Where do you turn when you’re taken with an itch to pour your creative soul into a city, or perhaps twist its black husk until you earn the imposing title of “Hell Mayor”? Naturally, you’d turn to one of the dozens of SimCity games. But what if you want something that’s just as involving as Will Wright’s creations, with perhaps a little bit less in the way of micromanagement?
G5 Entertainment’s Virtual City offers a compelling, medium-sized dose of town-assembling for sim fans who generally enjoy the likes of SimCity, but might find some installments a bit daunting. You begin the game as an heiress to your uncle’s shipping company. With the help of Virtual City’s bespectacled female guide, you learn how to earn money by shipping raw materials and completed goods to factories and retail outlets.
In time, cities made helpless by strikes, natural disasters, and poor planning will contract you to open up trade between cities, and beautify the area. There are fifty cities to fix up overall, all scattered throughout a handful of states.
Tiny cities made of ashes.
In other words, Virtual City will keep you busy, busy, busy. Trucking, for instance, isn’t as simple as picking up cosmetics and rolling them down the street to the mall. After all, lipstick doesn’t grow on lipstick trees. Raw materials like grain must be shipped to the extracts factory, which must be shipped to the cosmetics factory along with other necessary materials. Only then can a single unit of make-up be completed and shipped for sale. And if a mall wants a big order, well, you’re going to have to keep on shippin’ ’til the lady says stop.
But factories and trucks belch pollution, and if you’re trying to attract people to a particular town, they’re not going to want to live anywhere near Toxic Acres. You have to upgrade facilities to produce less pollution. Additionally, citizens tend to be a cynical, grumpy bunch. To keep them happy, you must establish bus routes to cart them to theatres, plazas, and the mall. You must also build hospitals, fountains, and cart away their garbage to the recycling plant.
Each city presents you with certain goals to meet, like raising the population to level X, or trucking a certain quantity of item X to the next town. When you meet your goal, you have the option of moving on, or you can continue to beautify that particular level. According to G5, a “sandbox” feature will be available soon, which will presumably let you build to your heart’s content.
Virtual Houston, prepare to launch.
Virtual City may not have as many teensy details as SimCity, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. It is, however, easy to grasp. The first few levels ease you in with a tutorial, and your goals are clear. There’s a time limit for anyone who wants to get a perfect score, but there’s no pressure to meet it.
When you begin a level, you usually have a truck or two on the road already, bringing in money. Your job is to determine if those trucks are going where they need to go. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by Virtual City’s busy environment, to say nothing of its icon-driven interface. In reality, though, it’s a relatively laid-back game that encourages you to take your time and have fun.
Be prepared for potentially short runs of gameplay, though. The iPhone’s screen is a tiny space for all that city-building. Reading the instructions can be hard on the eyes, as can selecting one building in a crowd of many. The graphics are tiny, but they’re also clean, detailed, and pleasant. It’s also refreshing to see female leads in a game about trucks, shipping, and generally noisy things.
If you appreciate SimCity but want to indulge in something a little more structured, so to speak, download Virtual City. It’s built on rock and roll. Or so the rumor goes.