Review: SimCity (2013)


SimCity and I have had a sporadic relationship over the years. Before this latest iteration, I recall playing SimCity 3000 and, being 13 at the time, finding it too complex not be overwhelmed. Yet there was something there that fascinated me. Even earlier than that, I recall playing the first entry in the series on my NES and laughing maniacally as Bowser came through and stomped down all of my handiwork. I know now that what fascinated me was the creation, the simulation, of something I would never lay hands on in my real life. That same creationist quality is back in this year’s SimCity, evolving and pulsing with thoroughfare-based progression, and I’m finally old enough to sink into the strategy of it all. The result is a game which steals hours like it does Simoleans, and if you’re not careful, will keep you building long hours into the night.

Welcome the New Mayor!

For those of you afraid of Origin, let me take a moment to assuage your fears. Origin doesn’t intrude on gameplay but enhances it through an integrated friends list and messaging. The server issues you’ve heard about are largely gone and in the entire scope of this review I only experienced one issue: my server being full a day after the more servers were opened up. While we could argue the merits of online gameplay, EA and Maxis have made it clear that offline isn’t in the works, so we are best to take the game as it stands, which remains an accomplishment.

Gameplay follows the expected model but features a robust tutorial that introduces basic gameplay elements before allowing you to venture into un-paved ground. The learning doesn’t stop there, however. As you lay roads and explore the potential your region, advisors pop up offering suggestions and additional lessons to deepen the possibilities of your city. Since these come as a result of gameplay, expect to make some mistakes and, if you’re anything like me, to have your second city be much better planned than your first.


Breaking Ground

When you begin, you will lay roads and zone for residential, commercial, or industrial development. Rather than having you place individual buildings like past games, construction happens automatically. I was taken back by this at first since I had hoped for a greater degree of business control, but it soon becomes apparent that SimCity wants to concern with its larger game over incidental planning.

Rather than worrying where you’ll place your fast food chain, you’ll be adjusting taxes, developing industry, guiding mass transit, and making sure your citizens have plenty of entertainment to keep them happy. You’ll be worried about clean air and water, sewage flow, and how to provide enough electricity to keep the lights on. You’ll also be managing city services like law enforcement and fire, and making sure that each evolves alongside your city. Care must also be taken to maintain a delicate balance between workers and jobs, bulldozing buildings when it inevitably goes awry, and praying a zombie outbreak doesn’t happen as the plates wobble perilously upon their rods.

The progression system is interesting if a bit slow, but also results in a drip-feed of rewards which keep you coming back for more. Buildings begin small, like any little town, but as the amount of residents increase and roads are expanded to accommodate greater traffic, they evolve into complexes and full-on high rises. Every action you take has a reaction. When it’s positive, you’re encouraged to keep on developing and open up the next build tier or answer growing zone demands. When it’s negative you risk driving residents away, such as placing a nuclear power plant in the middle of a residential district. (In my defense, it was temporary, but my sims didn’t seem to forgive me… this is what we do to keep the lights on, people).


Old Boys’ (and Girls’) Club

Just when you think things are done, another problem arises. SimCity is designed for inter-reliance. No one city can do it all and so multiplayer, or single-player region play, becomes an important evolution of the franchise. With regretfully smaller city limits than past games, each mayor will eventually hit a wall providing for their citizens wants and needs. Rather than bulldoze and rebuild, he can enter the global market and request resources from neighboring cities.

Multiplayer shines in this regard, because each city will only reach its highest potential when mayors consider the region rather than solely themselves. In other words, when multiplayer games are taken as shared undertakings rather than quiet, side-by-side mini-games, the potential explodes outwards. Entering into a multiplayer game with a surplus of industrial cities might drive a new player to develop their own with an emphasis on gambling. If another player comes in and sees a need for water services or fire coverage, they would be wise to place additional water towers and buy extra fire trucks. It is very much a give and take and forces the player to think larger than ever before.

This all ties into the new specialization system. Once a mayor has laid the groundwork, they can choose to differentiate their city in one of a number of ways. Each plot features natural resources, so one rich in coal might decide to specialize in coal mining. Another along the seashore might decide to become a tourist hot spot. Specializing a city adds to the strategic side of gameplay by opening up a number of new development options and objectives. It also reinforces cross-city play.

