Wednesday, 9 September 2015

SimCity BuildIt

Post-Launch Review
SimCity BuildIt (Android)
Developer: Electronic Arts
Released: October 2014 (soft launch) / December 2014 (worldwide)
Played: I don't even know. Lots. I'm rank 30.


SimCity comes to your phone. Build up your city's population by producing materials to construct housing and managing services such as roads, power, waste, police, fire, and others. Later on, add fancy upgrades using the rewards from shipping and disaster challenges. How big can you make your city?

At Launch

SimCity BuildIt received average review scores of 58%. Reviewers found it to be a competent city building sim for a mobile game, but were very displeased with the real-money currency structure and critical of its wait times.

Post Launch

Several bug fix and quality-of-life updates have been released.
A larger update added an airport and new shipping challenges allowing Tokyo town zones to be built, and the beach update opened up waterfront development with several new building types.

When I first started playing SimCity BuildIt, I loved it! A free-to-play game where the timers are so short that there's almost no downtime, and the real money currency is totally optional! I spent a cople of hours building happily, expanding my city and very impressed with the visuals for a mobile game. Runs great on my Galaxy S6.

As I progressed, more options opened up. My factories could produce new items, and I was gaining access to more stores to build more complex materials. At the same time, the complexity of the game gradually increased. At first I only needed to worry about basics like power and water, but as my city grew I was adding police stations and fire departments. The complexity ramps up well, with only a couple of new things added at each rank, so I had plenty of time to figure things out.

That didn't last forever, though. I reached a point where I was expanding so quickly that I couldn't keep up with demand for services. By the time I could afford that police station I needed, it was time for more power generation. Since the fastest source of income is upgrading housing, earning more money only complicated the issue, since I needed more services to account for the higher population. If people get too unhappy, they'll move out, lowering your tax revenue (the slower income). I worked my way through it, though, and had another happy period of gradual expansion.

That's when I started to bump up against some limits and began to notice the major flaws.
One issue is that the items you unlock as you rank up increase in production time as you go. I'm at the point where I'm starting to need animal feed and microchips, and those take a whopping five and six hours to produce, respectively. Which wouldn't be so bad, except that the shipping challenges are time-limited - if you don't gather all the required items in time, that challenge fails and you get a new one. Which, again, wouldn't be so bad, because I could just save that stuff for next time. Except you also have limited inventory space. But that's okay, you can increase your storage space by collecting certain items... which are given out at random. 

The random item handouts are what really kill the game for me, because until you have the required number of expansion items, they just sit uselessly in your inventory doing nothing. Eating my storage space. Preventing me from holding on to the items I need to build. You need multiple copies of three different items to expand your storage space, another set of three for city area, three different ones to expand beach area, yet another set of three to activate disaster challenges, and ANOTHER set to build Tokyo town zones. And by multiple copies I mean I need 10 grates, 10 cameras, and 10 locks to expand my storage capacity which is currently 120 items, and those other pieces of crap are eating space too. Distribution feels far from fair. Sometimes you get one of these things at random, and by random I mean look at this garbage:

Of course, you can buy these items using the real money currency.

 As almost an afterthought to this narrative, player item trading is also complete unreliable garbage. The items shown to you on the market are randomized from the stuff your rank gives you access to. I'm trying to buy lawn chairs or textiles and the market just keeps showing me towels and shoes no matter how many times I refresh. Ugh.

 At this point I'm just playing SimCity because it's something to do on the subway on my way to work. The complete absence of any long-term goals beyond the vague "make your city bigger" might not bother me if the game didn't push me so hard to spend money to be allowed to do so. The increasingly lengthy timers encourage me to spend less time playing the game the more time I've spent playing the game.

Recommendation: meh, it's free.

There are worse mobile games, I guess. This one is at least slick and pretty. It's interesting enough as a free time killer, but the pretending-not-to-be-paywalls will get to you eventually.

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