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SimCity 4 PC CD-ROM

Published by EA Games
Developed by Maxis
Released - Out Now
Price : £34.99

How times have changed. Once the SimCity series was the magnum opus in the Maxis portfolio. Created by Will Wright, SimCity was the first game where you could take a fledgling settlement and turn it into the city of your dreams. The original game was a top down affair and although basic by today's standards it was far in advance of anything at that time. It's fair to say that it's one of the most influential games ever made. In fact if you sat and thought about it you can probably come up with at least twenty titles that were simply variations on a theme from the original SimCity. The sequel, SimCity 2000 was one heck of a title and improved upon the original in every way possible. The third title in the series, SimCity 3000, in my opinion, didn't take the series anywhere and only slightly improved upon its prequel because it made certain functions easier to perform. Of course by this time there had been other series that had done more with the SimCity blueprint. Titles such as Caesar III and Pharaoh were much more enjoyable. The Sims, another stroke of genius from Will Wright not only stole SimCity's limelight, but also went on to become the biggest game of all time. Maxis have not rested on their laurels though and have created perhaps the best SimCity game ever, SimCity 4.

The idea of the SimCity is simple. You take charge of a large area of land and once you've played around with the nature of the land you get on with the job of attempting to create a thriving, financially successful city. You begin by putting down land zones that are residential, commercial or industrial. As people come to your city you'll have to provide water and power to their homes. Eventually your city will have a reasonable amount of people and you'll have to provide schools, hospitals, public transport, police stations and fire stations etc. These services will please your citizens but will ultimately trouble your finances. The game is all about juggling finances and keeping the population happy.

The biggest change to the series is that you now control a region and not just a city. In previous games you were the Mayor of a single city and had no control over your neighbouring cities. SimCity 4 enables you to create a whole region that is made up of small and large areas. This opens up virtually unlimited possibilities. It's possible to set up areas dedicated to industry and areas that are huge powerhouses. It's possible to create a major city with no power stations or polluting industries because you can strike deals with the neighbouring cities to supply power and your Sims will happily commute. SimCity 4 comes with 6 pre-created regions, Berlin, Fairview, London, Maxisland (default), New York and San Francisco. You can even create your own region should you want to.

One of my irritations with SimCity 3000 was that all too often you would place an important building, such as a police station, and then find out from one of the charts that you placed it in the wrong place and that there was a much better location in which you could have placed it. SimCity 4 avoids this frustration and displays a coverage ring for all buildings that provide important services. This enables you to see at once what impact this building will have and is a great addition. You can also adjust the funding of the aforementioned buildings too. If you only have a small town and the citizens are crying out for a school you don't have to fully fund a school, you can just fund it to satisfy your Sims. You could alter the funding in SimCity 3000 but there you had a central setting for the whole city where SimCity 4 allows you to alter the funding of each particular service building and therefore gives you a far greater sense of control.

Maxis knew that SimCity 4 would draw some of The Sims fans to the series for the first time and wisely chose to include a My Sims feature. At first glance this looks to be simply a novelty feature but it does have its uses, particularly to the novice player. You can either import Sims from The Sims, if you have it installed, or you can choose to use one of the many provided. You select a Sim and put them in a house to live. Other than that you simply consult them for feedback on your city. They will tell you if they are happy with their location, whether the healthcare is satisfactory and much, much more. They will move locations and jobs and will let you know if you are doing a good job or making a horrible mess of things. Of course there are still charts and diagrams that will tell you all that they have to say but for a novice player presenting the information in a gentler way is very welcome indeed.

Unlike the pretend 3D of SimCity 3000, SimCity 4 is in full 3D and it looks so much the better for it. The extra detail in building animations, an increased amount of traffic and superb looking terrain is very impressive indeed and bring the series right up to date. A day and night cycle has been included so that you can see the lights switch on and the nightlife take over. You can turn the cycle off if you wish though and simply keep your city in 24 hours daylight if you wish. The one almighty side effect of all the extra graphical detail that SimCity packs in though is that the systems requirements for running the game smoothly are sky high. The recommended system requirements are 500MHz CPU and 128MB RAM. We reviewed the game on a PC with a 1.6GHz CPU and 512MB RAM and anything above a really small city resulted in choppy performance. Personally I would think at least a 2GHz CPU is required and probably 1GB RAM which is pretty hefty even by today's standards.

Wonderfully, SimCity 4 is fine for deaf gamers. All information is given either in text or by the clever use of informative icons. The game doesn't rely on sound to inform you of anything. The tutorials are given solely in text too and you can read the text in your own time, as a button press is needed to move the tutorial along. What is disappointing though is that the manual is very light on information. However, Sim City 4 is a game with a lot of depth and no manual that you could fit in a DVD style box could do it justice. Still the official website is full of useful tips and advice should you need it.

The limelight may be firmly on Will Wright's other creation, The Sims, these days but SimCity 4 represents a triumphant update of the classic series. The only real disappointment is the hefty system requirements that need for the game to work smoothly. If you have the hardware this is one strategy game well worth owning.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10
A wonderful update to the original city building series. The hefty system requirements and poor manual are the only flies in the ointment.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers.