Have You Played… SimCity 4?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

By far the best SimCity has ever been.

Polished over the previous three games, SimCity 4 offers the perfect example of the series’ system of competing needs. Zone some residential, but now your residents need jobs; zone some industrial for them to work in, but now there’s crime and pollution and fire; place down police stations and fire stations and parks; but it’s never quite perfect, and they need shops to shop in, and– Let’s start a new neighbourhood over there, on that hill. This one will be perfect.

Soon you’ll have a sprawling metropolis – and there’s space to let it sprawl – which is bustling with life. SimCity 4 is also the series’ best ant farm, the sprite-based graphics causing the game to run slowly at the time but now making it crisp, beautiful and able to flood the screen with sims. I like to just watch my city work, sometimes – an experience helped by being able to drop in named Sims, either created specifically or imported from The Sims, and watch as they go about their daily lives in great detail.

Initially the game’s one big failing was its traffic simulation, which struggled with highways and bus routes and other modes of public transport, but much of that was fixed in the Rush Hour expansion and what wasn’t has been fixed or improved since by a still productive mod community. SimCity 4 stands today as one of the best city builders ever.


  1. Smashbox says:

    Not the best game ever, but probably my favorite. SC4 is so so so great.

  2. causticnl says:

    wasnt this on the fp few days ago?

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      That was SimCity (the new one.) It looks like they are doing that thing where they Have You Played… for each game in a series.

  3. Samudaya says:

    Up until 2011 it used to be my relaxation game for listening to radio shows, audio plays, books or podcasts, but other games have pretty much replaced it in this regard. I wish there was a newer real world city builder. I never got the hang of the overwhelming traffic system in Cities Skylines. I’d probably just play another kind of sim before going back to SimCity 4.

    • ludde says:

      Skylines also really lacks in the city planning department. Whereas you had to struggle a bit in Sim City 4 to find the right balance – which is what made it fun – in Skylines you can pretty much just build more of everything and you’ll be fine.

  4. Kollega says:

    Man, have I played SimCity4, and, have I ever enjoyed it. Honestly, the game felt – still feels – like a grand vision hamstrung by the limits of technology that existed in its time and that it was built on. That, and the fact that there was only one expansion pack, as opposed to EA’s policy of churning out a dozen expansion packs for each Sims game (even if it’s the same content reimplemented for additional fee every single time). But still… for me, SimCity 4 – even with its wonky simulation, regions that could only be implemented at the time with massive seams between the cities, and building system limited to a grid – is still the absolute pinnacle of the city-building genre.

    You wouldn’t believe me how much I wish for a game that would expand on its ideas. Cities: Skylines is nice for the more hands-on, intimate approach to building cities – but I yearn for SimCity 4’s utterly massive scale, notable complexity, and U-Drive-It feature. I want to see a city-building game where you can first literally shape an arbitrarily-massive (within reason) region as you desire, then build a massive megalopolis with the downtown area slowly receding into midrise urban districts and industrial areas giving way to suburban sprawl dotted with connected satellite cities and then into farms before finally ending in pristine wilderness, with a realistically-branched-out system of railways, highways, and other transportation infrastructure, and then drive a car or some other vehicle across the entire region, or possibly even race against friends with their own vehicles, in a seamless roadtrip/Cannonball Run experience. Sure, this idea is ambitious as all get-out – but as I’ve said, SimCity 4’s ambition is exactly what appeals to me in the game.

    • zsd says:

      Sounds brilliant. We shall call it Sim Citizen!

      • Kollega says:

        Hey, nobody said that the scope of this dream-project would be realistic, and not just mechanics :P

        • zsd says:

          I was a little too pleased with myself for thinking of that title, but I really do think a game like that would be amazing if it were ever possible.

          • Xocrates says:

            Well, it should be “technically” possible. The only real issue I can see is having the computational power to simulate the entire region at once.

            However if you remove that requirement and only simulate “locally” (or can otherwise find a way to estimate the simulation results so it’s not always running) you could theoretically implement a solution not dissimilar from being able to seamlessly transition between cities in a Simcity 4 region.

            It would still be a fairly impressive technical undertaking, mind you.

          • Premium User Badge

            DelrueOfDetroit says:

            Sounds like the type of game that Cryengine would be perfect for!

