One genre that’s unfortunately withered is the city simulator. This type of game was never a huge success compared to action-packed shooters and real-time strategy games, but it’s always had a place in the hearts of some PC gamers. While the vaunted SimCity series has ended (for now) with the critically despised SimCity Societies, there are a few alternatives to SimCity that carry on the legacy.
If you’re looking for a pure city-builder that’s crafted strictly in the image of the SimCity games, Cities XL 2011 is your only modern option. Developed by Focus Home Interactive, Cites XL is a straight-forward alternative to SimCity 4. Much of what you do is the same. You zone property, you build utilities to support your city, and you try to keep the citizens happy so that people move in rather than out.
Beautiful 3D graphics is this game’s most recognizable feature. While a beefy system is required to run it, the cities are truly beautiful when the game is played at its highest detail settings. In addition to this, Cities XL just has a lot of stuff – there’s many different types of roads, bus routes and public rail options, and there’s even super-buildings and specialty buildings that can jazz up a drab downtown.
Cities XL 2011 usually retails at $39.99 on Steam, which is a bit pricey. You’ll usually find a better deal if you download it from another service, like Amazon, or wait for a sale.
This awesome strategy title focuses on the establishment of a city in what could be considered an alternative history of the 1400s – the game is broadly based on the events of that era, but doesn’t refer to them directly. The game is known as Dawn of Discovery in the North American market and Anno 1404 in most other locations around the world.
Despite the old-fashioned setting, the game is a strict and difficult city builder. Crafting a small village isn’t too hard, but as your towns grow and you attract more citizens, you’ll need to pay close attention to your supply chain. Citizens require access to certain goods to be happy, and you also need access to certain materials to construct more advanced buildings. Securing these goods through expansion and trade is the game’s focus.
There are some competitive elements to the game, including ship combat. This is the 1400s, after all. However, it’d be wrong to act as if that was the central focus of this title. Anyone who enjoys city management will likely love this game. Dawn of Discovery Gold can be purchased for $19.99 on Impulse. The original edition is currently available for just $5 on Amazon.
Fans of Dawn of Discovery should also keep an eye out for the upcoming Anno 2070, a futuristic city-builder slated for release by the end of this year.
Another city builder with a unique setting, Tropico 3 makes you the dictator of a Caribbean island. As the Dear Leader, it’s your job to make sure that it grows and prospers – but in addition to this, you need to handle a number of political factions with different wants as well as your relations with both the USA and the USSR, each of which wants the allegiance of your strategically valuable slice of paradise.
Of the games listed here, Tropico 3 puts the most focus on social engineering. It’s possible, for example, to institute same-sex marriage as a national policy, and all of these different social policies impact how your nation runs. This is reinforced by the aforementioned factions, which tend to react differently to your choices.
This all has the potential to be a bit serious, but it isn’t. Tropico 3 is well known for its sly sense of humor, which includes a satirical in-game radio station that comments on the player’s actions. Visually, the game is vivid and bright, reinforcing the light-hearted tone.
Tropico 3 can be purchase for $14.99 on Steam. Fans should keep their eyes peeled for Tropico 4, which should hit both the PC and Xbox 360 sometime this fall.
SimCity 4 – Still A Solid Choice
Although all three of the games above are solid city simulators, SimCity 4 is still a valid option that any gamer should make sure to play if they haven’t already. Though now eight years old, an active community continues to surround the title, and there’s a wide variety of modifications available. Newcomers to the game should check out the Simtroplis forums to become familiar with essential add-ons.
These are the best city builders I’ve played – but perhaps you’ve played one that I haven’t? Feel free to share your favorite in the comments!