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simcity 2013 reviewSimCity was one of the first PC games I ever played when it was first released in 1989 – I was just 7 at the time. You’ll understand then why this game holds a particularly dear place in my heart, and why the launch of its most recent iteration has been somewhat upsetting. What exactly went wrong with the launch, and more important – is the game any good?

It is fair to say that this past week has been an absolute PR disaster for EA Games and their Origin DRM system. There’s even a petition over at change.org with 22,000 signatories, asking EA to remove the always online DRM from SimCity and not to use it in future.

Always-On DRM & The Atrocious Launch

Like Diablo 3, the new SimCity comes with controversial DRM technology that requires you to have a persistent online connection in order to play the game. There’s a weak excuse that the game is multiplayer only, but that’s simply not true – it is purely to prevent piracy. There is an argument both for and against this kind of DRM, but the fact is that 9 months on, Diablo 3 has yet to be “cracked” – if you want to play the game, you need to actually buy it.

Now whether piracy is actually detrimental to game (or music, or movie) revenues is an argument for another time. Suffice to say, SimCity 2013 requires you to be online, authenticated with EA servers. There is no “offline mode”, and if you don’t have an Internet connection, you cannot play the game.

simcity 2013 review

EA claimed that “players were playing the game in ways they had not expected”, but the fact is that there were not nearly enough servers commissioned to handle even the US-only launch at the beginning of the week. Players were simply unable to log in for hours on end, as the technical teams brought servers up and down, applying quick fixes and patches that seemingly had no effect. With no offline mode, millions were unable to play the game they had purchased. They were understandably furious.

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EA further stoked the fires of discontent with its no-refund policy on digital downloads – “please wait, we are working on the server situation, but no you cannot have a refund” was the official support stance.

Users took to the forums and Metacritic to express their anger. At the time of writing, the user score is no les than 1.7/10, from over 2,800 angry gamers. Most of them of course, have yet to play the game. The worst of the critic scores were made in a similar snap judgement on launch day.

simcity 2013 game

A day later, EA made the decision to remove “non-essential” functionality from the game – leaderboards and such. The following day, Amazon withdrew sales of the game – both physical and digital – due to overwhelming complaints and refund requests. With the global launches looming, the server situation did not improve.

Cheetah mode – the highest speed setting (and most server taxing) – was also removed, and remains so as I write this. At this point, the European and UK launch was underway and the whole situation started again. Finally, by Sunday afternoon, almost a week later, with now double the number of original servers running, things have stabilized and 9 out of 10 times I can immediately enter my preferred server. Jumping around servers is also possible, but problematic due to the fact that your region is only saved on the server you play on, so entering a new server means starting a new region.

simcity 2013 game

It has therefore been a rather frustrating launch for many fans, but it’s a shame that so many people have chosen to give bad review scores without even playing the game, for if they did, they would realize that actually it’s a damn fun game.

For those who are unsure about the online component, let me explain. If you’re already playing, and the server goes down, or your Internet goes out, you are not booted out to the main menu and prevented from playing. A message will appear at the top left of the screen saying you’re unable to connect to the servers, and the game will attempt to reconnect. While they’re offline, your city cannot be saved, but if you just continue to play, they will come back online and your game will be automatically saved as soon as possible.

If you attempt to quit the game when your city hasn’t been fully synced, it’ll warn you and sit there until has saved. Annoying, yes, but I haven’t lost a city yet.

Gameplay Criticisms

The biggest complaints appear to be one – why are we forced to play multiplayer? And two – the city limits are far too small compared to previous games.

The first is easy to dismiss if you’ve actually played the game, because it’s simply not true. When you start a new region, you can mark it as private. Only you will then be able to claim the cities in your region. That was easy. The fact that the game has online DRM does not mean you have to play with other people, and personally I choose not to.

simcity 2013 game

The second complaint is accurate in that the physical size of the cities you can make has in fact been drastically reduced (presumably in order to cope with the sheer level of independently operating AI units within the game) – but it also misses the point entirely. Instead of creating one immense and unrealistic city that contains everything one could possibly ever need, you now create smaller, more realistic and specialized cities.

simcity 2013 game review

All of the cities within a region now interact – by sharing resources, volunteering services (at no extra cost) – and the bonus features unlocked in one city are made available to everyone else in the region. In this way, there’s a lot more progression. You start a region from scratch, but the second city you build will have a few free services and some unlocked features from the first, leaving you free to concentrate on a further specialization.

