Cities are instruments of torture in many ways; the pavements packed with pushy pedestrians, the air choked with smog and the shopping malls assaulting your ears with the direst strains of elevator music. Matters are possibly even worse in a car, what with the nightmare of finding parking spaces while trying to negotiate the obligatory infernal one-way system (these are more effective at getting you lost than Hampton Court maze).
Obviously we’re all convinced we could do a better job designing the roads and everything else for that matter, hence the popularity of city management games. However, it’s not always the streets that are your biggest concern, especially in City Life where the overall town layout is secondary to another factor; the social composition of your burgeoning metropolis.
The basics of the game are pretty much as you’d expect. Residential and business zones are placed, and these attract people to live and work in your urban paradise. Service buildings are then required to keep them happy, such as shops, pubs and cinemas, not to mention the essentials like power and sewage plants.
However, it’s the type of immigrants you attract that’s the key factor. Different social stratas will move in depending on the sort of buildings a neighbourhood is composed of. A housing estate near an industrial park packed with factories will be populated by blue collar workers, whereas a posh bit of town with cosmetic surgery clinics and art galleries will encourage trendies to take up residence.
This is where the social interaction element comes into play. There’s a map of relationships between these groups, and some get on while others don’t. For example, the have-nots detest the elites, and the blue collars hate the trendies. Mix these folks up and before you know it, someone’s had a punch-up over a dog fouling incident which has escalated into a full scale plasma TV smash-and-grab street riot.
The trick is to ensure that local neighbourhoods have the correct balance of buildings to attract largely the same class, or at least classes that rub along okay with each other. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t give you a lot of instruction on the intricacies of how this is best achieved. The tutorial is next to useless, merely consisting of a few screens explaining the very basics.
City Life does provide pop-up prompts and big colourful icons on the map to let the player know where problems are occurring, but the tendency becomes to simply react to these by plopping down an appropriate building or two, and not to think any deeper than this, or delve into any of the sub-menus of stats and figures.
As a result, the game feels a little flat and dull, and the mission objectives don’t help on this score either. While there are plenty of scenarios to pick from, they’re largely the same with only slight variations. For example, there’s a map where your city is built near a naval port, but the only difference this makes is there’s an aircraft carrier in the sea which helps maintain order in the coastal area.
Still, if you’re willing to persevere there’s a passable city management game here, providing you can cope with the dreadful jazz music plinking away in the background (it’s not only shopping centres that have to bear that burden). Those who own previous City Life games may also be slightly disappointed that there isn’t a huge amount of new content here. There are the obligatory new maps and buildings, but not a great deal else.