Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yahtzee Croshaw’s quasi-definitive review of ‘SimCity’

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Speaking of awesome web series, here’s Zero Punctuation’s Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw on the superbly polished turd that is the new SimCity [WARNING: Crude language & humor ahead]:

Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

Electronic Arts. Arts. Arrrts. If there was ever a name that illustrated a need for some kind of verbal equivalent of Social Services to come and forcibly take words away if they’re being misused … Then again, they do mainly go by EA these days, so maybe they’ve quietly changed their name to Extruding Arseholes so as not to offend reality. My point is that if there was ever a time when artistry was important enough to the company to be eponymous, then that is not a time in which we are currently living. Now, they just talk about money and being a dick about things. Perhaps EA now stands for Expel All. (Your money. From your wallet. So that we can have it. And be a dick about it.)

Yes, I am quite bitter, because I had to install Origin to play SimCity, EA’s overpriced, I’m-going-to-make-my-own-clubhouse-just-for-all-my-friends-and-its-gonna-have-cake-and-Subbuteo-and-it’s-gonna-be-so-much-better digital distribution system, and putting that on my computer felt like leaving a child of my own in the Jonestown daycare center. I felt dirty afterwards. I had to take a Steam bath. That’s where you load up Steam and download a bunch of indie games to scrub yourself with.

So, I gave SimCity about a week before I started it up, because as we all remember, once EA had everyone’s money, they had to start making up for the “being a dick” part of the mission statement and dick everyone around with connection issues. Because SimCity has to be played online now, for the sake of some features nobody fucking asked for, and also because EA assumed that we’re all dicks who steal games, so they have to dick us first, preemptively-like.

I’d like to quote now from a statement made by Maxis, which I will read in an insulting, dismissive voice: “SimCity is made to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re not having a good experience.” I agree with that last part: I certainly am not having a good experience as I sit and wait for an update to download every dicking time I start a session. By this point, I imagine a cute little finger-puppet on the end of EA’s many slick, black tentacles hovering earnestly behind my shoulder. “No, it’s all right, it will be fun! You can play alongside other people and what a jolly lot of fun you’ll all have!”

Okay. So on a desolate plot of land, I placed the foundations for the emerging city of Dogbollock, USA.

“Oh, no-no-no!” went the little finger-puppet, leaning over and typing a row of asterisks. “Can’t call your city that! That would be ever so beastly!”

Why not? It is a fun name. I would be having more fun as the mayor of a city called Dogbollock. I’m hoping to set up a Department of Dogbollock Beautification.

“Oh, but other players will see it! A small, innocent child might see it and suddenly know that bollocks exist.”

This “online play makes things more fun” assertion has sort of fallen at the first hurdle, hasn’t it? So, what benefit is there to being next to other cities that other people are running? Well, if they’ve got an excess of facilities, you can buy some of them. Choo-choo, all aboard the fun train! Suppose we should be grateful they didn’t charge fucking micropayments for it. Buying facilities from other cities was a SimCity 3000 feature, so maybe being able to do it between player cities is a natural development. I wouldn’t say it was worth dicking the entire user base for. Oh, but who doesn’t have a constant Internet connection these days? Poor people, who could only fantasize about holding a position of power and influence? Why would they want to play a God game?

I’ll say this for EA: They are full of innovative ideas. As we’ve just discussed, they have innovative new ideas on what the word ‘fun’ means. And they’re breaking new ground with the definition of ‘sequel’, too. I always thought it meant “game with more stuff in it”, but that just shows how archaic my thinking is. The area given for each city seems a bit small, which I suspect may be intended to incentivize sharing facilities with your neighbors, which I think is one of the ways HIV can get transmitted. You also can’t edit the terrain before founding the city like you could in SimCity 4, and you can’t import characters from The Sims anymore, either.

So, tell me, little finger-puppet: Assuming that multiplayer elements are about as enticing to me as the sight of a dog sniffing another dog’s bum (an easy thing to assume, because they are), are there any new features that SimCity can offer me?

“Well, there’s a poo map!”

I bet your pardon?

“We got a special map that lets you see all the poo falling in big piles under people’s houses! Then, you can build an outlet pipe and watch all the poo speed away on a wee-wee one-way system!”


So for a while, I played along, grew my city, waited for the hourly cash inflow so I could build whatever I was being nagged for the loudest at the time, occasionally switching to the poo map and watching it, mesmerized, for about an hour. But then, I was informed that a meteorite[sic] strike was incoming and I should prepare for fires. Okay, prepare how? I don’t directly control the fire service; am I supposed to just, what, print off some leaflets? WHOOPS – too late, bombs away. Within minutes, my city was an inferno.

But like a strong leader, I stayed level-headed and built twelve new fire stations, which seemed to eventually sort the problem out, and after bulldozing half the city in some sort of invisible mass grave, things swiftly returned to normal. “Well, on the bright side,” I thought, “I now have the most fireproof city in the universe, with the possible exception of Rapture.” Then, about an hour later, the game said, “Hey, a house burned down! Why haven’t you improved the fire services, spaz?” And I wondered about this until I noticed nine of the city’s fire engined arranged in a conga line on the far side of town. I think there may be something wrong with the AI. This might also explain why my town was briefly terrorized by a rampaging criminal whose house turned out to be directly opposite the police station.

Specifics are kind of moot, though, ’cause I don’t see what this game has over, say, SimCity 4, which is cheaper, and deeper, and available on a download service that doesn’t make my hard drive dry-heave. It’s just the online features, la-dee-cunting-da. “Oh, but everyone else seems to like them,” has been the gist of EA and Maxis’s company line on this issue. “It’s not our fault you don’t know how to have fun.” Listen to me, EA: Not every introvert is longing for the day that Zooey-fucking-Deschanel kicks their door down and forcibly drags them to a roller rink. I know how to have fun. It involves feeling like I’ve achieved something with a sense of independence. It does not involve gangs of punks from some asshole’s gambling town coming over to kick all my bus stops over.

Can I suggest that perhaps you only ever hear from people who like online features because such people are extroverts, and it is only extroverts who think anyone gives a shit about their stupid opinions? And before you say anything, my opinions are actually very clever.

CREDITS: “Can barely run a fucking bath: BEN “YAHTZEE” CROSHAW

“Also I thought Dogbollock would’ve been a good name because the name on the local sports team would have been a total no-brainer”

“There are parts of Brisbane in dire need of a public poo map”

Until or unless they fix the crippling server issues, allow cities larger than mountaintop villages and – has this been said yet? – add a freaking offline mode (or I find a crack/patch that does all this for them), I’m choosing to double down on SimCity 4 while holding my breath for the next iteration. (Unless EA/Maxis kicks the bucket first, and with the way things are shaping up for them lately, that wouldn’t come as much of a shock.)