SimCity 4 Review

Herein lies a problem with the game for the casual player.  City management requires patience and a good deal of micromanagement - not just to create a city filled with skyscrapers and monuments, but to even survive its first few years of existence.  Casual gamers who just want to build beautiful cities may find the game too complex and trying, and become frustrated as one burg after another drowns in a sea of red ink.  It would have been nice if some sort of free build mode was provided for these players, but as it stands this sim requires a good deal of strategy.

Screenshots
A bustling metropolis.

Those who enjoy controlling and managing most of the same things that real cities do will find SimCity 4 very rewarding.  Budgets for services such as police protection and education can be set on both a citywide scale and for individual structures.  You can reduce the number of teachers to match a school's student body size and set the bussing radius so that it only encompasses the local residential neighborhoods.  Such control comes at a price, and should you not increase the budget to match an increase in demand for a service you'll be faced with strikes, protests, and inadequate services.  Slash the budget of a firehouse and its next response to a fire will resemble something out of the Keystone Kops. 

There's a lot to manage here, even to the point of requiring the player to dispatch emergency services to the scene of disasters and riots.  For large cities, you'll need to spend a lot of time fine-tuning things to keep your city humming.  The game comes with a panel of city advisors, but their only real job is to warn you of impending problems with your city.  It would have been nice if they provided a little help with some of the city's micromanagement, but as it stands you can ignore them for the most part once you learn to play the game because the information that they provide can easily be gleaned from the game's extensive and excellent reporting tools.

The game provides you with three major tools for keeping your finger on the pulse of your city: the query tool, data views, and graphs.  The query tool will allow you to click on any structure in your city and see whether it is receiving adequate levels of the services it requires.  The data views will overlay information on your city map, letting you determine many things about the health of your city at a glance.  Traffic patterns, polluted zones, crime levels, and power coverage are just a few of the things you can check up on.  See an intersection highlighted in red?  Then you know you'll need to increase the road's capacity there or provide a nearby bus stop or subway station.  The more than a dozen graphs let you check up on your city's vitals and see how some of them have been progressing over time.  You can check on your sims' life expectancy, educational levels, and age demographics, as well as things such as your city's power consumption versus its generating capacity.  If you're willing to take the time to look at the information provided by these tools, you'll get a very good idea of how your city is doing and where you should be concentrating your spending.