Genre: City-building, Simulation
Year: 2003
Developed by: Maxis
Published by: EA Games
Platforms: PC, Mac
Feeling Like: Conducting

I said in my Cities: Skylines post that I shouldn’t have dropped off the game so quickly due to the community support and mods that greatly improve the experience.

I can say the same tenfold about SimCity 4, possibly my favorite city-building game to date even though I didn’t give it nearly enough attention. Although, at the time, it wasn’t entirely my fault. Despite my brand new laptop, the game chugged even at the hint of an emerging metropolis. No matter what I did, my hardware couldn’t keep up with the software. It’s a shame, incredulously, 20 years later, no city-builder has surpassed it despite many valiant efforts.

Most modern sim builders I’ve enjoyed to a degree, but they never felt as free as SimCity 4. When I start up a new city, the terrain is beautiful, sparse and customizable. I can start my city with no water in sight, a beautiful coastline on the west side only or a peninsula. Totally up to me. This truly is a sandbox where I can build anything, anywhere.

Another factor I appreciated over time was that I could still build older, smaller buildings next to giant metropolises. There’s no forced evolution or technological age. If I want a 1950s house next to a 2002 office building, I should have the choice to do so. I can only imagine something like the below for a future city builder.

I’ll never get tired of viewing little cars driving to and fro with my omnipotent view. It’s cathartic, as well as exciting. Sometimes I’ll just let my little town sit. I’ve just built a new industrial block and am working on beautifying the south side with parks. I’ll just see what happens. Sometimes money will get in the way and you have to hustle to create a financially feasible city, but I get just as much enjoyment taking it all in as I do unlocking a new structure for my denizens to enjoy.

The core mechanics of a city builder so appealing to me, but a lot of the same thoughts I have with SimCity 4 you can find in Cities: Skylines or SimCity but the main reason SimCity 4 is so high on the 500 is the soundtrack.

It is absolutely sublime, one of my favorites ever.

This is what you hear when you’re about to start your first city. Nothing has been built, the game hasn’t started yet, but you’re choosing the location of your starting point and where the mountains, rivers trees go. Doesn’t it feel like you’re just high in the sky, watching?

I distinctly remember this one as I was plotting my highway structure.

“Oasis” always made me feel so relaxed, no matter how out of control my sanitation budget was.

In what other type of game will you hear a song like “Epicenter”?

And my absolute favorite, “ElectriCITY”.

Every tune is perfect. They’re encouraging enough without feeling stressful, peaceful without putting you to sleep and there’s enough variety that you’ll never tire of hearing them, even after you’ve spent dozens of hours working on your city. It’s truly a remarkable soundtrack that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

It’s not my favorite SimCity, that honor goes to SimCity 2000 for mostly nostalgic purposes, but it’s way up there and the more I write about it, the more I hope the Cities: Skylines sequel coming out later this year will be a fraction as fun. My need to build and operate apparently is apparently insatiable.

Looking back at the decades’ worth of mods really, really puts me in the mood. Clearly I’m not alone in my passion for a better city builder, and it’s a shame EA doesn’t recognize that. SimCity (2013) was a bastardization of what we loved – limited spaces to build a few blocks instead of sprawling metropoli completely ruined the mark. Add in an unnecessary, forced social connectivity and you had one pissed off fan base. I suppose there isn’t as much money in a regular game like SimCity 4 without microtransactions or frequent updates, but Colossal Order seems to be making it work with Cities: Skylines. The desire to build is fundamental to our nature, as seen in two of the most profitable games ever in Minecraft and Fortnite.

Oh, how I want to dive back in! And on a machine that doesn’t chug along at 10 frames per second once you start to scale up your city. It’s no wonder the top mod recommended is one that permits your PC to run the game like it can. I guess my poor laptop from 21 years ago didn’t have a hope, but 21 years later I’m still keen.

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