They say you can never really go home. That’s entirely metaphorical, of course, but then the home I’m talking about is a metaphorical one too. You see, for a few short weeks, I lived in SimCity and although it was a relatively brief place of residence for me, I loved it. Work commitments meant I had to move away and in spite of regular yearnings to return, so I’ve barely even visited for months. But now I’m moving back. I’m going home.
I’ll be building my new home with the freshly available Cities of Tomorrow expansion pack, which has recently taken over my SimCity start screen. My plan was to start by following the brief but comprehensive introduction and tutorial and then urge one of my existing cities – New Blueville – onward, to tomorrow.
The raft of new systems for city-building might be a little foreign at first. New Megatowers offer the chance to erect towering, self-contained vertical cities within your metropolis. Each one allows you to build on layers of specialist floors so that you can now have residential on top of business and you can pack in your populace with much greater density.
This was where I encountered my first obstacle to progress. New Blueville is my attempt at creating a city on the circular model. It has the main utilities – Fire, Police, Hospital – in the centre, with concentric circles emanating out that house commercial and residential zones. The industry is placed in the corners of the map square, where the prevailing winds will carry their air pollution away from the rest of the city.
Megatowers, it turns out, need a much greater footprint than regular placements. Now, I’m not generally too fussy about these things but the idea that I might disrupt the elegant pattern of my burgeoning utopian metropolis (my circular experiment is an assured success) was horrific to me. So, New Blueville must be left unmolested by these unwieldy new buildings.
Happily, there was still an empty city that’s looking for a mayor and it’s just down the highway from New Blueville. It’s called Gaugin Valley but we can soon change that. I’d call it Tomorrowland and I’d pack it with the wonders of the age. I’d start a new city, with the future in mind right from the start. It would be beautiful.
So Tomorrowland needed to start in the same mundane way I start all my cities: drag a main road off the highway, build a large grid of dirt road zoned for residential, zone a small grid for industrial and zone a bit of commercial in between. Throw up some basic amenities – water and power to begin with. Then I crank up the speed, get my bulldozer tool ready to keep on top of abandoned buildings and rubble and wait for some profits to tumble in.
Building in a region with some existing cities gives me a bit of a head-start on options for power stations and other useful buildings too. I could jump straight ahead to vertical wind turbines when my population needed more power, for example. During this stage of development, I also discovered and began using a couple of the new futuristic buildings available. I got a fancy hydro pumping station instead of a normal water tower and I spotted a sewage sanitiser that required an Academy (more on that later) but sounded like just the ticket for keeping unpleasant odours to a minimum, later in the city’s life.
There’s a depth to this expansion that seems to justify its label (and pricing). The new additions go beyond simple elements in the existing SimCity systems, although there are a handful of new parks and other bits and pieces for some of your existing building types. Every area has a little boost of future content but the real meat of the expansion is in the new systems it creates – not all of which were available to me in Tomorrowland, but I was able to adapt some of my other cities with elements of the new expansion in order to see how it all ties together.
Education hasn’t been left behind in the past, as Cities of Tomorrow allows the construction of The Academy. With this educational specialisation, connected wirelessly to ControlNet (its resource) you can research new technologies and unlock new buildings for the entire region. It appears to me that The Academy is probably the most important new branch because its presence in a region allows for a plethora of new research and that naturally leads to lots of new add-ons and buildings in other areas of your virtual conurbation.
There’s also the arrival of a new giant of industry, OmegaCo, which allows you to convert your region’s factories, shops and even houses into franchises that increase profit. The first OmegaCo facility you place begins the process of synthesising Omega from Raw Ore and Crude Oil. Tomorrowland was foolishly founded in an area with barely any ore and absolutely no oil, so I have to import with a Trade Depot rather than go mining myself.
Once you’re producing Omega, it begins shipping to factories and eventually they will convert automatically to franchises too, all the while increase your delicious profits. Those factories then ship Omega-infused products to the shops of your city, which also eventually become franchises and the proliferation of Omega products around the city (as well as your handy Omega HQ drones) will convert private households into unthinking Omega consuming franchises. This system of franchising can even be spread throughout a region, into the neighbouring cities of your friends.
It’s not all good news though, since OmegaCo buildings cause plenty of pollution and increases fire risk – they’re a kind of super-industrial unit. Perfect for Tomorrowland’s broader grid system but I’m not confident that the pollution generated won’t contaminate my entire water table, eventually.
Building the Omega HQ is key to opening up some of the more interesting elements of the future industrial landscape but that requires an Academy in the region (which in turn requires five high wealth buildings) so it should be clear that this is not a simple add on pack – it feeds and requires a large and developed network of placements in a region, as all good SimCity developments do.
One of the most interesting areas of expansion – and one that the newly inaugurated mayor of Tomorrowland was keen to rush to – is the new Megatowers. These take the regular SimCity idea of zoning areas and allows you to do that vertically. You can place an initial tower base and then add layers of each purpose (residential, office, shopping), and of varying wealth status, to the tower. They’ve got a large footprint but as you can layer them, they allow for a massive (and profitable, if you manage it properly) population density.
Cities of Tomorrow is truly an expansion, rather than just a DLC pack. It offers up a raft of new interlinked systems that work over a region, whether that’s a shared region or one you’re controlling all by yourself. Those new systems give the expansion much more depth than the simple handful of additional buildings that usually appear in DLC packs and that depth is something which, even after around a dozen hours, I don’t feel like I’ve fully explored all of the possibilities of.