City Life Review
By Simon Graves |
SimCity has ruled the modern city building market for years. Those that wish to carve out a little space in the specialized genre have to specialize even more. Monte Cristo did just that by grabbing onto the social make-up of a city as the lynch pin of game design. Everything in the game hinges on creating a city with a wide range of social stereotypes. The catch is that many of these groups of people simply don't get along with each other. The social balance mechanism creates a city building game that adds an interesting new layer to the gameplay. It may not be a totally complete package in all respects, but it's nice to have something new to think about aside from the normal traffic troubles.
The main crux of social interaction between citizens isn't the only aspect that makes this game interesting, but it is the draw here. Everything centers around the idea and it's pretty strange and somewhat challenging to think about the design of a metropolitan area around segregation. While it's got a negative connotation, it's a great gameplay tool to give players a new way to think about where they're placing businesses, buildings, and residences.
Each time a new map is chosen to play on, the player will have to choose a territory section out of it in which to begin constructing a city from the ground up. Once the city hall has been placed down, residences and businesses can begin to be constructed as well. Players will be limited in what they can build towards the beginning of the game with extra buildings becoming unlocked as certain goals, such as population level of different social types, are met. Once a city has expanded to a certain size and the coffers are full of enough money to expand, extra pieces of land can be purchased from the area map for immediate construction. Doling out new buildings a bit seems to be a decision to pace gamers that are unfamiliar with the landscape of the game. It's not a bad mechanic, but it can be frustrating as players will have to keep redesigns of the city in mind when first laying out a residential area as larger residential buildings have a larger footprint than your basic plots of land.
As mentioned before, the most important thing to remember when designing a city is that there are six social classes in the game, many of which do not get along well with each other. At the basic level there are blue collar and fringe. These guys really don't like each other but comprise a huge part of a city's labor force towards the beginning of any scenario. It's important to build a buffer in between these social groups to keep them apart. If they're not kept apart, they'll begin mixing, getting in fights, and eventually causing riots. The same thing goes for the upper class versions of these two social bodies called the suits and the radical chic and the highest range, the elites, and the lowest range, the have nots.
It gets a bit trickier when some of the bigger buildings that can provide a city with a huge amount of diverse services (like malls or stadiums) need employees from several different social sectors from opposing social groups. It means trying to place these businesses in areas where the residential areas overlap enough to get employees but don't cause the groups to mix too much on the street. These buildings definitely made the game a bit more challenging to maintain a constant happiness level.
The biggest curiosity here is that while the groups certain have their problems when piled into the same area (it's hard not to design a city for some Jerry Springer moments), it's not exactly difficult to keep the crime and strife down to a minimum with the use of law enforcement. Even at their worst, the residents are pretty benign. They will complain an awful lot and be much more unhappy than any mayor would like when trying to design a wonderfully clockwork city where money rolls in constantly and citizens are constantly bettering themselves to climb up the social ladder.
Getting your city to move towards a better tomorrow is a pretty good challenge as well, though for unexplained reasons. Once schools and businesses have been constructed that will offer the opportunity for citizens to move on the road to bettering themselves and move up the social ladder (blue collar to suit, fringe to radical chic, suit or radical chic to elite), they often don't take the chance. It's especially frustrating when people complain that there is no chance to advance for so long and then ignore the opportunity when it's shoved in their face.
Eventually, you'll have a bustling city full of industry and people. Unfortunately, the people and industries all look the same. While the visuals in City Life are actually pretty decent considering all of the objects and levels of zoom that are capable, there's just not a lot of variety. The streets are filled with clones wearing clothes colored to their social status, residential buildings that are all the same, and industry that could have used quite a bit more flavor. Even when you have all six social statuses moving around the city, there's still a lack of personality that would have been really nice to see. There is a building editor so players can create their own structures for downloads, but it's hard to find any of these. The Sims this is not.