          • Kollega says:

            Yeah, that’s the thing – I do not that hypothetical game to run the full-blown simulation for the entire region at once, I just want the transition between the discrete city tiles to be seamless. And driving a vehicle could be a completely different mode, where non-driving-related stuff like the RCI demand is not simulated at all, and needed stuff like traffic is simulated in a “lighter” mode. And I believe that with today’s amounts of experience the industry has in building games with seemingly seamless open worlds, it’s very much possible, if still difficult.

    • Vedharta says:

      They kinda tried a start off on that during the SimCity 2000 era with SimCopter and Roads of Sim.

      Both of them allowed you to import your Simcity into either game and fly a helicopter or race cards around it.

      Both games where insanely eyebleedingly bad though :-D

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        SimCopter still has the greatest Easter egg of all time.

        [Edit] Still as in nobody has topped it not still as in it hasn’t been patched out of the game.

        • Flatley says:

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who immediately thinks of THE EASTER EGG every time SimCopter is mentioned. “SimCopter 1 Reporting Heavy Traffic,” some might say.

          I did like the game a decent amount though.

        • Vedharta says:

          Amusingly the easteregg is kinda the starting point of one of the most hilarious trolls ever, who later on joined the Yes Men.

          So yes, that’s definitely memorable :-)

      • Doubler says:

        I thought SimCopter was really good, actually.

  5. Zankman says:

    I remember playing it a as a clueless kid with still lacking English and struggling a lot.

    Then, one day, something clicked – and I made my first functional city and didn’t go into crippling debt.

    It’s a great game that I should definitely revisit soon.

  6. PsychoX says:

    No I haven’t and I don’t have any plans to do so. Stop asking about dumb old games that most don’t care about.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      I feel you may have grievously misunderstood the point of this article series.

    • Alfy says:

      Yeah, yeah! Stop with the stupid papers, we just want rocks and shotguns! Goddamn Brits, prancing around talking about old stuff… Start making video games great again!

    • poliovaccine says:

      Actually please don’t stop, because HYP is my favorite segment on this site. You can get reviews of current games everywhere, but I come here less to find out what’s a prudent buy and more to enjoy the culture of games, and the discussion of that, on levels other than just those games’ relative monetary worth.

    • Smashbox says:

      Love your comment – v smart

  7. fuggles says:

    I have! It was more micro level than the others, which was tricky.

    I also played the spirit engine 2…

    • Darloth says:

      I own that, and I played the first one, but I never got around to playing the second…

      Huh, it’s freeware now. Cool.

  8. Zekiel says:

    I did. It was my first and only simulation game. Hearing that its a high point of the genre basically confirmed that the genre isn’t for me. Which is OK. Still, I always feel a little bit sad that I didn’t like it. There’s something very very satisfying about looking a city working. Its just… without any set objectives it feels a bit pointless to me. I *know* you can invent your own objectives, but that doesn’t work for me for some reason.

  9. April March says:

    I did, and I found it mostly boring.


  10. Solidstate89 says:

    God yes. Favorite Sim City by far.

    Thank god for Cities Skylines.

  11. Konservenknilch says:

    Absolutely. IMO the best city builder so far. I have Skylines on steam, but sadly my machine is too weak for it, so I can’t comment on that.

    Talking of performance, SC4 was, often still is, a huge b*tch to work with, probably due to this weird 2D/3D hybrid engine. Also, it always stank with AMD drivers.

    The biggest downside for me was that population size has a “soft” limit (residence demand just levels off after a certain amount), which makes it hard to fill the largest map. Funnily enough, the new SimCity overcorrected in the opposite direction, and the oh-so-small maps instantly became Manhattan clones. Oh well.

    That all sounds rather negative, but I really, really love the game. Great Soundtrack, too.

  12. The Dark One says:

    Believe it or not, Sim City 4 runs in a 3D engine that uses a form of parallel projection. The complete lack of perspective distortion means that, as you scroll around, it can slide the previous frame along and only bother rendering a (relatively small) new strip of cityscape.

  13. Greendude123 says:

    Yup, best city management game I ever played, and the soundtrack is fantastic!

    • Paj says:

      Yeah, the soundtrack is absolutely stellar. I listen to it on Spotify from time to time at work.

  14. RedViv says:

    SimCity 4 with both Colossus and Network Addon Mod is the best way to go now, I find. Just so much growth. Lovely.

  15. Misaniovent says:

    Beyond being mechanically sound, SimCity 4 was beautiful. It still looks good. It also had an incredible terrain feature and it was possible to translate geography from the real world into the game.