2000 Was The Best SimCity Game Ever, Period.

Posted by on March 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm

It’s hard to believe now, but SimCity launched a whole new genre of strategy games when it debuted in 1989 – the “fun” simulation. Developer/gaming god Will Wright (you know him nowadays for The Sims and Spore) decided that he was having more fun with level editors than he was in actual games, so he set out to create the original SimCity. Believe it or not, at some point the idea of playing a game in which you built and managed a city was pretty lame, but Will changed everyone’s minds. It’s the sequel, though – SimCity 2000 – that perfected the whole formula and in the 17 years since it released, it has never been surpassed.

Long before Maxis was known for Sim- everything, 2000 brought about so many additions and so much depth to the franchise, which at the time was Maxis’ sole cash cow, that it felt like a whole new deal. The most drastic change, noticeable straight from the get-go, was the switch from a top-down perspective to an isometric layout. You no longer laid down residential, commercial, and industrial zones in 3×3 chunks, you could shape them as you saw fit – square by square. In Sybex’s strategy guide, Will went off into an insane ramble about how awfully complicated it was to build the game – the editor supposedly cutting it because of its rambling incoherence. The new art was amazing, the simulation was a lot deeper (including water management!) and as you entered its final stages, you got to deploy arcologies, which were self-contained cities-within-cities that allowed your city to grow exponentially. It’s the futuristic endgame of the game that kept me interested long after the sequels arrived.

I played with disasters turned off, which made the city-crafting more safe, and messed around a ton with the landscape creator. Once I created a map that was a dense forest, started a city, and then just opened the disaster menu and selected ‘Fire’ and watched as the flames spread across the map. (At a distance, the fires looked like crinkly Cheet-os.) Another time, I’d build out a city to the gills, save it, torched it, then rebuilt each remaining chunk as its own ‘burg like some sort of Mad Max wasteland. If you bought SimCopter (or the less-we-mention-it-the-better Streets of SimCity), you got to take those cities and play them in fully interactive 3D.

SimCity 3000 arrived five years later, sans Will’s involvement, and it showed. Cities could be much more massive and little wrinkles like deals with neighboring towns and garbage management were added, but production values aside, it felt like two steps forward and two prompt steps back. The arcologies were gone and after you ran through and acquired many of the unique awards, it just ceased being fun. Disasters were limited, removing much of the fun of trashing your city, and even the prospect of uploading your city to EA’s website was interesting, but slight. SimCity 4? Ehhhhhhh…

Maybe 2000 was just too revolutionary for its time? Perhaps. It had so many great, new ideas that inevitably found their way into so many clones and imitators, but at the end of the day, they just couldn’t beat the master…

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