Title:

  • SimCity 4

Genre:

  • Simulator

Developer:

  • Maxis

Publisher:

  • Electronic Arts

Release Date:

  • January 14 2003 (original base game)

System(s):

  • Windows (Mac port by others)

Box Art Credit:

  • Wikipedia

Systems Used:

  • See Article

Best Improvement Over SC3K:

  • Moddability

On Wikipedia:

As you may (not) know, all of my reviews from a relatively short-lived blog I had, evenings with (old) games were ported over as some of the first reviews on Carbon-izer GAMES, joining Donkey Kong Country and New Super Mario Bros., which were one of the first in the new format. There were only 13 reviews on ew(o)g and all of them were "ported" over. All of them except one, that is. That would be SimCity 4, because I know that it needed a far better review than what I had written there. This is going to be a bit of a longer read that covers a game over the course of well over a decade, so stay with me. The screenshots here can be clicked for full resolution.

My earliest memories of SimCity 4 go back to being on a road trip, I'm 100% sure it was a circa-2000 US-290 and discussing with my brother what would a mystical "SimCity 4000" would have. I was psyched in spring 2002 when I discovered a magazine advertising "SimCity 4" on the cover at the local OfficeMax, which I really wanted because I needed a magazine for a project at school (and not the "cut up for pictures" type, something on articles, and in the end, I went with a, uh, cat magazine). When Maxis announced its SimCity 4 preview series soon after, I was out in the Grand Canyon at the time, though the end result was never as intriguing as the preview cover (which featured a hapless hot dog vendor Sim being thrown in the air).

So in January 2003, the game was released, but I couldn't really enjoy it because it was a Windows only game, and I had a Mac. That was all right. I still paid attention to the websites when I could, and was interested when an expansion pack, Rush Hour, was announced soon after. While SimCity 3000 continued to occupy most of the SimCity time, I was still hanging out on SimCity sites, like the now-defunct SimGlobal.net. While the game did get a Mac release, the iMac we had at home wasn't quite up to snuff enough to really play it right, and I don't think I even had at that point (the price point for the Mac version was really high, and was given a rather mediocre port by Aspyr Media).

I got a rather large guidebook in 2004 at the GameStop at Vista Ridge Mall, which although it covered Rush Hour, I felt like it would go out of date soon, as by that time, The Sims (which had some intercompatibility with SimCity 4) was gearing up for a 3D sequel after having gone through a record-busting seven expansion packs (The Sims 2, released in 2004, would receive 8 over four years). I felt that at the time, SimCity 4 would get a second expansion pack, with Rush Hour coming out for Mac at about the time the second one would come out, just as Rush Hour was released in fall 2003 like the Mac version of the base game had been. An April Fool's expansion pack, "Wild World", which had made its rounds for April 1 2004, had only whet my appetite ("WW" would have weather and new international building sets, which frankly, I would've expected from the real thing). At least Maxis had come out with a prop pack, "Castle Ramparts", which while admittedly being not much in the end, was still something to get excited at about that point. (I'm betting that whatever soul that had thought up the joke was undoubtedly inspired by a similar RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 expansion pack, Wacky Worlds, but that's beside the point). It was only years later that I discovered that Rush Hour had its own things cut, including "classic American road marks" (whatever that is) and railyards, and those are the things that were even mentioned (that bit being from the old SimCity 4 website). The base game had other things cut including ordinances, dirt roads, upgradeable buildings, and more. Ocean Quigley, one of the artists at Maxis, included a number of SimCity features on his blog that never saw the light some years after the game was released, and that included some really intriguing stuff, like extensive decay masks for buildings. I imagine that stuff like could've been in another expansion pack had SimCity 4 sold better.

Returning to our story, my story, the book was the thing that changed my ideas on SimCity 4, and while I didn't play a whole lot of it (the only computer that did was my brother's super-cool, super-powerful, super-expensive G5 tower), it was 2005 that the golden era began. 2005 was a bit of a rough spot in my life, though games were played, helping me remember those times, both the good and the bad. That was when I discovered Simtropolis, and the first thing that I really wanted, a hydroelectric dam structure by SimPegasus.

