was only the closed beta, and I would be able to play as much as I wanted when the game comes out. Plus, even though the map resets, you can play it as many times as you want, so there was some reassurance that this would be worth the time. I promptly stood up, retrieved some snacks and a beverage from the fridge, then sat back down. I had one hour to build the best city I could, and I could waste no time getting food from the kitchen.

It took a couple tries to successfully secure a digital landscape to build on as the servers were experiencing heavy loads, which is expected during beta, but after a few tries, I had acquired a piece of land in a small, three-city region. The canvas lay before me, and I began planning and building my city. However, there wasn’t much planning with the impending time limit in place, so I went right to building. After connecting my city to the main network of highway that runs through the region, I promptly laid down some residential zoning. People were moving to my city in no time, asking for water, electricity and shopping. I appeased them as soon as possible, and was greeted with my first challenge… I built the coal power plant upwind. It was too late to move the thing, so I decided that I would just build up the industrial zones downwind. I soon had a stream of air pollution passing along the edge of my map, but my Sims didn’t seem to mind to much as long as they weren’t on the receiving end.

SimCity Neighborhood

A peaceful neighborhood with tilt-shifted goodness.

Sims in your city will often express how they feel through little thought bubbles that pop up above their residence. Some will even ask you directly to complete a project that they think would be beneficial to the city. As soon as I built my sewage treatment plant, a Sim complained to me about there being no garbage pickup, and subsequently gave me a challenge. I had the task of building and collecting enough trash within a certain period of time, and my reward was $25K in the treasury. Give me da’ simoleons! These mission-based objectives were introduced in SimCity 4 via driving missions that could earn you cash, buildings or mayoral rating. While I enjoyed the few missions I received during my few hour long sessions, they were all pretty basic (build a school, add some bus stops, build a townhall, etc.), but this could be a product of always being in a small city.

SimCity City Hall

Mr. Mayor, please build a City Hall so I can protest the lack of llama-themed sports teams in this city.

And just as I got my city up and running, the hour was over. So I started another, and focused on learning some tips and tricks that may help me when I have the real game in my hands. I played around with the roadways, delved into a little gambling once my Sims approved it, and even went completely industrial (sorry Sims who wanted more shopping options). The SimCity sandbox appeal is still there, but feels much more malleable when you start playing around with all the tools and buildings provided to you when compared to previous iterations.

Even though my time spent with the game was short, I have to say that I am looking forward to the new SimCity. As a fan of the series, I can accept that there will be changes to the game that may streamline some aspects for the sake of the new engine and direction the series may be taking. But the organic feeling that the GlassBox Engine brings of these cities makes them feel much more alive than the ‘SimCities’ of the past. Gone are the grid systems of the past, and in are the more realistic city layouts of the present. These cities feel so alive! Needless to say, I pre-ordered the Limited Edition.

Did you get a chance to participate in the SimCity Closed Beta? What did you think? If you want to see what others experienced, you can check out the many videos posted on YouTube that people made during their playthroughs of the SimCity Closed Beta.

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