When cities within a region work together, they also unlock Great Works sites. These are massive undertakings requiring great amounts of money and resources for all involved. It’s delightfully rewarding to see your first work go up and know that it is one of the game’s great milestones. Building them also rewards the connected cities with development bonuses to tourism, education, and more, so it’s worthwhile to invest in their creation.

SimCity is also a visual and informational feast. You can zoom into street level or pan outwards to view a whole region. Changing the angle or zooming in provides a delightful cinematic motion blur. Buildings also construct in stages, so you’ll see them progress from the foundations, to scaffolds, to full buildings and then grow through their natural building progression as conditions allow. If you’re into data maps, the game also offers a number of overlays so you can see information flow by the building. Each Sim also has its own life and many will share their thoughts and concerns as cities progress giving a sense of life and activity fresh to the franchise.


Traffic Jam

While the game is a lot of fun, there are still a number issues that need to be addressed. Advancements have been made with the traffic system, but it’s still not perfect. Lots of bugs remain, both graphical and functional. To their credit, Maxis is doing a good job of addressing these, but some of them can have a profound impact on the game’s functionality. Certain buildings can stop working, city systems such as water and electricity can break down and not deliver correctly, and trading between cities is still iffy. That said, many of these will go un-noticed by all but the most attentive players. More noticeable is the inability to keep a city truly happy. While it may mimic real life and so be classified as part of the sim, it’s a bit disheartening to see a flurry of red faces when your response was to a previous flurry of red faces. Also, where is the undo button? This, to me, is one of the true downsides to the online functionality. It’s terribly frustrating to misplace an expensive structure and have to chalk it up to a loss because of a simple miss-click.

Final Thoughts

Overall, SimCity is still well worth the cost of entry. Before sitting down with it, the proverbial example of looking up to find three hours gone had been all but make believe to me. Here, however, it happened twice in a single week. The game has a way of drawing you in for “one more building” or “one more expansion,” while making you forget that each leads to the next, and the next, and the next. Is it perfect? No, that much should be clear after the last few week’s fallout. Thankfully a game doesn’t need to be perfect to be stellar. If you have a reliable internet connection and enjoy city builders, SimCity provides hours of entertainment both with friends and without.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10
Pros: Deep, long lasting gameplay, great strategy, city inter-reliance
Cons: Bugs still need fixing, no undo button

My Return to Fallen Earth


For my latest column at MMORPG, I made a return visit to Fallout Online Fallen Earth. It’s been over three years since I last checked in and a lot had changed, but even more remained the same. More specifically, all of the good parts — the crafting, shooting, exploring, humor, and stories — stayed in tact after the free-to-play conversion back in ’11. This was something I was worried about. The game didn’t seem to be doing too well and the freemium model was still finding its feet in a lot of ways. They could have destroyed the thing. I’m here to tell you, not only didn’t they destroy it, Fallen Earth is better today than it’s ever been.

For the life of me, I don’t know why more people aren’t playing this game. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot. I played at multiple hours each day over my two week window and there was always, always lots of people running around. I was Grand Canyon region, FE’s massive newbie zone, so I’m sure that had something to do with it, but chat was rolling, people were asking questions and getting help, and everyone seemed be having a pretty good time. One of the Game Masters was even in chat accepting duels from players. How cool is that?

What always made the game shine in my eyes was the combat, but I’ll admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to picking up the pea shooter I left off with. Something about getting headshots with paintball guns never sat right with me. What do you mean you’re bleeding? And no, you can quit faking dead right now. I gave you a welt, pal, so don’t pull this hemorrhage business on me.

Thankfully, GamersFirst threw that right out the window and give you a pistol right away. Ammo is also incredibly easy to make, so I never even came close to running out. That changed the game for me. When I used to play, it was stiffly-animated melee or crossbow all the way. Give me a high-powered slug thrower, why should I ever turn back? Most early players seemed to agree, because everyone, and I mean everyone, I ran across was going ballistics. They also seem to have done away with the “chance to miss” on headshots. Every time I lined up a shot, it did damage. That always drove me nuts last time.

