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

City Life – Game Review (PC)

Armchair General

This just in: It’s ten o’clock in the morning and already there’s a fire raging in the new sprawling development of high-rise apartment buildings to the North, whilst just a few blocks to the East, inter-cultural tension has escalated into a frightening stand-off between opposing demonstrators that threatens to break out into a riot.

Meanwhile, the city’s budget deficit is the worst in our history following construction of the new State College and there’s a huge traffic jam gridlocking the city centre.

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Ambulances and Police cars race to the scene – but I can’t afford a Fire Station yet! The fire raged all through the night, which saved a small fortune in street lighting

This kind of thing happens all the time when I play City Life. I don’t know if this makes me a useless Mayor or just an appalling game player, but either way, I keep plugging away to try and get things…just…right. Well, for a few minutes anyway. Maybe it’s because the game is so gorgeous to look at, there’s always something happening to keep players interested, and even if it’s bad, like the raging inferno now consuming twenty city blocks, at least the people are burning in style.


Make no mistake, City Life is quite tricky to get the hang of – by this I mean it’s hard to get it balanced so your economy doesn’t tip out of control. Zoning roads and new developments is easy enough, but striking a balance is the nature of the game and it’s not easy, at least not at the start.


Unlike games from the SIM City series, residential structures are the only ones you will zone per se. There’s no industrial or commercial zoning here, instead the task is to meet demand for jobs by placing individual businesses near to the people screaming out for something to do. This feels slightly artificial as I don’t know many city Mayors who will actively construct independent businesses for people to work in, but, putting that to one side, the trick is to ensure that there are enough jobs for the classes of people living in your city. It’s not just businesses you’ll be placing either, the people need facilities as well, everything from bars to family restaurants to Opera Houses and multiplex cinemas – you’ll be building it all.

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Traffic congestion can easily be solved… …with the judicious application of some 3-lane highways.

In a way, the game system is one of constant betterment – the higher the social class living in your city, the more money you’ll make. If you really want to make the big bucks, you have to educate and improve the initial influx of citizens arriving in your town. Constructing the most basic businesses for your people to gain employment will make you easy money, but not much. It’s only by placing the riskier, larger businesses for each sub-group and by throwing up some of the costly improved public facilities as they become available that you’ll drag the people up from the gutter and into the next social class. Speculate to accumulate is the key – invest wisely in certain structures and you’ll both educate your own people and attract higher classes from elsewhere. As those higher classes arrive, you’ll unlock new buildings to allow you to move up to the next level. But whilst you kowtow to the Suits and the Elites bringing in that lovely cash, don’t forget the little people, because everyone still needs a job, even the lowly Have-Nots, or your society will collapse.

When you build your first city, you’ll have limited options available to you, single family dwellings or low-rise apartments are all you get to construct in the way of residential structures, there are no schools or other public utilities available and it’s a struggle to get your economy flowing.

The hard part is knowing when to splurge some of that money you have stashed away to make the maximum investment at the right moment. All the time the game is screaming out at you that there are recruitment problems for one group or that there is not enough housing for another. It seems that every other day there are people demonstrating outside City Hall for one reason or another, and satisfying one group will usually upset another. It’s hard, if not impossible, to segregate the different social classes, and if one group has jobs whilst the other languishes in the doldrums, very soon you’ll be calling in the SWAT teams to break up the fighting.

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Call the Cops, it’s only a fistfight but it can swiftly escalate. If you ever wondered where the mysterious black helicopters come from…

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