For those of you paying attention, EA's launch of SimCity was a disaster. Server problems combined with the always-online DRM requirement prevented many gamers from even being able to play the game, while others had to wait hours just to connect, more suffered crashes and glitches, and still others lost save files (and hours of progress) due to failures in specific servers that housed their game files.
It got so bad, online retailer Amazon.com pulled the game from its site, citing the unplayable state of the servers. They've since reinstated the game, but with a warning to consumers, and a lowly 1 1/2-star rating (as of the time of this writing).
Having participated in one of the closed Betas for the game, I was fully aware of the potential for problems, since Beta users were plagued by server issues that prevented many players from even being able to login to test the game. I had to wait hours before the server was operational long enough for me to load a city, and even then, I got booted off several times. It was incredibly frustrating, especially with the knowledge that the Beta would only last through the weekend, so I was under pressure to login as quickly as possible and spend as much time as possible with the game before the Beta ended.
So I fully anticipated server problems with the launch, since I didn't trust EA to put any real effort into making sure the game would work. This is the same EA that won a consumerist award for the "Worst Company in America" in 2012! And deservedly so! Despite the servers not being up to par during the two closed Betas, EA still seemed to think the online infrastructure was suited for a full retail launch. Boy were they wrong!
My lack of confidence in EA's ability to get their shit together in time for the launch, combined with my principled dislike of DRM and (especially) online-only requirements, caused me to delay my purchase of the game, despite this being a title that I've been waiting on for almost 10 years! I'm glad I decided to practice a modicum of consumer protest, as the game was literally unplayable for large portions of consumers during the first few days after launch. It's currently a week later, and I still haven't bothered to pick the game up.
Beta impressions (a mini-review in lieu of my purchase of the final game)
I did enjoy what was playable on the closed Beta, even though I was disappointed in the reduction of scope of the game (i.e. small city sizes). It was more like SimTown than SimCity. It seems like the design philosophy was geared towards making the region simulate the city, while the individual "cities" are really just small suburbs or districts. Upgrading buildings was fun, but the choices seemed pretty limited, and most of what was in the Beta could be fully upgraded with all the important parts. So the upgrade mechanic felt like little more than a novelty with very little genuine decision-making required.
One of the best features of the game is the snap-to-grid for building roads that lets you keep your roads nice and parallel, even if they curve!
I was also disappointed that the roads didn't seem to turn out as nice as CitiesXL. SimCity is much pickier about whether or not you could create intersections, and it just isn't as visually interesting or varied as I'd hoped. There is one very nice road-building feature though: when you roll over a particular segment of road, the game creates white guidelines that run parallel and perpendicular to that road, allowing you to easily snap to those paths and build perfect grids - even if they are circular grids!
I do have to admit that the level of simulation seemed pretty impressive, and the gameplay was fun and addicting - at least, until I ran out of room (or time, in the case of the Beta). Individual citizens (sims) could be followed from home to work to stores or parks and back again, and clicking on any sim would bring up a widget telling you what that sim is doing and what factors were currently affecting his or her mood. I didn't have time to play around with some of the deeper aspects of the simulation, like whether or not shops actually have to keep a supply of manufactured goods from your factories or if they just automatically make money. That's the real downside to having a timed Beta: you don't have time to really look that deeply at the mechanics.
So I do still plan on picking the game up (and eventually writing a full review). But for now, the game is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with modern gaming:
- A mega-publisher pushing a game onto shelves and digital shopping carts before it's ready.
- Overly-restrictive DRM that hinders legitimate players more than it cuts down on piracy.
- An over-reliance on online connections and functionality in lieu of great single-player support.
- Cashing in on an established franchise through a "reboot", sequel, or prequel and offering less than the original game(s) had available.
- The requirement of proprietary software being installed on your machine (i.e. Origin and all the spyware and adware that comes with it).
- Micro-transaction DLC (trust me, it's coming).
Representatives of EA and Maxis have already stated that larger city plots should be available in the future, but it is unclear whether they will offered via free updates or if they will be paid DLC (or an "expansion"). My bet is for the latter.
I'm considering holding out until EA removes the online requirement and/or ditches the necessity for Origin. I doubt that either of those will happen any time soon, but EA does do it, I'll buy the game that day! Apparently, the online connection is required in order to allow other cities in the region to be simulated on the server rather than on the local machine. Or so Maxis claims. But if I'm playing single-player in only one city, then what simulation does the game need to do in the region? I'm not buying EA's excuses.
My SimCity itch is pretty strong though, so I probably won't be able to hold out more than a week or two. We'll see.
What's really sad is that underneath all the frustration, red tape, and corporate bullshit, it seems like there could be a really good game in there somewhere. A game that deserves to be played. But one which will never find as big an audience as it could because EA insists on spitting on the consumers.