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SimCity Hands-on: Instantly playable, mystifyingly deep

Don your hard hats for Maxis' PC-conquering city-builder

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Your citizens provide personality on a smaller scale. Fail to allocate sufficient classroom space and uneducated thugs will turn to crime, engaging in adorable bank heist shootouts or driving round the city whilst blasting 80's rock from wound-down windows. And, when people move into new digs, it's in little moving vans with boxes underarm. Zoom down to a financial district and you'll even hear gruff stockbrokers argue money deals in the gibberish language of the Sims.
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SimCity's a tapestry, a series of threads interwoven so skilfully it's hard to pinpoint just where the endgame lies. The nearest things to completion screens are Great Works. Once you've fulfilled a landmark objective, like earning a million in simoleon currency or trading several thousand barrels of oil (it'll take 15 hours or so) you can establish a lasting legacy in the surrounding land. An archeological wonder raises education and tourism, for instance, while an international airport sends trade skyrocketing.


WIN-LAND REVENUE

By this point in the game, forbid bankruptcy, gang rampancy, earthquakes, asteroids, great fires or giant lizard attacks, you'll have outgrown your city, and it's here our main criticism with the game sits - play areas are a tad small. Airports and train lines are particularly tight squeezes, and having to demolish an entire grid because of uneconomical prior placement is almost inevitable.

You might also find yourself wedged in a revolving door of problems. At one point during our playthrough, traders called for a new HQ, which was a no-go until we upgraded city hall, which in turn was impossible until our population grew, which was locked because we couldn't fit houses in the space taken up by those very same traders. This is another problem suited to either the indifferent force of a bulldozer, or a bail-out from bordering cities.



The room issue seems almost intentional, a gentle prod towards multi-city play, even if it's just between ones you own yourself. Not enough citizens visiting your casinos? Attract tourists from the next town over - they receive happiness and you get money. Can't squeeze in police? Borrow some!

More broadly, you can even trade on global markets, using online leaderboards to search for players neck-deep in whatever asset you're after, and also attempt weekly challenges, like creating a student district or taxing specific amounts from the wealthy. The feeling of being part of a persistent global community is more reassuring than distracting.

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So, while worries about mandatory online DRM might find footing in some far flung future where Origin goes bust and EA cut off access, it currently occupies the realm of 'non-issue', together with fears multiplayer would infringe and accessibility would dumb down.

In fact, we're the complete opposite of worried. SimCity is everything we dreamed, instantly playable, mystifyingly deep, visually timeless and with the inviting complexity to potentially last years. It's Russian Doll game design: your city is a microcosm of the region; your region is a microcosm of the world. And the world is yours.

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