When I saw the Glasbox Engine Trailer for SimCity last year, I was ecstatic in a relaxed way. I was really looking forward to the new installment of a series I loved. I was fascinated by the idea that “everything is simulated”, down to all the citizens, loved the look, the mini-quests, everything looked promising. I didn’t even care so much that I had to wait another year, I was simply looking forward to it. That was a mistake – no Sim City game after 2000 could recapture that original gem’s essence, so why was I expecting the new SimCity to accomplish that? Then I actually got to play the game in a Beta a few weeks ago. I thought it was nice! It didn’t blow my mind, exactly, but I liked it! Of course, you could only play for an hour or so, so long-term city planning was not possible, but everything in the game invited experimentation, tweaking, management. When the Beta asked me for Feedback, I checked “will definitely buy it as soon as the price drops.” Because, you know, this time I wasn’t going to be fooled. Last summer, I bought Diablo III with the highest expectations, and spent 60€ on what ended up a very short time of fun with the game. I am still so disappointed that D3 didn’t recapture that glorious feeling of its predecessor that I wasn’t going to let SimCity do the same to me.
And then release day came. And the internets exploded.
Okay, so at first, I wasn’t surprised, which sucks, because it means I stopped expecting much from game makers in the first place. I kind of shrugged and thought, well, honestly, by the time I buy the game, these problems will have subsided. Then I read the first reviews. And suddenly I found myself getting really, really pissed. Why would I get pissed at reviews? I had played the game, I liked it, right? Note: When it comes to video games, and actually a lot of other things in life, I am usually an apologist. Whenever something doesn’t work, I try not to be upset, and try to calmly think of the reasons something didn’t work the way I expected. For example: I didn’t get mad at Diablo as much as all the other gamers did, I just played it as soon as the servers worked, got through the story, thought “meh, it was okay”. I put it aside, thinking that I would probably play a few more characters through the story, with my friends, you know… and then the game just ended up collecting dust. Shitty, yes, but I didn’t get properly MAD. There were probably reasons for the downtime. I understood the capitalistic motivation behind the Auction Houses, I understood exactly where the developers misinterpreted why Diablo II was such an exceptional long runner. All very sad, but kind of no more than that.
It was the Gameological Review of SimCity that finally pushed me over the edge. I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to get mad. You know that feeling when you really, really want to play a game, but don’t know what to play? This led to approximately this conversation with my boyfriend half an hour ago:
“Meeeh, I want to play something… I know I’m not going to have a productive day, might as well game.”
“What do you want to play?”
“I don’t knoooooooooo-hoo-hooow!!”
“…you want to play SimCity, right?”
“Yeees.. but NOOO, FUCK EA HOW COULD THEY RUIN THIS WHAT THE FUCK?!? THIS COULD HAVE BEEN GLORIOUS! WHY DID THEY HAVE TO RUIN IT?!”
So… that needed to get out, obviously. I was so pissed off when I read the mixed reviews up until now. I cannot believe that they could go into this with so many good ideas, and all of them failed, according to the reviews. For example, how can there be one, perfect way to run a city? Whatever happened to “you decide”? So there’s not enough space in my city for two important services, so I trade with my neighbor. Is that all in terms of strategic city development??
Is it really just a question of time, like in SimCity Social, where eventually, everyone will have a perfect police station, a perfect hospital, a perfect park, if they only click enough? What about hard choices? What about pollution? The most interesting question this game could have asked is: What makes a “good” city? A great game poses problems to gamers, then lets them decide how to deal with them!
Secondly, there’s the question of ONLINE vs. OFFLINE. In the beginning, I was only a little worried about that particular “feature” of the game. But in my naivety I hoped that maybe there were ways to turn off what I didn’t want. Now I realise the extent of the horribleness of EAs choice to make the game only playable online, apart from the server downtime! To begin with: Who thought this was something the game needed, anyway?! We gamers had FUN offline, right? Just look at games like Skyrim, and how it’s still immensely popular now. People play and re-play it all the time (I just need to look at my Steam friends-list to know that) just for the fun of it! I can see no demand to play The Elder Scrolls Online, honestly! All we need is a way to co-op Skyrim, and we’d be happy for decades! Or take Civilization V (also a long runner in my Steam friends list), a game that’s great fun in multiplayer – but did it hurt the game designers to make it a primarily Singleplayer game? Why does SimCity not give us a CHOICE?
The fact that I can trade with neighbours and build community projects sounds great, but it’s really not. Think about it: What was the most awesome thing everybody did eventually in Sim City 2000? Build a metropolis and then KILL IT WITH NUCLEAR MELTDOWN, FIRE, ALIENS AND FLOODS! Because there were no consequences! I could just start a new game, a new, blank, independent map, and I could do whatever I wanted with it. Sure, the Gameological Reviewer mentions similar destructive capabilities, but he doesn’t sound very exited about it. And even if it was exciting, would it be the same? I think not: I mean, there’s always the neighbours, right?
Either this means that everyone will take the game super seriously, and build competitively, which doesn’t sound fun (not all the time). Or, what is more likely, many people will just dick around after a while, leading to one nice city surrounded by lava lakes and ashes? I have no idea. All I know is that in the past, I frequently avoided the open multiplayer modes of games just to avoid comparing myself to others. So what if my City doesn’t run as effectively or isn’t as pretty as yours? Can’t I just have fun by myself?
Honestly, there are just so many questions I wanna ask this game, like “how do I delete my city, and if so, what happens to the community projects?” or “how DO neighbourhood cities exactly influence me?” – but at the same time, I can’t be bothered to look up the answers. This initial rage about EAs inability to just MAKE A GOOD GAME THAT WORKS has somehow destroyed that patient happiness I harbored for the last year. I am sad, disappointed, and not sure whether I will buy this game even when the price drops. I might just do it, just to see whether my fears are correct, after all, maybe I would enjoy it nonetheless. Or I could save the money and play Sim City 2000 instead. Or Minecraft. Or Anno 1404! Offline!