GAMEPLAY PT. 2
While on the subject of money, you’ll also encounter a few new expenses that you didn’t have to worry about before: Resources and shipping. A coal power plant will no longer operate unless you supply it with coal (makes sense); something you can either get from a local coal mine or from the global market for a price (which depends on what the supply/demand from other players on the server is at the time). Similarly, all of your industries are going to be producing merchandise, which, if too plentiful to be effectively shipped along the road or rail network, will need a trade depot or regional airport to properly function. Micromanaging your city clearly goes to a deeper level than before.
There's a lot of money to be had if you decide to become the next JR Ewing
Perhaps the biggest change in gameplay however, is that the region now plays a greater part in the game than the cities themselves do. Each region you play in houses 3 to 16 cities, and a number of special project sites where you can build structures beneficial to the whole region (such as an international airport to raise regional tourism and trade). SimCity intends for the player to build on several of these smaller cities and have them play off each other to create a regional balance. To this end, interfacing with other cities in the region has been vastly simplified. Citizens will automatically commute between cities if they have business outside your town, and buying resources, such as power or water, is done at the click of a button. You can even share police coverage, or schools, or just about anything else. So yes, this also finally means your tiny town of 20 people no longer needs a massive powerplant to begin developing… realism at last.
The regional balance is integral in how you build your cities: While one city has a surplus of workers, another city can have a surplus of jobs, leading to a commuting workforce and overall happiness. This allows you to avoid placing heavy industry, which lowers land value, in the same town where you want the rich to move in and build skyscrapers. Similarly, your cities can be specialized with unlockable buildings like drilling rigs for oil, casinos for gambling or tourism hotspots. They focus your city and limit your options, but usually give you massive benefits in exchange, and neighboring towns can make up for whatever limitations you place on yourself.
The first time a skyscraper shows up, you always feel a special sort of glee
Because this interaction between cities is so easy to do, Maxis can almost justify why the city sizes are very small, limited to only 4km^2, as opposed to SimCity 4’s 16km^2. Almost. Unfortunately, with specialized cities and small city sizes, not only do you benefit from neighbors; you become very dependent on them.
If you play alone, this isn’t an issue, but as soon as you start making use of SimCity’s online features, the cracks begin to form. What happens when you play in a small region and run out of room? My first game was played against a good friend who took three of the four cities in the region before he invited me to join. After a few hours, he then went offline for a couple of days. While he was away, I kept playing, and built my city to the point where it was bursting at the seams, with commercial, residential and industrial demand from every side – but with all other cities occupied by my absent buddy, there was no way to begin a new town to alleviate some of the demand. My day was spent trying to scrape every ounce of land I had left on the map so I could stuff just one more building in, and then try to optimize the city layout before finally realizing I had done everything I could and got bored with it. Even if my friend had been there, and had built alongside me, there would come a time very quickly, when I simply can’t do any more with 4 km^2. SimCity lives for expansion – you play for two reasons: to optimize what you’ve built and to build more stuff. When you can’t do either, the magic disappears pretty fast.