• SimCity 3000


  • Simulation


  • Maxis


  • Electronic Arts

Release Date:

  • February 1, 1999 (original PC version), May 2000 (Unlimited)

On Wikipedia:


  • Windows

Macintosh Port:

  • Software MacKiev

There are only two real ways that a sequel could go. A product that fails to live up to the original (especially if the original is story-based) and can never surpass it, or a product that takes everything from the original and builds onto it to create a superior product. SimCity 2000 was the latter, taking everything from the brilliant but simple SimCity (1989) and building it into a much deeper and complex game, giving it a major graphical re-tool as well with an isometric view instead of a top-down one (taking advantage of new technology), and SimCity 3000 could've replicated that success with taking SimCity 2000, adding some new features to the underlying model, improve the graphics for the next generation of computers, and send it out. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, actually. SimCity 3000 (see the previous review here, this one is an updated version) is an interesting case that despite adding technically more, it actually comes out as less, somehow. Part of this was caused by a fairly torturous development plan that had an incomplete game pushed out in 1999 under Electronic Arts (not long after completing the acquisition of Maxis) that had to be hastily re-worked from a full 3D title that was progressing poorly, note that it's just a few renders and one screenshot with rapid editing. After the surprise hit of The Sims, SimCity 3000 got a slightly updated version in the form of SimCity 3000 Unlimited that added some alternate tile sets/themes, a terrain editor, scenarios, and a few other minor features but it didn't change the core features (and was sold as an entirely new product, not as an add-on). Notably it let you reset the terrain color and tile sets.

There aren't a lot of ways to fix traffic, unfortunately.

The gameplay is a lot like SimCity 2000, and I'd be lying if SimCity 3000 didn't provide me good memories in middle school, but it's not a replacement for the old game. You go through the same motions of the whole R/C/I build, except this time adding a "landfill zone" (open landfills, despite the fact that with the exception of the third world, open dumps haven't been around in a very long time, not since at least World War II) and not having to place power lines across the street like before.

The interface is not as good as its predecessor, no scroll bars, full screen only, all menu options stuck to nested options on the right side of the screen instead of the floating menu in SC2k. Newspapers are gone, replaced with a newsticker that runs at the bottom, some giving useful information (links to your advisors or petitioners) or other irrelevant issues that are put in for flavor text, including a dozen separate lines discussing a rumored shortage of cat food. It's also significantly easier—the bonds have been replaced with loans, which are harder to screw up but simplified the interesting parts of credit ratings related to the greater "SimNation". Additionally, you can sell (or buy) utilities, making a tidy profit on exporting power and water, as well as importing garbage (though as soon as things change for any reason, the neighboring cities will get mad and cancel their contract). There are also "business deals", NIMBY-style buildings that will pay out monthly, like a chemical waste disposal plant that increases pollution substantially. Finally, you can now lower the maintenance cost of your roads without destroying them in the process (a "trap" designed in SimCity 2000).

One new feature is Landmarks, a collection of real-life buildings you can place in your city, including the Statue of Liberty, 700 Louisiana (which I once saw everyday after work when I worked near downtown Houston), the Washington Monument, and many others across America and the world. Unfortunately, they don't provide jobs (or have maintenance costs, or have any other effect on your city) so the addition of World Trade Center's twin towers (which the game included) didn't include thousands of workers and an underground shopping concourse. In terms of real buildings, there's also a few new buildings to add; playgrounds, ponds, and fountains join the park menu (stadiums are replaced by the 3x3 sized sports park), there are three buildings for dealing with garbage, medium-density zoning, and a bunch of new rewards (no arcologies or Braun Llama Domes, however).

SimCity 3000 being more colorful is one reason why some prefer over SC4. (Click for full screenshot).

