Reviewed: December 24, 2007
Released: November 13, 2007
A more freeform spin-off of the popular, 18-year-old SimCity franchise, Tilted Millís SimCity Societies may be a city building simulation, but compared to previous SimCity games, itís definitely a different animal. Instead of focusing on the more logistical aspects of building and running a city, Societies encourages players to build around a certain values to create a culture of their choice and forgoes some of the nitty-gritty aspects of urban development.
Unlike previous SimCity games, SimCity Societies isnít about placing down solid infrastructure or executing efficient city planning. In fact, the trademark SimCity features of placing down plumbing and waste management and such practical needs are conspicuously missing from this game. Instead, the heart of Societies is about building a culture and an environment surrounding one or more of six core values: Productivity, Prosperity, Creativity, Spirituality, Authority, and Knowledge.
Depending on which values it promotes, your city will take on a different ambient cast. A Creativity-oriented city can grow into an amusement park-like commune, whimsical gingerbread village, or haunted Halloween town; while an Authority-based metropolis can quickly develop into a creepy, oppressive totalitarian state where little cameras monitor citizensí every movement, or a futuristic cyberpunk city patrolled by secret police. As all structures placed will either produce and/or consume one or more social values, your cityís culture and appearance will depend largely on what kind of structures you choose to build.
Of course, less extreme societies with a balanced mix of values are also possible, and there are a slew of creative building possibilities to be unlocked to help players customize the look and feel of their cities. Thereís also a filter option that allows you to more easily choose buildings of a particular theme, if thereís a certain look youíre after. Frankly, though, the filter system needs a little work, as some theme filters seem to hide some essential structures, like subways and bus stops.
In any case, besides the values fostered by the city, the type of energy you choose to use to power your city will also affect its environment. You may choose to build an eco-friendly society that uses nonpolluting power plants Ė like wind farms and nuclear reactors Ė or you may choose to use less expensive and dirtier forms of energy, like coal-burning plants. If you choose the latter, though, you can expect your city to be plagued by smog and high carbon-related environmental problems, whereas the former choices will leave the air clear and clean.
These factors together will combine to determine many perceivable characteristics of your cityís feel, including its appearance, soundtrack, lighting, and atmosphere. Certainly, one of the most interesting aspects of Societiesí gameplay is watching your own cityís transformation over time.
Itís also amusing to watch your individual Sims walking around in town, and you can click on each Sim to see his or her mood, job, and other statistics, though they arenít actually very interactive. Occasionally, special buildings may spawn unique Sims, such as Arsonists or Fighting Monks, that may perform unique actions that impact your city.
Without a doubt, Societies is a refreshing take on the SimCity series, but its promising ideas are also unfortunately hampered by technical problems.
While simplistic gameplay isnít necessarily a bad thing, in this game, itís also combined with an inconsistent and often illogical system of assigning values to buildings (police stations, for instance, consume Authority, rather than providing it), as well as significant problems with value balancing. To help overcome the balance issue, there are a number of Decorations available that simply add a certain amount of a given social value.
Because of the haphazard way that the game has been designed, however, it would be nearly impossible to stick to a chosen value theme without these Decorations, and frankly, it feels a bit like cheating. In fact, it only takes a few minutes of play for a player to realize that, beyond just balancing the value numbers so that all placed buildings can function, thereís very little strategy involved in building a city in Societies, and after that, gameplay becomes dull rather quickly.
There are still other issues that weaken the overall quality of the game. For instance, contrary to classic SimCity gameplay, fire stations donít dispatch firemen automatically when a building goes on fire. In fact, you have to hunt down the fire station yourself, activate the fire station, and direct the firemen to the location of the fire Ė which is, honestly, a bit annoying. Most exasperating, though, is the fact that once your city grows a bit larger, the game simply wonít stop crashing every few minutes. Even with the installation of the most recently released patch as of this writing, the game crashes very often and renders the game just about unplayable after a certain point of city development.
On the up side, the game interface is, for the most part, well designed and easy to navigate. The building selection menus can get a bit clunky, but itís otherwise cleanly laid out, and everything is easy to find and use. Itís also nice that players have the option of playing in Unlimited Simoleons mode or Free Play mode, with the latter completely removing the issues of value balancing, since power and societal values no longer come into play.
Overall, SimCity Societies isnít an awful game, but some of the gameplay design aspects just donít appear to be as well thought-out as they should have been. Most importantly, though, it would definitely be much more fun if the developers manage to patch up the bugs that cause it to crash all the time.
Graphically, Societies has adopted the pleasingly shiny and stylized style of the Sims franchise visuals. The different buildings and building styles are varied and fun to look at, and some of the structures Ė like the Chocolate Factory Ė have special-event animations that can be entertaining to watch. The graphics are also sufficiently detailed; players can rotate the view to their heartsí content and even zoom in close enough to see the little spy cameras through which Big Brother is watching.
And, as I mentioned earlier, the cityís environment will change based on what buildings youíve placed, and everything from the air quality to the color of the skies shifts with the selections youíve made. Itís pretty cool to watch.
The soundtrack of the game is another area in which the developers did a great job. The background audio tracks follow the Sims style rather closely and, as with the visuals, are dynamic and change to match the overall look and feel of the city youíve built. The ambient sounds, like street noise and screaming haunted house visitors, add some life to the city without being overly ostensible. Overall, itís nicely done.
At the full price of $49.99, SimCity Societies would not be my first choice of city building simulator, especially with its assortment of mechanical and technical problems. With some patching, however, Societies could definitely be an enjoyable game for someone simply interested in building creative cities, someone who is unconcerned about the mechanics of strategic city building.
The Free Play mode is especially suitable for that kind of play style, though Free Play mode is best played after youíve unlocked all the possible buildings youíd like to use, which requires first unlocking them through regular play.
In any case, this is a title that Iíd consider worthwhile as a bargain bin title, and itís probably worth checking out for those gamers who enjoy sandbox-type games.
SimCity Societies isnít really a SimCity game, but it can be entertaining nonetheless, provided that it gets patched up in the near future so that it doesnít crash every few minutes. If you like the idea of building up a city and watching it grow into a particular societal culture Ė and even more so if you donít care for the strategy aspects of past SimCity games Ė this may be a title youíd like to give a try.