The crafting game is really where it’s at, though. I lost so much time just going from node to node seeing what I could find and then piecing it all back together into something I could use. Everyone out there who complains that crafting should mean something, that it needs to be done right, needs to look to Fallen Earth. FE does crafting right. Not only is there a real-time queue, but with item wear and progressively improving recipes, you could play the whole game as a crafter, always be in demand, and be creating some of the best and coolest gear in the game. Especially vehicles. The only downside I see to this is that you still have to level up to gain AP and increase your skills. No combat-less play here.

But frankly, I don’t care. Fallen Earth has the MMORPG genre’s best take on on first-person-shooting out there. Melee not so much. Darkfall takes that award. Mimicking Fallout? Hands down.

And the cash shop can be wholly and completely ignored. I honestly don’t know how they’re making money. You are somewhat gimped playing free, but to be honest, I never once ran into a limitation. The slower crafting times are negligible for low level stuff and, really, I don’t think that much matters anyway. The whole game is open to you without paying a dime the entire way through. That’s pretty awesome, if you ask me. It also makes me feel a lot better about tossing down a few bucks when I do want a little booster.

Fallen Earth remains a diamond in the rough. If that same game released today, it wouldn’t be struggling right now. It would be met with high acclaim because it does so much of what people are asking for. I firmly think it was ahead of its time. People still wanted WoW-likes back then. Now, FE just fades into the background as one of the best games you’re not playing. So… go play it! 😉

Worried About Wildstar’s Combat

Like many of you, I’ve been watching Wildstar for a while with eager anticipation. There’s something about that little title, maybe its sense of quirkiness, that has me intrigued. And action combat. We can’t forget that, especially since it’s my single biggest concern for the game right now.

Not the actual mechanics of combat, mind you. I’m actually enthused at the many-varied telegraphs for movement, even if it will kill communication during fights. But hey, that’s nothing new. What I’m more concerned about is the sense of impact when you actually hit things. It’s important, especially since a lot of people seem keen on comparing the game to TERA. You can say what you want about that game, what with its full fledged boob physics, but it’s become the gold standard for MMO action combat. It’s fun, satisfying, and game-making.

Back to Wildstar, I’ve watched a herd of the available gameplay videos and a disturbing number of combat encounters lack any sense of impact whatsoever. You can do a flippity-floppity sword swoosh all day long, but if the enemy doesn’t react, it’s a failure. I submit the following hypothesis: action combat without a sense of impact lacks satisfaction. It also begs the question of why bother. A sense of impact is important, right up there with maneuvers blending together into a tight orchestra of destruction. That’s why games like God of War succeed. Tight combat with every element working together in unison so you can feel the battle.

This may be totally wrong. Maybe I just haven’t watched the right videos or all of the animations aren’t in yet. That would be reasonable at this phase in development. Still, I hope they don’t go forward with the Warcraft style of hits that feel like misses. Considering how advanced their other systems are it would be a terrible oversight. And Wildstar systems with TERA-level combat? That would make for one heck of a game.

Updates and Upcomings; SimCity Owners: Grab Your Free Game From EA

I apologize for the recent quiet, readers, but it’s for good reasons, I promise. Most prominently is that I’ve been kicking up my writing across the internet. You can find more from me at Hooked Gamers, Vagary.TV, and most recently than ever before. My grad work also wants more from me than ever before, as does my family and good will efforts, so balancing time for games and blogging has been a challenge. I’m not content to let things sit over here, though, so I have a couple of things in the works. Here’s what’s coming.

More, shorter posts: One of the more difficult things to manage is the sheer bulk of words I’m responsible for. On any given day, I’m writing anywhere from 1000-3000 words and sometimes much more. I still follow bloggers and journalists like a hawk and have things I want to comment on, so my plan going forward is to provide more frequent, shorter posts. I’ve aimed at this in the past, and we’ll have to see how it turns out, but that is my ultimate goal.