Each city now develops an individual character and feel to it – something which is both more realistic, and for me, a lot more fun. In the region I just started – my wife began with a heavy coal industry and was pollution riddled.

simcity 2013 game review

I moved in next door and let them handle the dirty laundry (trash and sewage etc) from my city, whilst I was free to concentrate on higher education and clean energy, unlocking superior technologies and facilities she could then make use of. We then started another adjacent city focussed on oil initially, then turning to tourism and gambling.

The funds from this will go on to develop one of of 4 possible “great works”, like an arcology or international airport. So whilst the individual cities are indeed smaller, in practice, it just doesn’t matter.

So Is It Fun?

From my perspective, the new SimCity feels more like an actual game, rather than a detailed city builder sandbox. It is no longer concerned with the minutiae of laying ground pipes for water, just as long as you have enough. That said, there’s now more detail than ever to the cities and individual sim behaviour – every single person or business – is now an AI agent that the game simulates with their own goals and daily life patterns.

simcity 2013 game review

Yes, some elements have been simplified such that you only need to lay roads for water, power, and sewage; but at the same time, it represents the most thorough city simulation ever.

simcity 2013 review

I should also note that yesterday was the first time I went up to bed first, leaving my wife downstairs for “just another turn” – AKA 3 more hours. This is in fact, the only game she has ever been addicted to – she is not a gamer. For that I’m grateful, that she finally understands my passion for gaming – such is the strength of the new SimCity – when it works, that is.

So there you have it, SimCity 2013 is an incredible game that has been mired somewhat by a badly planned launch and restrictive DRM. But are you really going to let that get in your way of enjoying one of the best game of this decade? I certainly won’t.

  1. nrowe
    April 14, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I think I'm sold. It's a game I was immensely excited for when i heard about it, but didn't preorder or anything. After the fiasco with the launch I wasn't sure. I'm not bitter like a lot of people about the always online and such, but I'm still worried about the bugs I hear about. I think it's still worth a try, hopefully they fix the errors with the updates I hear you get every time you start?

    • James Bruce
      April 15, 2013 at 7:43 am

      Yeh, automatic updates, which can be a little frustrating. I actually haven't played in a few weeks due to moving stuff around and still not got the PC back up again. With all these updates, might be a completely different game now!

  2. MEGATOP
    April 7, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    Amazing review of the new Sim City online game. While some of us remember how good and addictive the original SimCity 4 was. But from the flavor of your piece, it seems the constraints of the server based DRM coped with the fact that you cannot build a true Megapolis, leaves the true SC fan shortchanged.

    • James Bruce
      April 15, 2013 at 7:44 am

      I'm actually thinking about getting SimCity 4 as I skipped that one. Do you think I'd be disappointed after any innovations that came with 5, or is it an altogether better game in your opinion?

  3. Matt Smith
    March 22, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    I don't think you've looked at this game closely enough. It's really broken on a fundamental level that goes beyond the online issues. I.e:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jx_vxPo7a6I

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qNwZplVmpI

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcRI9_oXSCs

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQs4WIxXQog

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yySa34R0D_4

    and OF COURSE

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHdyzx_ecbQ

    That it seems to work for you, or you haven't yet noticed its flaws (more likely), doesn't un-break the game for anyone else.

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 22, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      I've racked up 40 hours - How much longer before I notice these? Most of those are obvious silly bugs (which I havent seen, but anyway), patched in the last few weeks. There was a traffic patch yesterday too. I'm not saying the game is perfect, but clearly a lot of people are out for blood.

  4. Lorenzo Gatti
    March 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

    The users who gave bad review scores before playing are completely right: if they pay to look at a server status list it is one of the worst game experiences of their life.

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 21, 2013 at 10:38 am

      And how many simply voted without even OWNING the game, just to make some moral point?

