Game Reviews

SimCity BuildIt

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| SimCity Buildit
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SimCity BuildIt
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| SimCity Buildit

Sometimes you go into something expecting it to be awful, and come away pleasantly surprised. After all, if you were looking for rubbish, mere dross can feel like a big step up.

Such is the case with SimCity BuildIt, the latest in EA's ongoing project to turn every beloved '90s gaming franchise into hollow, free to play cash mills.

As you might expect from such a hideous transformation, the mechanics have changed substantially. Rather than painting on roads, zones and special buildings, the game allocates you housing and factory plots.

SimCity

You start out with a couple of residential zones, which are where your sim population make their homes. You don't have to pay for these, or for roads, but you can't place more until you've earned them by levelling up.

Industrial plots follow soon after. And rather than mere workplaces for your populace, these ones actually make stuff. You can allocate each to make a mixture of iron, wood, and plastic.

There are also shops you can strew about your burgeoning metropolis. These generate things like more tools and raw materials.

As your city grows, you'll need more and more of these items to upgrade plots to the next level. When the level increases, you can get more tax to buy more items, and so on ad infinitum.

This simplistic model would be a poor basis for an interesting game, but it does suit mobile pretty well. It's easier to pick up and drop city blocks on a touchscreen than to paint areas.

And by stopping you from expanding explosively, it causes you to focus on your city in bite-sized pieces.

SimPcPort

Luckily, the game has retained some of the more challenging elements of the PC original.

Sims still have the same real-world wants and desires, and this affects property prices and your tax take. If you dump your houses next to a polluting factory, few people will want to live there.

The easy answer of spacing out your city, however, causes other problems. Homes and businesses want easy access to public services like fire stations, hospitals and schools.

Finding the right layout to keep everyone happy, and thereby boost your population and income, isn't easy.

As well as having fun light strategy elements, the ever-present appeal of the SimCity series is still intact. It's just a delight to lord it over your population, watch them grow and enjoy the urban landscapes you've made for them.

Another thing that's come across from the PC is the graphics. This is a fantastic looking game, with a playfield rich in detail that can be tilted and rotated as your please.

So, having made a solid start to bringing SimCity to mobile, it's a shame you're made to labour under one of the most punishing free to play regimes we've seen.

SimShame

You'll have guessed by now that timers abound. Not where you might expect them in the construction of buildings, but in the production of goods.

They seem tailor-made to be as irritating as possible - too long to ignore, too short to go away and play something else.

The real killer, though, are new buildings. While zones and roads are free, service builds are not. Even a humble park costs thousands of in-game currency.

And the earning curve looks to have been designed to ensure your daily income is slightly less than needed to make one essential building.

That's one essential building, for free, each day. At that rate, the game ought to have been called SimVillage rather than SimCity.

You can, of course, pay to make all these problems go away. Which would be fine if there was some end in sight. But there is none - the more you pay to progress into the game, the more you'll pay to progress further.

If only there was some model by which players could pay a small fee, perhaps upfront, and then enjoy the game for as long as they wanted?

There is enough entertainment here to lure you in to keeping it installed. Just so you can enjoy watching your metropolis grow at the snail's pace of free play.

But it's pretty tragic that such a promising rebirth should be strangled so quickly, thanks to being saddled with such greed.

SimCity BuildIt

The core of a fun mobile city-building game is buried beneath egregious free to play additions
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