SimCity BuildIt, one of the latest mobile offerings from EA Origin, is a glitchy IAP-laden iteration of the seminal PC builder that will constantly crash unless you have a high-end device with a ton of memory. The lower levels are sufficiently engaging, but it becomes harder to play without constantly making in-app purchases as the game progresses.
The graphics in SimCity BuildIt are crisp and very reminiscent of the PC games, however, this comes with an unfortunate trade-off. It crashes constantly, sometimes requiring a hard reset of the device, and this only gets worse the higher level you become and the more you add to your town. Also, the size of the initial download is huge; make sure you are connected to a wireless network so it doesn’t destroy your data if you do get it.
SimCity BuildIt is a SimCity game at heart. For those of you unfamiliar with this venerable and seminal franchise, the game gives you a town to run, and the job of building residences and municipalities to maintain and expand your population. In the beginning, demands of the people are low, and you can build different kinds of power plants and factories to produce items like logs, nails, and plastic to upgrade residences. As you upgrade homes, you earn experience points, and as you gain experience you level up. When this happens, you can add residences and factories, and it unlocks different kinds of service buildings to add, like hospitals and schools. If residents become unhappy because their home isn’t covered by certain services (for example, if you don’t have enough water towers to sustain your population, so some homes don’t have water) they will leave, and the homes will remain abandoned until the problem is fixed. All of the municipal buildings like sewage plants and police stations are expensive to build and cost Simoleons, but residencies and factories are free to build; their numbers are instead dictated by your level.
At first, this game is very straightforward and well-paced. The more homes in your city, the more taxes you collect, and the more upgrades you make. When you upgrade homes, alongside earning experience points you also earn Simoleons; there is also a second kind of currency called SimCash, and these two currencies are where the in-app purchasing comes in. SimCash allows you to do lots of things; for example, you can use it to automatically complete items that it takes real-time hours for your factories to make. You start off with 50 SimCash, and as you complete achievements you earn a few here or there. As it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain your city because homes aren’t covered by a fire house so they are ablaze or something, and Simoleons become harder and harder to collect, the more convenient the SimCash becomes. But, after that first 50 SimCash is gone, the only way to get more is to complete achievements, which is hard if your population is dwindling … Unless you pay for it with an in-app purchase; you can also directly purchase Simoleons.
EA Games may have just gotten rid of its title as “Worst Company in America” in 2014, but it is fighting hard to win back the position. With EA dishing out games like these it’s no wonder the company championed the award twice in a row; SimCity BuildIt allows for some easy play time for the first couple levels to allow the user to get friendly with the game before the learning curve becomes extremely steep and there is really nothing you can do about it except fail and give up or spend money to keep going. This game ranks in with other freemium titles by EA like Dungeon Keeper, trying to get players hooked so they will spend a few dollars here or there to keep going and get to the end. By the time the end or something approaching the end comes however, you have spent half a paycheck on a cell phone game that doesn’t really have a discernible end. Rather than just charging you up front for a game like the original SimCity, which you can still get your hands on by the way, EA tries to sneak the fact you are spending money past you. The game comes free, and you only have to spend a little here or there to keep playing. At the end of the day, whether you have to spend $1 forty times or $40 once, the result is still the same, but the way they go about it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
It becomes a vicious cycle. You need more residences because the only way to get Simoleons is to collect taxes or upgrade homes. However, the more people there are in your city, the more municipalities you need to support them. So you spend Simoleons to buy municipalities, and then, you need more residences to get more Simoleons. It’s a pretty broken system, and it only becomes worse the more you progress. Again, this game was well-paced in the beginning, but as time went on municipalities started to unlock too quickly to keep up with, and people started abandoning houses left and right, which decreases the taxes you collect.
SimCity BuildIt begins as a well-paced, good looking game, but eventually, once you have invested some time into playing for a few levels, it tries to force you to make in-app purchases reasonably continue playing. You can’t even upgrade houses and forgo adding properties to make the game easier; there is no winning here. It’s free to download, but as soon as you launch the game, it starts trying to empty your pockets at every turn. After level 15 or so it is impossible to keep up with the game’s momentum without making purchases; unlike similar games that allow you to level up reasonably without the user constantly shelling out cash. If you are looking for SimCity for your phone, then this is your game. Just know that it will come with either a lot of frustration or a hefty price tag.
Though the graphics are great, and the game starts off with good pacing, SimCity BuildIt constantly crashes, and quickly becomes something that is free to play, but will never be free to win.