  5. Arron Walker
    March 21, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Very well written, though I disagree. EA have been exposed for Fraud and lies consistently and continually since launch, and their CEO has resigned/been fired over this debacle.

    Yes, the servers are fine now, but they've had other start ups to learn off, and they didn't. It did not work at launch. I don't think this is excusable, any product or service that simply flat out does not work as advertised is fraudulent advertising. Which brings the point of glass box, they said that their servers where necessary because of the amount of code running server side, and that each individual sim would have it's own life. Both have been proven absolutely false. EA gave a statement about their product, it was exposed as a lie. They lied about what their product can do, plain and simple. They grossly exagerrated their games capabilites, and arguably invented capabilities off of the top of their heads.

    I could go on. They can make their game as they like, as within their rights to do so, if they alienate their old fans... well it can be considered a mistake, but they can do what they like in regards to that. But to inarguably lie to the consumers who brought their product, and sell one which doesn't work on launch, locks people who pre-ordered out of the game, and takes a week or so to get functioning properly (even though security flaws still exist mind)? That's not something I like about our industry. It was pulled of Amazon for a reason.

  6. jbwhite99
    March 21, 2013 at 2:47 am

    I can't wait for the standalone version of this game! I greatly enjoyed SimCity 4, but I'm not buying this DRM-infested game.

    Thanks for a good writeup!

  7. Drew Bookout
    March 21, 2013 at 1:58 am

    I have been following this game since its development and I'm a huge simcity fan but, I did learn from the mistakes that EA made with Diablo with the server issues that game had on release. I personally haven't played that game and probably won't until a few months pass for the game to get more stable and also all the needed patches released.
    As for the article, it was a great review and for everyone that doesn't agree - well everyone is entitled to their own opinions about the game. Did EA drop the ball(again), YES. Is the DRM a major pain in the butt, YES. But here's the final truth, EA will fix the servers like they did with Diablo and other games and the DRM isn't going anywhere (it's actually probably going to become more popular unfortunately).

  8. Kirby
    March 21, 2013 at 1:39 am

    I'd say Multiplayer is just a cover up to use DRM. Like you said in your article "The fact that the game has online DRM does not mean you have to play with other people, and personally I choose not to." If this is the case why not completely make the game offline right?

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 21, 2013 at 7:43 am

      I suspect they originally had wonderful multiplayer plans, then EA jumped on it and perverted those plans as an excuse for DRM , yes.

      • Kirby
        March 21, 2013 at 11:44 pm

        That's just sad. DRM wrecking havoc for gamers.

  9. Chubonga
    March 21, 2013 at 12:50 am

    I heard that EA was gonna offer the game up for free to make up for the frustrations. Is this true? If they are, that would be awesome!

    • jbwhite99
      March 21, 2013 at 2:49 am

      Chubonga, what EA is offering is a free game (like SimCity 4) for those who bought 5. But 5 is not free.

  10. Darth
    March 20, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Disagree. The game is a fraud. Tiny villages is no small matter. It completely destroys what made simcity great. Then the AI is completely broken/barely existing. No terraforming, no mod support, and the whole feels like it has been cut in half, in order to be sold later as DLC. Then in a couple of years, EA will terminate the servers, like the always do, And you wont be able to play this single player game.

    Please, please, dont believe this article. It is misleading in all aspects. Dont buy this game, its really not worth it. Dont believe what is written in this article. This game doesn not deserve half of the sales it got.

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 21, 2013 at 7:44 am

      Wow, you on a mission, huh? Have you even played the game?

  11. Bumferry
    March 20, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    I want to want this game. It's been years since I've played Sim City and have more reviews for this game than any other I can remember.
    I can understand peoples frustrations at the always online but if it stops piracy then I'm all for it until a better solution is found.
    Having said that, If the EA can't keep up with the pace and the servers are always down - I won't be parting with my hard earned cash - regardless of how good a game is.
    There is no way any sane person would spend money on a game that is not fully functional.
    I also think it's a shame that one of the greatest games (Sim City 2000) is unable to be played on windows 7 without a load of jiggery-pokery (something I'm not prepared to do)

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 21, 2013 at 7:45 am

      The servers are not "always down". They've been fine since less than a week after launch. Seriously, we need to move past that point now.

