Summary: We sic JCal on developers Monte Cristo and publisher CDV. After suffering only minor blood loss, they gave in and let us preview City Life. Read on for John's experiences.
Like Maxisí own SimCity 4, City Life is a fully 3D title that allows your inner city planner to go nuts creating your own metropolis. Starting out with a bare piece of real estate you begin to build your new urban sprawl with roads, houses, power plants, schools, hospitals and so on. You have to zone different areas of your new city to handle different types of construction (residential, commercial, and industrial) and of course you have to get money from your city's residents via taxes in order to keep your new city growing and operating at its peak. Naturally, the game allows you to check out the city's budget to make sure your have the proper balance; otherwise your town can go bankrupt.
So far, City Life sounds an awful lot like Maxis' games - but hold on. Monte Cristo deviates from the SimCity formula by giving City Life something more than cool and calculated building and tax rate features. Believe it or not it's the people inside your fictional city that is at the heart of City Life. Rather than a collective feeling of "good" or "bad" from your city's population your task is to maintain a balance between the city's six different classes of citizens (have-not, fringe, blue collar, bobo, suit and elite). From the poor to the rich, each class of citizens has different needs that you have to fullfill in order to be successful in the game.
City Life does an excellent job in its micro-management, giving the player a number of indicators for keeping each of its citizens happy. Is there enough housing? Are there plenty of shopping and schools available for each class of people in your town? What about their health and safety? And of course your city folks have to have some kind of fun activities. Each particular class of citizen has different kinds of expectations for their happiness. The poorer classes may need simple things like schools and shopping while the elite may need more luxury items to keep them fulfilled. The trick is to have a metropolis that keeps all of these classes happy. And no, you can't simply make a city full of just have-nots or elites in order to run a successful city.
Since you have to have all six classes in your city, that also means you have to deal with the game's version of real world class conflicts. In other words, the have-nots tend not to like the elites and vice-versa. If you have sections of your city where you have two opposing classes near each other you can expect to see things like crime and other conflicts between the two, including full scale riots. In a way, City Life is more like a strategy game than a builder with this particular feature. You have to be able to pick locations and offer services in those locations to keep the social conflict between the classes down to a minimum. The have-nots tend to mesh better if their neighbors are the blue collar, for example.
Visually City Life is a treat to just look at, especially when your custom metropolis is in full swing. The 3D engine handles the buildings and terrain well and really gives the player a better sense of a real city rather than some top down 2D visual. The biggest graphical feature in the game is the ability to take your camera down to the street level itself and see your happy (or unhappy) city residents go about their regular affairs and also see if your city services are really working. While the game does have a "sandbox" mode where you can simply start building and playing the game with no set goals, City Life also has a campaign mode that will give you certain assignments and goals to fulfill. Each of these missions will have three conditions for victory which will make you move on to the next challenge. You can also import other people's cities and scenarios into your game to try out and you can do the same by uploading your own custom cities and scenarios to CDV's web site once the game is released for any City Life player to check out.
Our try out of the City Life beta build was brief but certainly showed a lot of potential in the concept of urban planning meshed with some strategic and social gameplay. If Monte Cristo can keep the balance of the city creation with the class structure intact, this could be the successor to the SimCity franchise that lots of people have been waiting for. At the moment you can expect to see the full version of the game to be published in the States by CDV early this summer.
For screenshots, visit our City Life gallery!
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