Bridging the site-gap: Most of you that continue to stop by here do so because you enjoy my writing and I thank you for that. Rather than ask you to add multiple sites to your readers, I plan to provide more frequent link posts pointing you towards my most recent work. It’s all video game related, with the exception of my weekly reviews of The Following, so it should be right up your alley. I would also like to start sharing my thoughts as I travel through new games for my Tourist column. This week is Fallen Earth, so I should have something so say about that shortly. Still a great game, by the way.

Independent Game Reviews: This is a personal project of mine and one of the key ways I would like to evolve the site. I review for different sites but not so much my own. I suppose I always figured that I needed an association to develop relationships in the industry but I don’t think that’s the case so much. I started this with Persona 4 Golden and I plan to continue it with SimCity next week.

On that note, those of you who have already purchase SimCity should stop by EA/Origin and claim your free game. The issues of last week were no doubt strenuous, so take some solace in a free copy of Mass Effect 3 or Dead Space 3. Both are a great bang for your buck, I promise you. A full list of games and instructions on how to claim yours can be found here.

Read my column at!

Hi Guys,

Brief PSA today to let you all know that I’m now writing a bi-weekly column at It’s called The Tourist, and every couple weeks I’ll be hopping into a new game and sharing my thoughts. This week I played a fat husky dog in TERA. I’m really excited to dig into this thing and very thankful for the shot they’ve given me, so head on over and give it a read!

Thanks Guys,


Where Exactly Is Darkfall: Unholy Wars?


Like many of you, I’ve been waiting anxiously for Darkfall: Unholy Wars so I can finally sink my teeth into a good, old school fantasy MMO. For a while there, things looked promising. The game was slated to release in December but it was pushed back into the new year to address bugs and get itself ready for Steam after a two-day Greenlight process (people don’t want this kind game anymore, right guys?).

Except the NDA was slated to drop a month ago and it never did. Nevermind that surprise betas are, well, surprising to we players, but I’m suspecting that Aventurine got some feedback that made them second guess how prepared they really were. With such a huge scope of gameplay, I thought it was crazy they weren’t planning for a beta in the first place.

Then again, the reports I’ve heard repeatedly indicate that the biggest issues have been addressed and that the game is in OK shape or at least better than it was before Greenlight came into the picture. So where’s the update from Aventurine? Even players in the beta are starting to worry that we’ll all have moved on when it’s finally ready for sale. That might be the case for newcomers, but I think a lot of us will still check it out when it’s time comes. Still, squandered opportunity.

When they announced, the hype wave was big and bold, and the Unholy Wars box art was surfing proudly on its crest. Come buy me… it called, over and over, and we wanted to! Then the wave changed course and flowed far down the shore. Months later, that wave is barely a ripple we’re still searching the weeds hoping the box will turn up again. The fans will search, the spectators will drift off, maybe saying “huh” when they read about it in the paper.

I really wish someone would help Aventurine with their PR. Their lack of communication hurts them more than any problem with the actual game ever has. And now more than ever, the MMO world needs a game like Darkfall, and we need it to be quality. To that end, we can probably all lend them our blessing in refining things. Just tell us so we remember we’re worth your time.

MMO Radio: Episode 09 – “Wildstar 2013: Lovely, Lovely Pigeons”


Adam is out this week gettin’ hitched, so Gavin Townsley and I hold down the fort! Thankfully, it was a big news week with Wildstar being confirmed for 2013! We break down why this game is worth paying attention to, even for someone like me who tries not to attend! What? I don’t like spoiling things for myself!

But hey, when you have a full-on paths to endgame based on exploring, lore finding, being social, and yes, killing, that’s worth noting. Plus, 40 man raiding, dynamically spawning quest hubs and dungeons, action combat, player housing, PvP, and content layered enough where a mining node could turn out to be a spot on the back of a giant raid boss… well, you can see where we’d be piqued.

A little later we talk about Mortal Kombat, TERA’s excellent combat and odd boob physics, and anime roleplay! I bet you thought you’d get out of tabletop this episode, didn’t you? Well, let that one drop of sweat stand out from your head now, because we go there!

A reminder: Our 5-star iTunes review contest is still going! Leave a written review for your chance to win a copy of Strike Suit Zero courtesy of Hooked Gamers!

