Seductive Sims stretches limits of players, PCs

Peter Lau

Product: SimCity 4 Developer: Maxis Pros: Seriously addictive game play and a nice change from action-orientated games Cons: Needs a high-powered computer to render the graphics, quite a complex game that requires some thinking Price: HK$250

SimCity 4 lets you become the mayor of your own city and develop it from a bare patch of land to a sprawling metropolis. You get to decide where people live, work and play.

If people like your decisions, more will move into your city. As they do so, you will receive rewards such as statues and houses, among other interesting things.

In general, parks make your city more beautiful, police make it safe, schools educate your sims (simulated people) and all these factors, and more, contribute to how attractive your city is to live in.

Almost anything you can imagine that makes a city beautiful has been included in this game, such as parks, schools, universities, zoos and amusement parks. Every city has its ugly side and, as mayor, you must decide where to place waste landfills, for example.

If your city is struggling financially, you will have to make some tough decisions.

I was going bankrupt and the military offered rent money in exchange for locating a military base for missile testing nearby.

Unfortunately, the occasional missile test would fail and some sims would awaken to find new lawn ornaments.

Another tough decision is whether to locate a toxic waste dump near your city. Though dumping toxic waste pays well, who wants to live in a city with pollution?

A crisis can strike your city at any time. You may not have to deal with atypical pneumonia, but sometimes sims will go on strike because you cut funding, earthquakes may set off a fire, riots may erupt if you do not listen to public opinion and, without careful management, pollution may foul your city.

The game is modelled on how real cities grow and if you play SimCity with that in mind you should have no trouble being a good mayor.

When you start building your city, everything should be zoned low density. Later, as the low-density areas fill up, you should start bulldozing certain sections of your town and rezoning them for medium density.

As the medium density fills up, rezone for high density. All this is easier to see if you imagine how areas in Kowloon have developed from scattered single homes to massive high-rise complexes.

Addiction to this great, great grandfather of Sims games lies in trying to get bigger and bigger cities. As your cities get bigger, with some reaching metropolis levels (more than a million people), you receive better rewards and get to see some cool looking office complexes and high-density housing designs.

The final incarnation of office buildings is a stage eight complex that accommodates 5000 employees. One challenge is to build a big downtown area using several of these buildings.

You can download landmarks, which have proven highly popular in previous versions of the game. Just go to the Web site to get the latest landmarks.

SimCity has always involved a lot of guesswork and the latest version is no exception. One knows that Sims go to work, return home and go shopping, but cannot know exactly where they go, when or how. One of the coolest new features this version offers is the ability to see where a sim goes exactly.

You can import your own sim from one of the Sims games or just create a new one. With this feature, it is much easier to analyse what they are doing.

Also, this version of the game enables your city to be integrated with another city developed by you, and commerce links to be created between the two.

It also has splendid graphics that are so detailed that they tend to stretch the capability of most computers. I had to turn the graphics options way down. Some graphics, such as the clouds that lazily float over the city, are cute but prevent players from getting a clear view.

In the original, unpatched version of SimCity 4, it was difficult to get cities to grow past one million people. Patches have come out that make it easier to do so, and they also speed up the game by shortening the time it takes to load and update graphics.

SimCity 4 is a fantastic update of the original game. I highly recommend anyone new to this series to move into SimCity as soon as possible. It is a beautiful place and, best of all, it is designed by you.

Any questions or requests on games, e-mail Peter at [email protected].