They wanted to play SimCity. They really did. And maybe they will soon. But our guest writers who are reviewing the city-building simulation had the same server-connection issues everyone else did in the days shortly after the PC game’s release (see our coverage here).

Publisher EA and developer EA Maxis say the problems are going away, but our Threeview just couldn’t wait. Our analyst reviewer dished out his lowest score yet, strongly criticizing the failures surrounding this big launch. Our academic reviewer (a SimCity fan and expert) was much more generous with his critique, but that could be because he didn’t exactly review the game itself (see what he does below). Meanwhile, our own in-house reviewer was the only one among the three to actually play SimCity.

Here are their thoughts.

SimCity: The critic’s review

  • By Dean Takahashi, GamesBeat lead news writer
  • Note: Turned in before launch

Dean TakahashiIt’s a joy to see SimCity return in a better form than it has ever been. It is wonderfully complex but very easy to play. The title is a massive undertaking, and it has come together beautifully overall. Hopefully, EA will be able to improve the connected parts of the game, and the experience will become more fun with more players.

The game is as enchanting as it was when it first debuted so many years ago.

Read the full GamesBeat review.

Final critic’s score: 90/100

SimCity: The analyst’s review

michael pachter

SimCity is a great game, and if this review was about the game, I’d give it a 95 review score.  Unfortunately, this review is about the impact the game will have on EA’s financials, which will likely range from “not much” to hurting them.  The fact is that the game doesn’t work.  The sad fact is the game’s failure to work is completely due to EA’s affirmative decision to require a persistent server connection.

The spin from EA appears to be that the “always connected” requirement is due to the fact that so much data must be handled by its servers, and the company believes that most consumers’ PCs are not up to the task. I can’t call BS on this, because I truly don’t know if it is true, but the perception among gamers appears to be that the “always connected” requirement is due to digital rights management, which is intended to prevent piracy. Apparently, few players are able to play the game for more than 20 minutes to 30 minutes without serious latency, and I have seen several reports of corrupted data. It is fatal for a city-building game to fail to save the city its players build.

Regardless, the “always connected” game is buggy, to the point of being unplayable for many people.  The SimCity franchise can reasonably be counted on to sell 500,000 copies a year and should have been expected to sell 1 million to 2 million in 2013; due to its bugginess, it isn’t clear that this year’s version will come close to the 1 million unit threshold, and if the bugginess continues, it is highly unlikely that catalog sales will be strong.

The question I cannot answer is whether EA can turn off its “always connected” requirement.  SimCity would be a great single-player game offline, and its online functionality should not be difficult to sustain for a company that manages online multiplayer for so many other games. It appears that a desire to boost [online store] Origin account activations coupled with paranoia over piracy clouded EA’s judgment, and the result is a failing score. The issues with latency and corrupted sessions have spurred outrage on the Internet, and I believe these issues, if not remedied soon, will cause lasting damage to the EA and SimCity brands. Accordingly, until the bugs are fixed and gamers can rely on a near flawless experience, I must assign SimCity a score of 50.

Final analyst’s score: 50/100

SimCity: The academic’s review

  • By David Thomas, Ph.D., researcher at the University of Colorado, Denver
  • Blog: Buzzcut
  • Note: Turned in five days after launch

David ThomasOne of the joys of working as an academic is hearing people say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” As I stare, once again, at the “unable to connect” message glaring at me where the new SimCity ought to be, I think: Well, since I can’t play, at least I can still do a little scholarly probing.

Fortunately, even though the game is having well-documented fits and starts, the instruction manual works just fine. So I’m going to review what I know while EA fixes the game.

Besides, what I really want to know is: Has SimCity has gained any smarts around engaging players with the challenge of actually running a city?

So to the manual I go. And here’s what it looks like from that perspective:

  • The Mayor: Just like every other SimCity game before, you get to play Stalin. The people? Let them complain! These buildings are coming down for the greater glory of the state.
  • Multiplayer: Interesting. Real cities evolve in complex webs of negotiation. I guess trading with other players sounds interesting.
  • Global market: I’m intrigued. A city that has to wheel-and-deal resources to stay afloat? Now that is something a teacher could sink his teeth into.
  • Mixed-use zoning: Nope. My dreams of building a transit-oriented commercial development with a mix of residential units remains just that — a dream. You get three zoning options, and that’s that.
  • Sewage: Sounds nasty. Then again, pollution has always had a place in SimCity. This sounds like a challenging addition to the troubles you face as Mayor.
  • Upgradable, plopable buildings: One of the central pleasures in this game is seeing your city grow. Showing a more effective government through an upgraded city hall sounds like a great improvement in the interface.
  • Boats: From Hong Kong to New York City, well, you know, boats.
  • City specialization: While it’s neat to think about flavoring the kind of city you want to build from the beginning, do you really want to run a coal town?
  • Weather: Yeah, still no weather. And for those of us that live in places where mayors come and go based on their ability to keep the snow plows running, I’ll say, “We’re still waiting.”

Which, of course, brings us to curvy roads. For would-be junior designers intent on replicating the disorienting rat’s nest of the American suburb, maybe curvy roads seem like a cool new feature And, certainly, if you want to cook up a city with a European feel, then the curves come with the territory. But to my eye, the prototypical SimCity looks like a vaguely futuristic version of the same Northern Californian burgs Will Wright had in mind when he first designed the [original] game. And other than curves to work around tough geographical features, there’s no reason to layout that grand ring circling your city.

That said, I’m looking forward to playing the game. It might not be any more useful for teaching about cities than the other games in the series. Still, curvy roads and sewage look like fun.

Final academic’s score: 88/100 (“It’s a good manual!”)