Building and maintaining a thriving metropolis is hard work, but many children delight in the challenge. In this latest version of a classic simulation software, players become mayors, city planners, and financial officers all at the same time.
The basic gameplay of Sim City 4 will be familiar to those who have enjoyed the series to date. However, new features are apparent immediately. The improved graphics are a visual treat, but they are not purely cosmeticthey do, in fact, improve gameplay by further immersing children in the game. Another new feature involves the ability to import some favorite Sims from The Sims game, if players own it. Otherwise, customizable Sims (the residents of Sim City) are available in-game.
Players begin with a SimNation in "god mode"a new feature that allows kids to effectively "paint" the terrain for their region. Note that with this new edition of Sim City, kids now begin with a region and have the choice between playing the game with interdependent cities or as independent communities.
Once the basic terrain is laid, players begin to build their city. They have three zones to lay down: commercial, residential, and industrial. The ultimate goal of the game is for players to keep their mayor approval rate high and to create a thriving region of cities. Details, details, and more details need players' attention as they build and maintainessentially, micromanage. First, they'll need to provide their Sims basic utilities, such as running water, trash disposal, and powerall with their eye on pollution, and within the constraints of budget. Players fill their city with such important things as police stations, hospitals, fire stations (well-connected ones!), educational systems, and parks.
Soon, players' cities come alive. As they play, planes fly over the city, cars travel along the well-planned streets, roads, and highways, school buses appear in the mornings and afternoons, and so on. Sim City 4 is rich with realistic detail. Children must always think ahead and engage in both short- and long-term planning. They must keep their eyes open, pay attention to news headlines that provide important feedback, monitor their mayor approval rating, listen to city advisors in areas like city planning, finance, and environment. They must employ intelligent tax strategies and use logic in their city planning. For example, they don't want to place industrial and residential zones too close together (for health reasons) nor too far apart (the Sims wouldn't be happy with the commute!). Transportation issues are another big concern: players must try to keep traffic flowing and open such things as airports, subway systems, and railroad lines. In SimNation, buildings get old, crime exists, and pollution is an issue. Decisions made always have consequences and, ideally, rewards. However, tradeoffs are a constant reality. Players need to weight the costs and benefits before making their decisions.
The "My Sims" feature is a fantastic concept, but it is a little shallow. It succeeds at personalizing the game by allowing players to import their favorite Sims characters into the Sim City 4 game. (Customizable Sims characters are available for those who don't "own" their own Sims). However, this feature is not very interactive simply because players are unable to direct them. Instead, they can observe their Sims in their new environment and receive feedback from them about what's happening in their little world.
Pay close attention to system requirements because they are comparatively high. Even on the best test system, we had performance issues. Those who don't have a computer with the minimum requirements will do well with previous editions. Although they are not as graphically impressive, they remain immersive and satisfying programs.