Streets of SimCity
Maxis is a company best known for its complex management simulations, the most famous of which is SimCity. In a rather clever way, in the Streets of SimCity the company has transformed the game into an action racing experience, with more than a little bit of combat along the way. And rather than being a bloodfest like Interplay's Carmageddon, where pedestrians are intentionally run over whenever possible, in Streets of SimCity it is actually difficult to hit people—they quickly move out of the way if you aim at them -- and instead the car-to-car battles are more subtle tactical affairs.
In this game you may drive around any one of over 50 built-in SimCity 2000 cities, import a city from SimCity 2000 (if you own it), or use the included SimCity 2000 Urban Renewal Kit to build a city from scratch or modify an existing one. You may choose and completely customize one of five different vehicles to drive on the roadways, and you may equip your vehicle (finances permitting) with oil slicks, missile launchers, machine guns, and mine droppers. The whole experience reflects a hip, sarcastic, witty approach to a kind of gaming experience that is often taken much too seriously.
Gameplay and Controls
There are two basic modes of play in this game, Player's Choice mode or Career mode. In the first mode, you get to play at one of four levels -- Sunday Driver, Bad Hair Day, Commuter's Revenge, and Crush Hour -- which allow you to drive the streets of a designated city with no particular mission other than to enjoy the ride or blow away everyone in sight. In the second mode, you actually become a participant in one of four prime-time television programs -- Zippy Courier Service, Galahad's Watch, Granny's Wild Ride, and Race for Your Life -- by completing missions organized into episodes. These missions are often quite challenging, and it will take considerable experience to be successful, as the artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled cars is pretty impressive at making life difficult for you.
You may control you vehicle with the keyboard, joystick, or gamepad, and I personally preferred the latter. But the greatest frustration here was how wide the turns of the vehicles turned out to be -- whether you are trying to navigate narrow city streets or turn quickly to aim your weapons at another car, this turning circle turned out to be a real impediment, and even though a "hard turn" option is available it was not easy to use in the midst of fast-paced action, and in all modes of play, I found the default view from behind the dashboard not nearly as helpful as one of the alternative viewing perspectives from outside the car.
As to the pace of the gameplay, it varied from a relatively quiet "Sunday drive" to incredibly frenzied action with multiple vehicles attacking you at once. This diversity led to quite a bit of suspense and unpredictability in the game. There are, however, a few minor glitches in the game, as you occasionally find pedestrians walking in the air or find your car protruding from both sides of another solid object (with no damage done).
While single-player mode in this game is fun, the real challenge is in going up against up to seven other human opponents in the well-implemented network mode. You may even engage in a full-fledged deathmatch this way, and this option adds considerably to the game's replay value.
The graphics in this game are, quite simply, very good but not great. The attached screen shots do not reflect 3dfx video hardware acceleration (this is the only 3D accelerator chipset supported), yet are still pretty nice. Unfortunately, the implementation of 3Dfx acceleration here seems to be among the slightest I have seen -- the main advantage appears to be smoothing out blocky pixels and increasing the frame rate, rather than adding all of the visual bells-and-whistles I am used to seeing with this chipset. The cars and tracks cannot compare, for example, to the realism standard set by Electronic Arts' Need for Speed 2 SE.
The music in the game is extremely diverse. It varies from thumping rock and roll to raucous country, and it is generally quite entertaining. The sound effects are quite appropriate, although not too much novelty is introduced here, while the vocal effects are often a blast. And when you are in the garage configuring your vehicle, the combination of sound effects in the background is truly outstanding.
I have only the highest praise for the documentation in this game. Instead of the usual skimpy CD jewel case manual, there is a full size 100-page manual that is sumptuously illustrated and beautifully written. The game has so many features and options that there is a lot to explain, but Maxis should be congratulated for the superb job they have done.
The minimum system requirements for this game are a 166 megahertz Pentium CPU, 32 MB RAM, 35 MB hard disk space, a 4X CD-ROM drive, a 1 MB PCI SVGA DirectX-compatible video card, a DirectX-compatible sound card, a keyboard and Microsoft-compatible mouse, and the Windows 95 operating system. These requirements are quite stiff by today's standards, particularly since a 200 megahertz CPU and a 3Dfx graphics accelerator are highly recommended.
In sum, this game takes you for a really enjoyable ride that can be very much attuned to your own personal tastes. While it probably is not exactly the cup of tea for die-hard racing game fans or blood-and-guts combat fans, it provides a relatively original and nicely integrated drive for a wide variety of gamers. Even though all of its pieces do not fit perfectly together, it can be a quite engrossing and entertaining experience and I recommend it highly.