Another "new feature" I haven't mentioned is the addition of "Aura" to the model, basically how "desirable" it is, which contributes to the land value. One of the things that "helps" aura is proximity to agriculture, which is what low-density industrial starts out as (it eventually redevelops into ordinary industrial, unless each and every tile is painstakingly marked as "Historic") with low land value. Presumably, this is an early-game benefit to help out land value before the city develops—things that help aura include hospitals, "fun" things (marinas, zoos, parks), proximity to services, et cetera, and downgrades if there's "trashy" areas nearby (run-down commercial establishments, crime, etc.). It's an interesting area, but some parts of real-world big cities (New York, San Francisco, etc.) are absolute dumps but still command high land value (and high cost of living) just because of their location and availability. Maybe it was a different time, but SimCity 3000 assumes that land values will drag down if there's something "low brow" in the area, but like I said I've lived in Houston again, and I've seen a massive new apartment building next to a run-down car inspection shop, yet people will line up for it anyway, probably because in the near future the car inspection shop will go away for something nicer. That's just the way development goes.

Going back to how "aura" operates, the game also assumes connectivity to schools, fire protection, police, and other factors will make the aura go up, which makes land value go up, but it always neglects the fact that the reason why suburbs and estate housing (which go back at least a century before freeways, by the way) were so popular was because there is a segment of population that wanted to get away from all that. That's not really considered because the unspoken goal of the SimCity games is skyscrapers and high density, and things like sprawling semi-rural areas aren't taken into consideration. The whole relation to the real world is a can of worms and it's not helped by charlatans who agree.

At least the music is pretty good, with lots of upbeat and jazzy tracks, though unfortunately SimCity 3000 Unlimited (which adds a few new pieces) is missing two tracks that the original SimCity 3000 had...and both of them are good, iconic tracks (Sim Broadway and Concrete Jungle). It's possible to patch them in, but why weren't they there in the first place?

When importing a SimCity Classic (SimCity 1989, renamed in the early 1990s) file to SimCity 2000, you get your city in the larger SC2k land area, even if there are some growing pains...hospitals and schools need to built, rails need train stations, and parks will probably turn into trees. But it remains functional. SimCity 3000 retains that import capability but it's very buggy...half of your city will vanish into thin air. SimCity 3000 has no arcologies (even if sound files and text strings in the game's resource files suggest that they were supposed to be there)...so off they go (and the people with them). Prisons were replaced with jails (at a 3x3 size instead of 4x4), so off they go. Stadiums are the same way, they'll go away because the sports park is smaller. Hydroelectric plants? Well, waterfalls don't exist anymore, so any water on slopes will vanish too. Hope you didn't power your city on that. In fact, the slopes have changed slightly, so any roads on a slope vanish. Highways are in SimCity 3000 but it left a big empty scar in my city when my highways went away too. The sub-to-rail connections, the airport and the seaport (but not their zones), and more...poof! By the time everything gets patched up (and it will be a long process, didn't even mention the power line issue), the simulation will probably be asking for "business deals" to supplant your poor financial situation.

Above all, you'll still be on a smaller map than what is the default for SimCity 3000 instead of having a new area to build around and explore in, if you wanted to play around with landmarks and some of the new rewards...which kind of defeats the purpose. It's a far better experience to just start from scratch and enjoy the larger land area to build your city on. Either way, you'll probably be bored with the fact that the same ice cream shops and gas stations will line your low-density commercial districts, bobbing the same sign (only differing in color) in perfect unison. Without the things that were planned but cancelled from the SimCity 2000 release, like a complex water model that could create dams and lakes, it comes off as more shallow that what SimCity 2000 was. At the end of the day, it's really just SimCity 2000 with nicer window dressings but without the snappy pixel art and all the options it provided (disasters, scenarios, and the like all leave a lot to be desired), not to mention being much slower and clunkier (there are a lot of lot of little quibbles)...but it IS still SimCity 2000 underneath, and that was a great game. However, if you wanted a deeper and more attractive SimCity experience, go with SimCity 4.