Now this really is a game and a half. In fact it's two games - or even three! Sim City has to be the most addictive, fascinating little program we've seen all year - for my money more fun than Pipe Mania, Castle Master or any of those others we've raved about lately (by a power of ten). It really is the bee's knees, and will appeal to just about anybody - even my dad thought it was "Quite good, I suppose" and that's saying something.
Right, what's it all about then? Well, it's a little bit like playing God I guess (which is why it appeal to me, ho ho). In actual fact, you're only playing mayor to a theoretical town (theoretical because you've haven't actually built it yet) but you still have God-like powers. It's you who has to come up with a suitably attractive environment without splashing out too much cash (so people will move in, and, once there, stay), and it's you who has to manage things so you're getting enough tax revenue coming in to keep things ticking over. It's a fine balancing act (and gets increasingly complicated as the game goes on and your city gets bigger).
So let's start up the game, shall we? There you are, presented with a large scrolling (and very empty) landscape, plus a large wad of cash. Okay, let's take a look around and find a suitable place to begin. A-ha! This bay thing with an island in the middle looks promising - I think I'll try and build up my version of San Francisco here (though it'll probably come out looking more like Grimsby).
First off it's the staples - some residential areas, some commercial (ie shopping) centres and some industrial bits. I'll bung a really crap residential area down on this side next to the industrial bits for the workers, and a posh one over there by the coast for the rich people. I'll even bung some parkland around the rich people's area to make it even nicer (and some more industrial stuff around the poor people's area to make it even crappier). Hee hee. Right, now let's stick on some roads (to join it all up) and - what's this the computer's telling me? Ah yes, we need some power! Right - I've got a choice between a coal power station or a (more expensive) nuclear one. I think we'll have Mr Coal-Powered actually, and I'll slot it in next to the poor people's houses so they all get covered in soot and die of breathing problems at an early age (or something).
Hmm. What else? Ah yes, power lines to get everything working would seem to be a pretty fine idea, and a few police stations too to bring the crime under control (the computer'd been telling me crime rates were soaring every since I put the first residential area down, but I'd been ignoring it because I'm really tight!). Now to let a few years tick by and check on my popularity ratings. Uh-oh! Only 15 percent of the population think I'm doing a good job! And they reckon crime and pollution are the worst problems! (I'll be voted out if I'm not careful!)
So what do you do? Well, I'm not doing anything about that power station (bulldozing it down and building a new one would cost too much) but I might just bung in a few more police stations to keep the people happy. And perhaps (mumble grumble) I'll splash out on a sports stadium and a few more parks to fix their moaning a bit.
And so it goes on. Sim City is such an addictive game because a) it's loads of fun being totally all-powerful and deliberately trying to ruin people's lives (until they get so annoyed with you they vote you out of power of course), and b) once you get beyond the petty cruelty stage and start to play properly (took me ages, but there you go) it's incredibly challenging trying to balance the books and planh the development of a giant, bustling metropolis that takes eight, ten or even 15 screens to contain.
The other nice thing - and this is a compliment to the boys at Probe - is to see a brilliant but very complicated concept like this being so well executed on the Speccy. It's incredible. Except for the loss of a few nifty little features from the original 16-bit versions (like a mini-Godzilla which you can allow to run loose in your city while you try and patch up the damage) the game plays just perfectly - it's one of those things where the loss of brilliant graphics really makes no difference whatsoever to the fun you can get out of playing the game. It's full of neat little touches too - build a train track and, lo and behold, a little choo-choo starts trudging along it back and forth, back and forth. (You need to look closely to see it, but it's there). Bung down a commercial area (marked 'C' - industrial ones are marked 'I', and so on) and it'll start off as a big grey block, but watch it over time and gradually little buildings will develop on it and grow, though the identifying letter will remain intact. Wait long enough and you'll eventually get a New York-ish skyline (though I've always gone bust by then).
So, to sum up - this is a game that's full of neat touches, is beautifully simple in concept and hangs together perfectly. We think it's fab. Complete strangers are forever coming into the office to load it up for 'just one quick go' or borrowing it for the weekend - and that rarely happens, I can tell you, even with the very best games. What more evidence could you need? (Buy it!)
The most original, perfectly programmed game of the year. Ignore the graphics - it's a work of total genius!
Ooh ooh! Lots of lovely countryside for me to build my throbbing metropolis on. (Don't think Prince Charles would be too happy with me, do you?)
See those two residential blocks by the sea? They're filling up a bit, aren't they But not only that - the first houses to go are the ones with the posh views over the water! (Is this game snazzy or what?)