The other thing was that I took the first trip to the Houston area in a number of years, and my eyes were really opened to the possibility of the program. Mostly the freeway (the intriguing HOV lane among them) and the endless strip malls (many with names I did not know).

This was one of my post-crash cities, appropriately named "No Cheat". I later renamed it.

The absolute best thing about SimCity 4 that no other SimCity game before it had (well, except for maybe the PC version of SimCity 3000, of which the Mac version was a stripped-down port from Ukraine), was the ability to add new buildings to the game without replacing other buildings. In SimCity 2000 you only had tilesets, but with SimCity 4, the sky was the limit. With the family's shiny new iMac G5 to play on, the golden age began, and despite being only armed with the Mac port of SimCity 4, which came with most of the bugs of the Windows version plus some (in particular, no patch was created for night-lighting of custom buildings, meaning that the coolest buildings like Microwave Rectenna Plant never lived up its potential.

One of my favorite memories was getting some Toys R Us models, and while the models weren't all that there (most models had the problem of a parking lot that wasn't proportional to the building, and the parking lot that was there looked kinda weird), I will never forget that if you queried the building, you would get the audio of the first seven or so seconds of this commercial, and that would fade into the ambient noises of the city. Another time I shared with the SimCity 4 community was the SimCity Societies debacle, which had an oft-circulated altered screenshot which Simtropolis mods made sure to remove because either the rampant spamming of the image, the potentially offensive imagery, or perhaps the fact that it hit the common "EA is a money-grubbing fascist" sentiment a little too hard on the head.

In early 2009, the iMac G5 had some sort of graphical problem that prevented its use for SimCity 4 (or anything, really) and while that due to that I did get into some trouble with the SimCity 4 community at large due to my frustrations, but within a few months, I did get an old PC laptop and bought a Windows copy of SC4 Deluxe at the local Wal-Mart, though ultimately, the failure of the iMac G5 would cause me to seek alternate forms of computer and video game entertainment, like revisiting the Classic Mac OS and having fun with that (this will be referred to as "pre-crash" and "post-crash" in the review).

This wasn't in-game, but an ongoing project I followed, which recreated Boston's Big Dig project.
This part was never released, sadly. (c. 2007)

So it wasn't a continuous SimCity 4 obsession throughout those last 10+ years but I kid you not, there was a time in my life where I would think about SimCity 4 in big cities. Like, I specifically remember both driving down the US-59 corridor near the Upper Kirby area in Houston, Texas, or driving back from Waco, Texas, and then being sad that all those buildings I saw could never be replicated fully. I would write down things to add to cities, and as late as 2010, post-crash, I would still do that. I remember actually planning to build, in BAT, a generic "soul-crushing" high school as my own high school, while soul-crushing in its own right, was at least an architecturally interesting building, a large (2000+ student) building being cobbled together from various renovations to make a somewhat complex structure that was extremely confusing for freshmen (and in some ways I kinda liked it). Even though I put a bit much of an already-taxed system (some mods that I had just didn't end up working right...I remember specifically pre-crash some kind of Pokémon jet model from a Japanese site that I never saw in-game).

By 2011 and 2012, SimCity 4 had lost much of its luster for me. Despite playing it for the first time on a Windows XP system that was actually fast (I played it for a while post-crash on a slower laptop), it never gave me the same satisfaction and fun as other newer games. Games like Plants vs. Zombies, Portal, Braid, or even Beneath a Steel Sky.

In the end, despite many false starts, I never released anything, or at least, to date, I never released anything. SimCity 4 hasn't really been played at all since the first half of 2014 when another Windows failure on the MacBook meant that I wasn't able to play it for a while.

I downloaded this image almost 9 years to the day from when I posted this review (9/21/06 vs. 9/20/15).
Must have been that I dug that Days Inn.