Gavin’s Links: Massively, Dragon’s Tear Tavern RP Community
Chris’ Links: Hooked Gamers; Game By Night; Vagary.TV
Adam’s Links: Epic Slant Press

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Persona 4 Golden Review (PS Vita)


Persona 4 Golden hits you like a ton of bricks. Here on the Playstation Vita, the best handheld nobody bothered to market, is a game that’s not just fantastic for appearing on a portable,  but that’s a victory for video games in general. That you can take Persona on the go is just icing on the cake. Part high school sim and part dungeon runner, the game presents an enchanting mix of character based progression that becomes progressively more addicting the further you go.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way up front. First, I didn’t play the original Persona 4. I understand this game is a port that offers a lot of enhancements over the original, but I really can’t speak to that. What I can say is that, unless you hated the original, everyone else should dive right in. Second, I’m not a fan of anime. Something about the animation style never clicked with me. That’s important because there are times playing Persona is a lot like playing interactive fiction. And yet, here I am telling you to sell the family horse to buy this game. You bet. Give Nessie a good home.

The basic premise is this: you play a big city kid transported to the country to live with your uncle, Detective Dojima. Shortly after you arrive, people start showing up dead, the first hung upside down from a television antenna. The friends you make all take a dare to look into the television at midnight the next rainy night. From there, you’re drawn into a mysterious world of fog and shadows, one with no humanly exit other than expiration. Someone is throwing people in there, even your friends, and your group is the only one who can stop the murderer.


But this is all at night. During the day you’re a teenager attending high school, taking a job, and trying to get a girlfriend. Fun dichotomy, right?

Persona 4 is anime in a lot of ways, but it’s also genuinely well written. It doesn’t overburden the Western player with long over-dubbed animations. Those sequences are there, to be sure, but they’re short and well placed such that they enhance the game rather than remove it from the easily identifiable. Instead, the bulk of the dialog is delivered through character stills and voice over.

The voice work in the game is generally quite good, but there are some instances of over-acting (I’m looking at you, Chie). For the most part, I quite enjoyed it. Even lines that didn’t ring quite right could often be forgiven with the mysterious detachment from reality much of the game demands of you. But not always.


The game is heartily Japanese. The main real world setting is in the rural Japanese town of Inaba but it expands from there. Since much of the game is founded in being a teenager, I found the depiction of the culture almost enchanting. Seeing a Japanese developer present rural Japanese life felt foreign and homey all at once. The real world setting and the characters that inhabited it were easy to relate to because they were  so similar, yet ever so slightly different, from my own life here in America.

The game seems founded on Studio Ghibli-esque foundations, so it wasn’t surprising to find the writing permeated mythological quirks equal parts mysterious, disturbing, and non-sensical. One of the first other worldly characters your group encounters is the Humpty Dumpty-like Teddie. In a rather uncomfortable moment, Yosuke tries to remove his “costume” only to detach his head and finding him completely empty inside.


That mysteriousness accompanies the player throughout the game. Through expertly crafted musical cues and haunting environments, to delightfully spooky unfolding events — even conversations spoken directly into your character’s mind! — Persona 4 Golden is a game much about leading the player through its dark corridors.

What’s wonderful about Persona is that virtually everything ties into character progression. Nearly everything you do in the real world relates back into your adventures. Whether it’s attending class, joining a sports team, or flirting with a cute girl, you’re able to earn bonuses to knowledge, understanding, courage, diligence, and expression. These, in turn, help you build social links, which empowers their and your abilities in battle. More importantly, earning points here can just as often come from choosing different options in conversation. By the end of the game, you really feel like your experience and your character were your own, not unlike The Walking Dead: The Game. The path is linear, but the journey is unique.


In the fiction of the game, your character doesn’t have magic abilities of his own. Instead, these abilities are cast using creatures called personas. With over 150 of these to collect, combine, and evolve, it’s easy to think of them like less-cute Pokemon. When you complete dungeon encounters, your persona earns bonuses to core stats like strength, magic, agility and luck and can gain levels. The sheer amount of personas can be a bit overwhelming for completionists but the longevity they add to the game is outstanding.

