SimCity 4 Review

SimCity 4 is the latest game in the storied franchise that has been eating up countless hours of gameplay for over ten years now.  While the gameplay basics are the same - build a large, successful city from scratch while keeping its treasury in the black - there are a lot of new features in this incarnation of the game.  These new features go a long way towards giving you very fine control over your city, but at the cost of making a hard game a bit tougher.  Micromanagers will rejoice, but those that just want to watch a city spring to life will have a hard go of things.

Screenshots
There's plenty of room for building new cities.

One of the biggest changes to come with SimCity 4 is the inclusion of a regional map.  The regional map is a large section of land divided into numerous areas, each of which can hold a city.  The regions are divided into different sizes, so you can pick one that provides your city with plenty of room to grow or a smaller one that will put your mayoral skills to the test.  What's more is that these regions do not exist in isolation - you can connect the regions and build a network of cities.  If you connect two cites by road, your sims can travel between them.  This allows you to do things like building an idyllic suburban city with plenty of recreation while keeping all the polluting, but job-providing, industry in the city next door.  Your cities can also be connected by more than roads.  One city can be connected to the next by water pipes or power lines, allowing you to sell excess capacity to thirsty neighbors.  You can even haul away another city's garbage.

Once you fill up a regional map with cities you are not out of luck - you can load new regional maps and begin everything anew.  SimCity 4 ships with some regional maps based on famous locales such as the London and San Francisco Bay areas.  Should you have a favorite region that is not included in the game, then you can use the game's excellent landscaping tools to create it or to design your own unique world.  You can grow mountains, ridgelines, and mesas, or sculpt canyons, valleys, and depressions.  You can erode your landscape to give it that weathered look, or unleash disasters to scar the land before your sims begin to move in.  There's nothing like a meteor crater for giving a city a little character.  Once you've finished sculpting the landscape, you can automatically align its edges with those of its neighbors for realistic continuity between your city maps.  There is one disappointment with the sculpting tools; there is no water tool.  Water is created when you drop the elevation of land below sea level.  There's no way to create mountain lakes, rivers, or waterfalls - and as a result no way to create hydroelectric plants. 

When you decide to build your city the real fun begins.  Like in SimCity games before it, creating a city in SimCity 4 requires you to create zoning for residential, commercial, and industrial development.  Sims will populate your city based on how appealing a place it is to live and work, which is accomplished by building infrastructure (roads, water system, power,...), services (police, fire, medical, ...), and recreational facilities.  You also have quite a bit of control over your city's development through ordinances,  tax rates, and your city's budget.  You are given an initial bankroll, but must soon start generating revenue through taxation while resisting the temptation to go on a building spree ... and that temptation is going to be hard to resist.