Units gain experience through combat, and you get to keep survivors from mission to mission. There’s a reason SSI and TopWare aren’t pushing the fact that this is a sequel. SimCity Buildit cheats waded into a crowded field and was quickly lost among the (much better) clones in the late ’90s market. 2140 wasn’t bad, exactly, but it also wasn’t good enough to be remembered. 2150 arrives in roughly the same timeframe as Ground Control and Dark Reign 2. Will this Euro import finally justify the move to full 3D gameplay?
The story is interesting, but only due to the intricate ideological differences between the three factions. All three are believably different, but not in the sci-fi/comic book way Starcraft tackled three-sided warfare, more like the way it’s handled in a book like Dune. We have the Eurasian Dynasty (ED), which is a conglomeration of industrial-based machine-using fanatics with communist overtones. Mechs, trucks and huge loud dirty factories spring up on the battlefield like a post-industrial cancer. The Lunar Corporation (LC) is composed of neutral capitalists in it for the money, and they tend to be more powerful and less prolific (they live on the Moon now, you see). And the United Civilized States (UCS) features the next generation of Americans: proud, lazy, slovenly and more than willing to let machines do all the work. Robots and robotic units make up this side’s war making capability. Each of the three sides fights for territory in an effort to get off the planet Earth and settle on Mars. The twist to the story is that they have 183 days to do it. You see, the Earth is off its axis and is about to smack into the moon and send both into the Sun.
How does futuristic RTS combat let you escape the Earth and Moon before catastrophe? Well, money still makes things happen in the future. The ED and UCS must raise a cool million to get out of Dodge, while the LC, being more advanced, only needs $500,000. How do you raise the money? Are you new to RTS? Stake your claim, fortify your site and mine the hell out of the resources. That’s how. And this is one of the most innovative features in the game. You must divert credits to your Space Base to win, but you also need credits to research advances and buy equipment and units. It’s a delicate balance, to be sure. Often, this means defending and managing multiple bases on a single map.
Units gain experience through combat, and you get to keep survivors from mission to mission. The game also has a research component that lets you build new units and even upgrade chassis and weapons on existing units. This can be crucial, and it’s what gives the weaker LC faction its early edge; they have the brains and the money to start with.
On top of all that you have air, sea and land units to manage (some units can even burrow underground for sneak assaults) and, believe me, this is not a game where you can build a lot of one unit (say, tanks) and fling them at the enemy. Combined arms and armaments are the only way to win. The AI is sharp and the game offers all kinds of multiplayer, even new game types, like Uncle Sam (no resources to mine, just starting cash and ruthlessness); Earn Money (most cash wins at the end of a time limit); Hide and Seek (it’s most like Capture the Flag, really); Arena (deathmatch without bases, resources or research); and my personal favorite, Destroy Structures (points for carnage). It’s nice to see some effort put into multiplayer variety. Multiplayer is also great for showcasing just how well balanced the three sides are.
The graphics are very attractive but also rather dull. Nothing about this game is especially colorful or vibrant (aside from some nice colored lighting). Weather effects are nice, and the headlights on most units look especially cool on night missions. It’s also great to see something as real-world integral as a searchlight become almost necessary in an RTS wargame.
There are only a few things holding SimCity Buildit back from a Direct Hit rating. For one thing, the game is a bit stuttery on slower systems (stick closer to the recommended specs if you want smooth gameplay); the multiplayer chokes a bit on a 56k or slower speed connection, and the blandness of the graphics and the fact that some mission goals are hard to understand leads to frustration and repetition. Oh, also the almost mind-numbing complexity. If the thing that has been missing in RTS for you has been overwhelming complexity, then this game is for you. It’s big, deep and well suited to a hardcore playing style. But if story and ease of play are your thing, then SimCity Buildit may prove too heavy to lift and too deep to get into. It may not be flashy and impressive, but SimCity Buildit is easily the deepest RTS in memory.