In many ways, SimCity 4 represents a dream lost. The game remained buggy and incomplete. There was never another expansion pack, and never another Sim game. Will Wright's magnum opus, the scientific-based SimEverything, later known as Spore, just devolved (pun not intended) into a commercially successful but rather goofy creature-builder. Maxis would produce Darkspore (an action role-playing spin-off, good luck finding it) and the disappointing "true sequel" to SimCity 4, a title simply known as SimCity, which would be hobbled with an always-online component. After one expansion pack (which added "futuristic" buildings and doing nothing to address the core problems) was released, Maxis released an offline patch before being officially shut down for good, killing the last remnants of one of the 1990's best computer game companies and ending the legacy of one of the greatest computer franchises of all time.

My dream of becoming a SimCity 4 BATting superstar would never come to be, but really, in retrospect, having buildings placed down in the poorly-designed railroads and other off-model features still doesn't look good. All that remains is largely just an unfinished Wal-Mart. But to be honest, it wasn't that I wanted to achieve Internet fame and glory through the program (it never was), all I wanted was to build my private paradise, using as many "real-world" components as possible and drenched in a nostalgia that SimCity 4 itself carries. It was to be a world where I could drive in-game to my uncle's house in Baton Rouge, which not only had an awesome pool but where my love of Nintendo was cultivated (and by the time he sold, where my love of Nintendo ended). A world where largely departed retail stores like Super Kmart and Albertsons could live on, and a world where the freeways could be lined with tall signs for fast food restaurants and gas stations, just as they did in all those trips to bigger cities.

And...maybe...not all hope is lost. SimCity 4 is well over a decade old, and despite all the mods and cool buildings, it still feels that way. The "Network Add-On Mod" is a feat of engineering, stretching the dirt road into a full new network with variable lanes (the "Real Highway Mod") and all sorts of other features, but, and I mean this without animosity or dismissal of the NAM team, it's really just hacked together components from what the game already provides, and there's still a lot of things that present impossible technical limitations. With the NAM, you can make complex, interesting, and functional intersections but I have yet to see one that can emulate, say, a five-level stacked interchange, and none of the interchanges look very dense. I'm not saying that they need to hurry and make one, because in my mind, it's simply not possible. I'm not saying that they need to hurry and make one, because they've said multiple times that such a thing wasn't feasible. They obviously have more experience in this sort of thing than I do, and I believe them.

In my original ew(o)g review, I expressed that SimCity 4 was still the best at what it did, because at that time, your only real alternative was Cities XL, which garnered a lot of initial support but was taken a wrong (and ultimately, fatal) turn to a "city simulator MMO", only for the new SimCity ("SimCity 2013") to repeat the same error. Luckily, there's another contender on the horizon, Cities: Skylines which is looking to be pretty good, and despite not having the marketing team of an EA, managed to sell a million copies within a month. That's probably a third of what SC4 sold about 5 years. Once I get my hands on a copy, then you'll probably see another page like this.

There were many things that put me off from making this review. One of them was that I wanted to run SimCity 4 again, which I can't do well with a WINE wrapper, nor the port. I also wanted to include a list of things to download, which also hasn't happened yet (in fact, early plans for Carbon-izer called for a full SimCity section, entitled "SimCity Hall"). I wanted to include a number of downloads from Simtropolis, but didn't want to force people to sign up for the site (or worse, if you were banned for some reason for another) or put them up on my site (thus giving cause for me to be banned), but now I don't have to do either, as the latest version of Simtropolis has made it so you can download them without logging in (although I do remember one of the previous versions of ST where I could figure out how to download them without logging in). Par for the course of non-logged in downloads, it's throttled (of the "wait 5 seconds, skip ad" variety) but it does work. Please click here for a list of what I would consider absolute essentials, including vital updates and other needed information if you want to play it. Also, visit my page on other tips to use.

September 14 2015

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