Gameplay is turn-based like the best JRPGs of the past. Completing battles involves choosing to attack or defend, analyzing your enemy for weaknesses and exploiting them, and proper use of personas and items. It’s a strategic affair that gains depth the further into the game you go; however, grinding for levels does become an element later on in the game. Going in under-powered can be downright punishing.


Let’s talk about grinding for a minute. I don’t like it and haven’t since I was a teenager. Now, I avoid it like the plague. And yet, it doesn’t really bother me in Persona. Since the game is portable, playing it in short bursts meshes extremely well with battle system and grinding, really, lost a lot of the monotony it might have had on a full console.

Graphically, the game looks great on the Vita’s OLED screen. I especially liked how the dialogue brought high-res art to the forefront drawing the eye from the actual graphics. The game looks great, don’t get me wrong, but during these dialogue sequences, the characters aren’t doing much, so the transitions between character art add some extra movement. The audio in the game is also great. The music really sets the mood and is about pitch perfect for tracks you’ll hear over and over through the game’s 40+ hour runtime.

So for all of these things that I liked about it, what didn’t I like? Well, put simply, the game takes too long to get into. The first few hours are spent mainly clicking through dialogue as the story sets up. It’s all good and I enjoyed it, but after a while I really just wanted to start playing. The game is also huge. I can’t take points for this since that fact is also one of the game’s biggest selling points, but played in short bursts, it will likely take quite a while for the commuter-player to see it all the way through. In that area, it comes down to taste. JRPGs are known for their length, however, and P4G packs an epic scope.

If you have a Vita and are a fan of RPGs, you owe it to yourself to play Persona 4 Golden. There is nothing quite like it yet available on the handheld and it’s rightfully held up as a beacon of what the system needs more of.  Without a doubt, this is a recommended purchase.

Final Score: 9 out of 10
Pros: Story, character authority, depth of options, persona collecting, classic and strategic combat
Cons: Long set-up, could be a little overwhelming at first, some poorly delivered lines


The History of Great First-Person Shooters (Infographic)

I was contacted recently asking if I would like to share an infographic with my readers. I have a secret love of infographics, and this one tracks the history of great FPS games. I’m also a sucker for first-person shooters, so a-posted it shall be! Here’s a glimpse, but it’s pretty long, so follow after the cut to view the whole thing.


Click “Continue Reading” to see the rest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hear Us On No Prisoners, No Mercy! (And Around the Web!)

Happy Monday, everybody!

As a lot of you know, I do some writing elsewhere on the web and also do a podcast called MMO Radio. I don’t update here whenever my work appears online since it’s usually dedicated to whatever venue I happen to be writing or recording for. That said, I’d love it if you took a moment to check out what I’ve been up to.

  • Most recently, Adam and I appeared on the No Prisoners, No Mercy podcast to talk about the video games and violence with our two favorite sisters. Adam also introduced the world to his parrot, Mango. It was a great time and well worth a listen. That’s pretty much how it works with NPNM, though, so give them a subscribe and enjoy. Thank you Sister Fran and Sister Julie!
  • Speaking of podcasts, I also guested on the WoW-specific Horde House over at the VOG Network. Rob and Shane were great fun to talk to and we had a great conversation. It’s Episode 91, so go give it a listen if you’re into the game. If you’re not into WoW, Rob also has Orange Lounge Radio where he and a round of compatriots talk about all things gaming.
  • While we’re at it, have you heard the latest episodes of MMO Radio? We’ve released episodes 5, 6, and 7. Episode 5 features Srs. Julie and Fran for a talk on the Fall of F2P (?), Episode 6 looks at the career and departure of Scott Hartsman from Trion Worlds, and Episode 7 features freelance games writerGavin Townsley. You might remember him from The Multiverse and Rift Watchers, but he’s since appeared at PC Gamer, GameSpy, and Massively.

For writing, I’ve been a busy bee.

That’s enough link love for now. If you’re interested in keeping up with me, I can do more of these posts or simply subscribe to Vagary.TV and Hooked Gamers. Enjoy!

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