Admit it: When you first heard word of SimCity Social, you were afraid it would go the way of CivWorld, the Facebook adaptation of the popular strategy franchise Civilization. "A city building game known for its immense complexity couldn't possibly work on Facebook," you thought to yourself in dread. (We heard you.) Yet EA, Playfish and Maxis seem to have done the impossible: condense SimCity into a game that's relatable for the social gaming audience while retaining much of what makes cities in this franchise feel symbiotic.
EA came out swinging at the top dog of city-builders on Facebook, CityVille, with this slogan: "More city, less ville." As it turns out, a little bit of 'ville is exactly what might help SimCity Social take the top spot on the network. (Strong brand recognition will help in that department, too.) But SimCity Social only seems to channel "the ville" in aesthetics and core social game tropes like the friend bar, gifting, and requesting help--most of which began with (or shortly before) Zynga.
The comparisons between the two are inevitable, but SimCity Social takes some key steps in making sure it stands out as its own game. The most notable is how cities in this game just seem more natural, symbiotic. For instance, pollution is a factor to consider in SimCity Social. Build or upgrade too many factories at once, and clouds of smog will appear that need cleaning. Players must also consider fire hazards, and as a result, where fire stations are positioned to put out blazes in time. And if players neglect these issues (including crime), they'll certainly hear about it.
That's because it's not just nameless moving specks moving into the various homes in players' cities. Your friends' mayors will at times automatically (and asynchronously) move into your city, and it's these residents that seem to be the most chatty about the goings on of, say, Ozzmandia. They'll let you know whether they're happy or upset with how you're handling things, which gives you an opportunity to send them gifts.
SimCity Social also retains its ties to the original in how it handles houses. There is only one type of house available for players to build. But as players place decorations and attractions near houses, those buildings will automatically develop and improve. It's closer to imitating real life than any city-builder on Facebook yet, so we'll take it. But for all of SimCity Social's nods to realism, special decorations like the "Tree of Friendship" and the "Turbine of Evil" are reminders that this is supposed to be fun.
While this city-builder seems to do so much right, it had to stumble somewhere. For one, the energy system in SimCity Social is too unforgiving. It's as simple as this: You don't have enough energy reserves to play the game for more than a few minutes at a time. And it doesn't help that the game seems to nickel and dime players at times. For instance, if there's a business or factory that you need to interact with for a mission, and you've yet to collect from it, expect to spend two energy instead of one for what you actually wanted to click on the building for.
The social features in SimCity Social are essentially borrowed from The Sims Social. Players can interact with their friends' cities in one of two ways: good or evil. This effects players' overall standing with their friends and allows them to eventually send unique gifts to one another that they'll see next time they're in-game. Do you like being a jerk to one friend? You'll get to send pooping birds their way. Wanna play nice with another? You can send them pretty cloud shapes. These social interactions are undoubtedly unique to city-builders, but they have little impact on your progress in the game.
Ultimately, SimCity Social rides the lines between "complex", "accessible and addictive" quite well. With some tweaks on both ends of the spectrum, EA, Playfish and Maxis could very well have the number one city-builder on Facebook on their hands.
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