Mobile SimCity? What’s the Catch?

1448387848833For the last few days, I’ve been playing EA’s mobile SimCity game, SimCity BuildIt. I loaded it onto my recently reset Acer A200 tablet, running Android 4.0.3 (ICS). After racking up more than a few hours of gameplay, and wondering how this would work as “free to play”, I saw their trick. So, here’s the POCGamer review of SimCity BuildIt!

Game: SimCity BuildIt
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)
Platform: mobile gaming (Android and iOS)
Cost: Free to Play

Graphics: 4/5

The graphics in the this game are great. Buildings are distinctive, there are little Sims driving around, and it has a feel similar to SimCity or SimCity Society. Where it falls down is a lack of a zoom function, so traversing your city is difficult at best. As far as mobile games go, this was great graphics wise.

Music and Audio:

Standard SimCity sort of music. Nothing to write home about, it doesn’t impress or disappoint. Audio wise, it has all the familiar sounds and nonsense Sim-speak that we’ve all become used to.

Gameplay: 1.5/5
Remember that trick I mentioned? Yeah. It’s a game wrecker. EA isn’t noted for gamer friendly policies, and this game is a great example of that. Tax income is required in SimCity games to build more facilities and build your city up. A big part of that is that you can speed up time, making your income come in faster. That isn’t an option in SimCity BuildIt. Everyday, every real 24 hour period, you get a payout. Any other simoleons (the in game currency) in game comes from trading your manufactured goods for a pittance, or upgrading buildings. Which doesn’t sound bad, until utilities kick in.

Utilities in this game are a nightmare. Instead of giving you access to them immediately, it springs needs on you as your building. Suddenly, after running fine without it, you’ll level up and your citizens suddenly need fire protection. Except that in the game, fire protection literally doesn’t expand beyond the affected area, meaning that those homes outside it are in deep trouble. Then, another level up, and it’s sewers. Looking forward, it appears that every few levels, your Sims will suddenly need some service that they never needed before.

Another issue is the combination of level up and population base for deciding what buildings you have access to. It makes for a confusing combination. Also irritating is that your service, manufacturing, and commercial buildings cost simoleons, but building or upgrading your housing areas costs random combinations of raw materials from your factories and/or items from the hardware and building supply stores; which adds grind time to the mix, since those items take a lot of real time to make.

The trick finally comes to light when you look at the little real dollar looking icon under your simoleons total. That’s right, microtransactions. Basically, you can make all the irritating, game play ruining aspects of the game go away, if you shell out some cold hard cash to EA. And its not even subtle. Even if you scrimped and minimized everything, the gameplay length would stretch into very real days or even weeks to achieve anything close to a normal SimCity experience, and you’re probably pay significantly more in game than you would for a full version of the game on a PC.

Diversity: Poor

Diversity is not this game’s strong point. I think I saw one Sim pop up in the advice column who wasn’t white. Given that there aren’t individual Sims roaming around (a system limitation I suspect), that’s a pretty big ball to drop.

Fun Factor: 2/5

The game is fun, right up until you hit that paywall. If you have the patience of a saint, or a lot of disposable income, this will probably be fun for you. Otherwise, it starts out amazingly, then slaps you in the face. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt though, for the afore mentioned players if no one else.

Final Score: 10.5/20

This game had a lot of potential, but it just comes across as a blatant money grab by EA. Other games with In App purchases and microtransactions, such as Fallout: Shelter, Boom Beach, and even World of Tanks, still leave a playable game behind for players who don’t have the cash but are willing to invest a reasonable amount of time. This games doesn’t, and the poorly thought out level and population system for unlocking needs and buildings is just the frosting on top.

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