  12. Hunter5988
    March 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    I think this article reads a little too much as apologist for SimCity. There is no reason that people shouldn't include the launch issues as part of their review score, as it could easily happen again. All it takes is a bunch of random servers going down for maintenance, and the remaining servers being unable to hold the additional load, and we have a repetition of the launch event (or non-event, as the case may be).
    As for the individual sims, player testing has shown that the game doesn't create and maintain permanent sims. They typically have no assigned jobs or housing, just going to the first open iteration of each. And the glaring traffic problems have also been made evident by other players testing the road systems, showing that the AI always pathfinds the shortest distance between two points, no matter how small or crowded the road is.

    And how is "a detailed city builder sandbox" not an actual game. All this is is a much more simplified city builder sandbox, but you somehow see that as making this iteration worthy of "actual game" status.

    This game may be fun, but there are way too many issues and either buggy or unfinished aspects to this game to suggest that it's an excellent game solely mired down by a bad launch and unnecessarily restrictive DRM.

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 21, 2013 at 7:48 am

      By "actual game", I mean it has more of the qualities you expect from a traditional game - progression, for one. You don't start out with everything, you progress from one "level" to the next.

      I haven't noticed any problem with the Sims - which means their simulation is working. We could sit here and pick apart holes in many games - but that's not really fun. Perhaps the AI will improve as time goes on - but honestly, I'm enjoying the game as it is.

      I'm no apologist for anyone, but I refuse to jump on the bandwagon of stupidity from a crowd of people who haven't even played the game and instead decide to take up some moral crusade. The servers have been fixed, so now you're looking for something else to criticise.

      • Hunter5988
        March 21, 2013 at 11:51 am

        The Sims may simulate to some degree, but the Sims simulation does not work as you (or Maxis) originally said. They don't have life goals, because they don't actually have lives. The game essentially spawns new sims every day from each filled house. These sims then enter the first open job slot they find (no job permanence or consistency), and then at the end of the day, they leave their jobs go to the first open house spot they find, not the house they leave before. If you track the same sim for a day, and then wait outside the house they spent the night in, you will not see that name exiting the house the next day, because that Sim has essentially been spent, and a new one has been generated.

        I disagree with your assertion that the server issue is fixed, so we should all move on. This can happen again, at any time, and it never needed to in the first place. As of now, part of the underlying structure of the game involves customer punishing and game damaging DRM. That the servers are now working does not preclude them from not working again at another time, thus recreating the scenario we saw at launch. As long as the possibility of this occuring again exists, it should be taken into consideration.

        Also, I can understand (and agree with) the notion that one shouldn't jump on the bandwagon without playing the game, but one shouldn't immediately jump to the either extreme either, that all the poor scores are just people meta-bombing and looking for something to criticize. This game has serious problems, and much of it does not function as originally advertised by Maxis. Many of the problems seem self inflicted, were likely entirely avoidable, and are thus insulting to the people who have paid $60+ for what is either an unfinished or unpolished game. This game easily could have been and should be better.

        • MakeUseOf TechGuy
          March 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

          I can't honestly say I've tried to follow a single sim, so I don't doubt what's been reported there. On the other hand - it gives the impression that there are individual sims - and if that's good enough to fool me, then I'm happy with that.

          The trouble with meta review scores is that the only the vocal minority will seek it out to make themselves heard. The vast majority of users who are satisfied won't go there to vote it up in the opposite direction, because they just don't care. So it tends to go in either extreme, and isn't really representative.

          I do find it hard to see how they couldn't have predicted a ridiculous number of people wanting to play, but then again I'm not in charge of their servers and until the actual day of launch, you simply can't predict. I have trouble keeping MakeUseOf up and running some days, so perhaps I can sympathasize. Sometimes it helps to just take a deep breath, and realise it's just a game.

          Ultimately though, I'm not paid to make excuses for EAs crappy policies - I just think it would be a shame for someone to not play the game and make their own decision because of a few prevalent opinions from pissed-off fans.

        • dragonmouth
          March 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm

          "until the actual day of launch, you simply can’t predict."

