City Life PC CD-ROM

Published by Deep Silver
Developed by Monte Cristo
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £29.99

City Life, an introduction.

City building games have always been a personal favourite of mine. Sim City (and most of its sequels), Caesar III, Pharaoh, Emperor, Children of the Nile etc. are games I constantly revisit whenever I get the spare time to do so. Whilst there have been many more city building games in the past not all have been enjoyable and whenever a new one comes along, you are wise to be a little sceptical about it. At first glance you may look at City Life and think it’s a Sim City clone. It’s true the game does seem to be influenced by the Sim City series and yes there are quite a few similarities but City life has enough originality to make it feel like a very different experience.  

What’s the game about?

If you want a basic description of what City Life is about, the best way is to say that it’s a game very much in the same vein as Sim City but with a fair bit of the micromanagement stripped out. If this seems like it’s a simplified version of Sim City it’s not, because in place of the micromanagement is the concept of subcultures, which we’ll talk about in more detail a little later. The game offers a Scenario Mode and a Free Mode. The Scenario Mode offers 22 scenarios on five different region types. The Free Mode is a sandbox mode where you can tinker away without the scenarios limitations. There’s also an included editor that allows you to create your own maps to play on.

What’s good about the game?

If you found all the micromanagement in Sim City 4 slightly overwhelming, you’ll appreciate the simplified approach Monte Cristo has taken with City Life because although they haven’t included as much micromanagement as you might expect in a game of this nature, they have included something significantly original. City Life asks you to deal with the concept of subcultures. The game has six subcultures (Elites, Radical Chics, Suits, Fringes, Blue Collars and Have Nots) and you must take these into account with virtually every decision you make in the game. When you build houses they will appeal to only a few of these groups (the likelihood of a subculture being interested in a housing location you’ve placed is neatly indicated by what’s known as the Sniffer). Each of the groups has their own special buildings. For instance there are Fringe businesses and Blue Collar leisure facilities. You’ll need to keep each group happy if you are to have a successful city. You also have to consider that each subculture has a fixed disposition to the other subcultures. The Elites for example are friends with the Suits and Radical Chics but they don’t like the Blue Collars and Fringes whilst they detest the Have Nots. Having two subcultures that don’t get along within close proximity can lead to outbreaks of violence and this is something you’ll have to closely monitor. The manual suggests you organize your city into neighbourhoods and this actually seems the best way to go about things. Along with rioting, organized crime can be come a major issue if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Thankfully you can call in SWAT teams if things get too out of hand but in most cases you can avoid problems with careful planning.

As we said earlier there are some similarities to the Sim City games. The interface layout is very reminiscent of the one found in Sim City 4. You can select residents to monitor in a similar fashion to how you can in Sim City 4 and you’ll even seen coverage radius indicators when you place service providing buildings (which also appeared in Sim City 4). Despite the similarities there are some key differences. The Scenario Mode provides more focused play than the Sim City games have to date. Rather than making you choose a difficulty level for each of the 22 scenarios you’ll have bronze, silver and gold goals. Complete the bronze goals and you’ll get to have a crack at the silver goals and so on. Whilst this certainly isn’t an original idea it’s a better way of going about things than simply having set difficulty levels.

What’s not so good about the game?

City Life is mostly impressive and there’s not a great deal wrong with the game. However, I do have a few issues with the game. There isn’t an interactive tutorial to teach you the basics of the game. Yes, there some text tutorial messages and the game does come with a quick start booklet that points out what steps to take when building your first city (the manual is pretty impressive too in bringing you up to speed with the game) but in this day and age a proper interactive tutorial is called for. In fairness though experienced city builder fans won’t have many problems getting to grips with the game, although if you’re new to city building games you might have wanted a proper tutorial. The game comes with an editor which allows you to create your own landscapes. In its present form though, it’s rather unusable due to numerous glitches. Whilst I’m sure a lot of gamers will appreciate the reduced amount of micromanagement in the game I actually missed the ability to tinker with the tax levels, staffing levels etc. I would have also liked an undo button to take back the last building placement. Presently there isn’t one which can make it costly if you happen to put a building in the wrong location.

How does it look?

City Life certainly looks good for a city builder. The graphics might not be as polished as those found in Sim City 4 but they offer certain advantages over those in Maxis’ game. Anyone who has played Sim City 4 will have moaned about the general performance of the game engine. As soon as your city begins to grow significantly, the game became a system hog. City Life seems to have no such problems and even when your city grows quite large the performance seems to remain the same, which is a definite plus. Many have asked for the Sim City series to allow you to virtually walk the streets of the city you’ve created and as yet this is a request that has gone ignored. City Life offers you the option though and it’s actually quite impressive. Zoom right in and you’ll be taken down to street level to watch everything that’s going on. This is a nice touch and even though the graphics aren’t anything special when viewed at this distance, they are more than good enough.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

Deaf gamers won’t have any problems with City Life. All of the information in the game is displayed visually either via text or icons. The tutorial messages are all in text. The report screen (on the lower right hand side of the screen) alerts you to all of the incidents. You can also choose to have the report screen display all recent notifications, which is rather handy. As we mentioned earlier the game manual has been well written and should answer any questions you might have about the game.

Final thoughts.

Far from being the Sim City clone it may initially appear to be, City Life is a deep and challenging city builder that fans of this niche genre will enjoy. The concept of having to provide for and maintain harmony between the six subcultures really makes the game an original experience and despite the many similarities to Sim City 4 the game never actually feels like a simple clone. Being able to zoom right down to street level and witness what your inhabitants are doing does actually add something to the whole experience. It’s also impressive the way the game performance doesn’t bog down once your city begins to become quite large as even a medium size city on Sim City 4 caused noticeable slowdown. Enjoyable city building games don’t come along that often but City Life is certainly enjoyable and is a worthy purchase for fans of the genre.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10

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City Life has to be one of the biggest surprises of 2006. Far from being simply a Sim City clone, City Life has an original feel to it and is surprisingly enjoyable.