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Posted on Sep 10, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

City Life – Game Review (PC)

Armchair General

When you finally see the blessed announcement that a new social class has entered your city, it’s decision time. Do you construct that new business complex that just became available to keep the people hanging around, whilst knowing that it will cost you money for the first few years, or do you ignore them and maintain current spending on existing structures in the hope that more of this new sub-class will appear of their own accord and justify the expense? The answer is usually the former, take the initial hit and hope that eventually that business will start making money – just make sure you have a wealthy war chest to weather the financial storm.

The same dilemmas apply to civic structures – once your first Police Station becomes available, it’s a sign that you’re reached a certain level in the game, and a sign that it might be a good idea to build one before something nasty happens. But here’s the rub, that Police Station might calm the tensions between groups a little, but it’s going to cost you money to run – can you afford it?

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More often than not, I would look at my figures and see a tidy monthly profit and go shopping for a new civic structure, only to find that the potential monthly cost would tip me into the red. On the basis that I can’t actually afford the park that people are crying out for, I would find myself zoning more residential areas just to turn enough of a profit in the form of taxes to build my shiny new park, but already, the fact that the new residential zone exists means that I have a new bunch of residents crying out for something else, a school, library or grocery store. It’s never ending…

To add insult to injury, several times I would build a new business or amenity, only to find my economy going into freefall, incurring losses way beyond the projected maximum cost and dumping me immediately way in the red. My only choice? Spend even more money to demolish the structure and wait for a couple of years for the economy to stabilise so I have some cash to spend again. Sometimes, the economic repercussions would last for several months and I’d find myself demolishing even more valuable real estate just to get back in the black. When things like this happen, I honestly wonder if the game mechanics are broken…

Make no mistake, the entire game is essentially a massively complex eternally dynamic equation – and addictive as hell, no matter how bad your economic planning is.

Graphics

City Life is heavy on eye-candy and is a feast to behold with solid looking buildings that are fully rendered in glorious 3D. Unlike the SIM City games, it’s possible to scroll around your town from any angle and there are several levels of zoom, including the impressive ability to look at your city from street level. As I said in my initial Recon of this title, the ability to "walk" around your creations is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the game – especially if you turn on "night mode" and the whole city becomes lit beautifully.

City Life is also hyped for the ability to place structures at unusual angles – i.e. not everything has to be placed at 90 degrees to everything else. This can make for some interesting road layouts, you can even build roundabouts and have buildings lined up all around them in a pretty circle. The problem is, whilst this is all very clever and unusual, when you think about it, this method of placement is actually not particularly conducive to maximising the available space within your city. Placing buildings at jaunty angles is all well and good, but given that said building still takes up a particular-sized square or rectangular piece of ground, unless you accept that everything else must be aligned to that building (which defeats the object) you’ll simply end up with patches of land either side that are completely useless for further building. When you have people crying out all the time for more of this and more of that, every single square inch of space becomes vital for development.

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My city looks quite nice at night, just ignore the crime statistics. And just for you, dear reader, I even found something with a military theme in the game!

However I must add that the game appears to be quite buggy. Having first loaded it onto one PC and played successfully for a couple of times, the game later refused to load for me at all and I was forced to try another machine to continue playing. Issues where the game refuses to load are apparently quite common according to the online communities playing the game. Furthermore, there is a very annoying graphical glitch which causes the screen to "blink" every so often during building mode. This is very distracting when you’re attempting to place a structure, even more so when it’s that new Super Casino you’ve been saving up for at a cost of $60,000 and you end up misaligning the entire complex.

Sound

When I originally checked out the preview version of this game, I seem to recall switching off the music about ten seconds into the game. Either I have become more tolerant lately, or the music was less intrusive, but I didn’t feel the urge to do this with the full version of City Life. Other, in-game sounds were OK, but not particularly memorable. But then this isn’t the kind of game that needs full surround sound effects, so it’s not really an issue.

Documentation and Technical

Aside from the error I mentioned earlier, which I attempted to resolve online, the documentation provided is adequate. Given that there are lots of heavy text tips within the game to assist you in your Mayoral duties, you’ll probably find as I did that the manual isn’t needed, the game gives it all to you.

Armchair General Rating 89%

55/60—Gameplay
18/20—Graphics
08/10—Sound
08/10—Documentation and Technical

Pros: Beautiful graphics, engrossing gameplay, challenging situations.

Cons: Some graphical glitches, steep learning curve for those used to the SIM City series.

Bottom Line: This is probably a game I’ll be playing for some time, and one day, I may even master it.

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