Review: SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition
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The simulation genre wouldn’t be what it is without the venerable SimCity series. Since 1989, the many entries in the line have allowed people to become virtual mayors and design cities of just about any shape and size, limited only by the contents of the game itself. They’ve come a long way from the original and branched out in many different ways across platforms, and not every installment has been a success. SimCity 4 is often described as the last great SimCity, and with that and my own remembered fondness for it I decided to see how it’s held up over the last 13 years.
Honestly I find it a little difficult to describe the nature of SimCity, because it is such an elemental part of the genre. You lay down roads, outline zones for development of homes and businesses, build power plants and fire stations, balance your taxes against your utility expenditures, and grow your little town as large as it will go. These are all core concepts pioneered by the series, but 4 presents them with greater refinement. Each individual service building like police stations and hospitals can have their funding adjusted to meet local demand, so you can build expensive services and then scale them back to what you can afford until you need more. Zone density can also be scaled up or down without destroying existing buildings, allowing them to grow or shrink as needed.
It’s one of the purest and accessible presentations of the city-building formula out there, with no production chains or unlockables to concern yourself with. You build what you want, where you want, with the only limitations being space and money. SimCity 4 is far more generous than its predecessors with the latter, allowing you to start with enough money to cover most of a map right from the outset. And with control of individual building funding, it’s a simple task to keep your budget in the green. The maps remain plenty large enough for bustling metropolises, but they’re also connected by regions, allowing you to get a grand overview of your cities, granting your people the option of commuting to other areas, and creating massive metro areas with interconnected cities and neighborhoods.
The end result is a robust and expansive city-builder limited only by its age. SimCity 4 is still a 2D game, despite some voxel trickery to make it look deeper and more dynamic than it is. You’re laying everything out on a grid, which makes building at anything other than right angles either cumbersome in the case of roads and rails, or impossible in the case of buildings. The terrain is deformable and conforms to your constructions to a point, but if your landscape is very hilly at all you’ll end up with houses built on soaring foundations larger than the dwelling itself, and beaches and piers plunging off of your coastlines into the deep. The detailed pixel art of the buildings is impressive, and each is rendered from four directions so you can rotate the camera, but they look chunky at max zoom and indistinct at a distance.
Despite these shortcomings, SimCity 4 remains one of the finest city-builders you can lose yourself in. The steady pace of construction matched with the enormous variety of buildings and services to work towards means you can spend hours crafting a single city without having to wait for long periods or growing bored. The data displays show you everything you need to understand how your city operates, from pollution and traffic overlays to the actual routes your citizens take daily. There are even optional driving missions you can take in your own city and Sims you can move in to get more personal feedback. It might not be the prettiest or slickest offering anymore, but SimCity 4 has stood the test of time and remains one of the most addictive and comprehensive city-builders on the market.