          Yes, you can. Since the company wants everybody to play online, all it has to do is to assume that all those who bought the previous versions of the game will want to play this one. EA should have set up enough servers to handle that number of players. If they set up too many servers, some can be taken offline. It is ultimately cheaper in terms of good will and good PR to have too many servers than not enough.

      • Tristan Phillips
        March 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        Quote: "I haven’t noticed any problem with the Sims – which means their simulation is working."

        This single statement makes you sound like an apologist. With a single statement you dismiss all the complaints about SimCity. People who are actually trying to honestly report on a game do not dismiss or ignore mountains of complaints and ink with a simple handwave.

        Then you go on to say quote "The servers have been fixed". To be accurate the logon/authentication-authorization SERVICE has been improved. The AI issues are still (At least prior to the current patch and certainly as of this article's writing) unaddressed. Accuracy is extremely important when reporting on anything. Like your earlier statement this only reinforces the perception that you're an apologist and aren't interested in taking an honest view at the game and it's turbulent existence.

        If you don't want to be accused of being an apologist, then don't write like one. Because between your article and repeated postings you sound more like an EA PR person than an honest writer/journalist/reporter. Especially when you don't attach a real name to your comments (I assume this is the article's author, but that's not clear).

        • MakeUseOf TechGuy
          March 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm

          The AI is nothing to do with the servers - it is handled on the local side, and my "reporting" remains accurate.

          Sorry for the confusion with my comments - I have two account here, one to write the articles and another to administer the site. I usually can't be bothered to log out of my admin account ;)

          If you'd have listened to my weekly podcast, you'd have heard me thoroughly take the piss out of a disastrous launch and pathetic DRM. I'm not an apologist, but I think you're overreacting a lot. The game was unplayable at launch - but I hope that doesn't put off millions of people from playing what is actually a very good, enjoyable game.

  13. Disrespected
    March 20, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    While personally I appreciate the review, it's simply inaccurate at best. The complaint isn't Multi-Player "mode". The term "Multi-Player" has grossly been inappropriately applied in many complaints, but it's the concept that is the source of a chunk of the anger. Specifically that we're forced to play only Online, in a connected environment, in a very small city which is not able to act in a self-sustaining fashion. We are FORCED to build small, supporting cities, which their intent was "other" players would build those. Hence the hated multi-player concept which we detest out right. The user spends their time, not enjoying growing their city but instead working thru the intentional LIMITATIONS of the game.

    Unrealistic self-sustaining / large cities? Well, having entire Oil and Coal reserves depleted in months probably isn't realistic. But, really? Since this very fact was THE fun of the original games I'm a little shocked. Then again, how "realistic" is it for buildings to be built in 24 hours, or mayors capable of at-a-whim destruction of homes and city blocks? How does realistic come to play then with respect to supporting one of the primary enjoyment factors of the original series?

    Sorry, I could go on a rant of the hundreds of issues or removed, once loved, capabilities or functionality and blatant bugs, but we're really not happy campers.

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 21, 2013 at 7:50 am

      Changing anything would have pissed off someone though - I like the changes.

  14. Dan
    March 20, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    "create smaller, more realistic and specialized cities" i dont know if its a playing style but i liked having a small city turn into a massive one... and about the "realistic city", i dont know, but i think L.A, New York, Toronto etc are all pretty massive.

    "It is no longer concerned with the minutiae of laying ground pipes for water, just as long as you have enough". I find that most games these day try to make it too simple and linear, too try and go grab the most people. The first example of this i experienced was in CiV 5, witch was so... lacking in micromanagement that it felt like the gameplay was one of a few years ago, but that is very dependent on how you like too play those games

  15. marklar
    March 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Well-written article for someone who's on the fence like me. Creating a private region sounds like a good workaround to multiplayer with strangers.

    However, you didn't address the other issues - the AI of the emergency services and traffic paths are broken.

    I'm still probably picking this one up after those issues have been patched.

    • Trevor Lenten
      March 21, 2013 at 1:03 am

      The traffic patch landed yesterday.

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      March 21, 2013 at 7:52 am

      I haven't noticed any issues with emergency services, though I did just come across odd recycling stats.

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