• SimCity 4


  • Simulator


  • Maxis


  • Electronic Arts

Release Date:

  • January 14, 2003

On Wikipedia:

  • Yes (it's where box credit is from)


  • Windows (played on Mac initially)


Strangest Music:

  • Primordial Dream

My original review for SimCity 4 can be seen here and while I could've done little more than change a few outdated links, slap a rating on it I wanted to take another look at it. The original review was written in September 2015 and I wanted to go back and make some changes. You can compare and contrast the old review.

My earliest memories of SimCity 4 go back to being on a road trip, I'm 100% sure it was a circa-2000 U.S. Highway 290, back when there wasn't much beyond Beltway 8 and discussing with my brother what would a hypothetical "SimCity 4000" would have. I'm sure everyone thought that the sequel to SimCity 3000 would called "SimCity 4000" following the precedent set forward by SimCity 2000. 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 but sadly didn't get. 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).

SimCity 4 was first released in January 2003, 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, "SimCity 4: 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at the GameStop at Vista Ridge Mall, which although it covered the Rush Hour expansion pack, I felt like it would go out of date soon, as by that time, The Sims (which had some intercompatibility with SimCity 4) was gearing up for a 3D sequel after having gone through a record-busting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). I'm sure whoever drafted up the fake expansion pack was undoubtedly inspired by a similar RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 expansion pack, Wacky Worlds, but that's beside the point. Meanwhile, the only thing that came out of Maxis was the "Castle Ramparts" prop pack, which while admittedly being not much in the end, was still something to get excited at about that 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.

That would ultimately turn out to be the end of SimCity 4's official support but for me, my story was only beginning. 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. It wasn't actually functional as far as managing water in your city was concerned, but it still left a profound impact in my view of the game. Around that time there wa a new family computer purchased that did play SimCity 4 properly.

With all the mods out there, my imagination began to run. When I took the first real trip again to the Houston area in a number of years, 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). Much of this has been documented on Carbon-izer, including a few links of what the highway looked like in 2005.

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 Walmart, 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)

For a long time, though not continuously, there was a 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 the game in big cities and imagine how I could transplant what I saw into the game. I specifically remember both driving down the US-59 corridor near the Upper Kirby area in Houston, Texas, or driving back from Waco, Texas, getting excited at the prospect of bringing that little piece of the world to SimCity 4 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, it 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, however, SimCity 4 had lost much of its luster for me, even when I was able to play it (there was a point when my Windows XP installation on my MacBook failed, putting it out of reach for a while). 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, and my dream 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. 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. It's the same drive that built most of the main Carbon-izer city directories and other pages; it needed to be preserved, somehow.

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

When it came down to it, however, I think part of the problem was that SimCity 4 was too buggy and incomplete, and the mods were just a way to cover for that, and at a certain point it's just a fancy picture to paste into your city. This wasn't as pronounced it was in Cities: Skylines but it was there. The simulation isn't much deeper than it was in the 1990s games. Maybe expansion packs would've fixed that (a planned second expansion pack would've been more nature focused and added salt water, for instance). Despite having a tile-based system with similar footprints for civic buildings (the Large Police Station is a 3x3 building, for instance, just as with all police stations dating back to the original), it is not compatible with SimCity 3000. There are ways to import "My Sims" from The Sims and a way to use the game to create custom neighborhoods for The Sims 2 but that's it.

Less than ten years prior to the release of SimCity 4, the CD version of SimCity 2000 had suggested that there would be more intercompatibility with other Sim games in the future and SimCity 4 could support that. The SimCity 4 Building Architect Tool helped create game-compatible renderings from 3D models, but not from any other title. It would've been interesting for SimCity 3000 to import golf courses from SimGolf (I'm sure that was that was part of the plan at some point) but that still probably would've been a bridge too far for late 1990s technology. With SimCity 4, that might've been possible...but SimGolf had long been forgotten by that time, and it wasn't coming back. With EA's focus on The Sims, the brand effectively died. The only other "SimWhatever" games at this time were rebadged versions of Bullfrog's Theme Park series or 2002's Sid Meier's SimGolf. SimCity Societies was released, but was hardly a sequel to the game and forgotten. 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 later 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.

Network Add-on Mod adds some cool stuff but it uses resources and designed for pro users. (source: Reddit)

It wouldn't be fair to say that SimCity 4 hasn't improved since the mid-2000s. 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 (even the ones in the modern NAM look a bit jerky, the previous link is from 2015) look very dense. Just one of those hard-coded game features I guess.

The old version of this page was optimistic about Cities: Skylines (boy, what a disaster that turned out to be) and while there are a few games that scratch the itch of SimCity 4, whether it's Factorio (similar aesthetics, too) or Prison Architect, which also came after the original 2015 review (before it was messed up by Paradox, anyway). I have been burned so many times on so many projects. My own personal hope is that with the SimCity (2013) disaster now firmly in the past, EA will announce something for SimCity 4 akin to Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection with source code release, modern system compatibility (the game practically needs a bevy of mods just to make it run okay), and the like. (I'd also like to see a SimCity 2000 source release but SimCity 4 would be more useful.)