City Life

Upon first starting City Life, there’s nothing much in its presentation to make you suspect any greatness. After all, developer Monte Cristo never found a game it wasn’t willing to imitate badly. While you’re installing City Life, take a look at the poster-sized flow chart. It looks like something from a weekend-long seminar on management techniques. This doesn’t look promising.

2Fast-forward about two hours, maybe a couple of tutorials and a perusal of tool tips later. It turns out this is easily the best city builder since SimCity 4. A powerful 3D engine lets you drop down into the city streets and admire the throngs of clones, the repeating buildings, and the awkward right angles that stick out when you build on different elevations. Still, good work on the technical front for making this possible. Being able to zoom in and walk around the city streets was a pipe dream since SimCity 2000, but now it’s finally here.

But the real accomplishment here is the design. City Life’s most notable bullet point is the gameplay it wrings from its distinctly European socioeconomic model. There’s no Pollyanna Melting Pot philosophy here. The idea is that some people simply won’t get along with one another. This is clearly from the continent that gave us the word “balkanization.â€

Your population is divided into classes, but they’re not just progressively higher tax brackets. Instead, there’s a place for everyone and everyone in his place. You need Blue Collars for an early economic foundation, but you have to cultivate the Fringe as teachers and health clinic workers. Some Fringe will evolve into the crucial Radical Chic class, which is necessary for advanced education, high-tech business, and late-game buildings like the solar furnace and fusion plant.

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Your advanced Blue Collars turn into Suits, who have lucrative finance jobs and oversee upper-level Blue Collar industries. A few Have-Nots will fall between the cracks in your social services, but you need these guys to work the landfills, coal power plants, and gardens. Eventually your city will sprout a few Elites, who will have to be carefully pampered if you want their tax dollars.

12Each type of population has its own businesses, entertainment, and predilections, which is how City Life is like gardening. The Blue Collars want their drive-ins and cops, the Fringe want their fancy concert halls, health care and high education, and the Suits need nice neighborhoods and fancy bistros to eat in. Toss the Have-Nots the odd basketball court to keep them happy. Each type of population is also liable to riot if it butts up against another type, so you end up with  distinct, non-overlapping neighborhoods.

But from population zero to three million, one citizen at a time, City Life is paced to provide you with tough choices, constant challenges, and, most importantly, enough information to guide you through it all. Monte Cristo has given you an interface that makes it clear why things happen. There’s as much information as you could possibly want on any given aspect of your city: lists, numbers, charts, visual filters, tool tips, exhaustive (and often sloppy) text entries on gameplay concepts. You can use a report window in the lower right corner as your “to-do†list. Once you’ve powered through the little tutorial pamphlet, everything you need to know will be at your fingertips.

It’s basically a serious in-depth version of SimCity. You may not get cute little text entries about how many llamas are at the local zoo, but you’ll know exactly what effect your zoo has, how far the effect extends, how much money it’s costing or making, how much electricity it sucks up, and how much trash it spits out. All of this serves to make City Life a nicely pieced together city builder, up there with some of the better SimCity games.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 1.5 Ghz CPU; 256 MB RAM, 64 MB Video, WinXP

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