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SimCity: Societies

Cute as a button and easy to a fault, “SimCity: Societies” could more accurately be called “SimCity for Dummies.”

Cute as a button and easy to a fault, “SimCity: Societies” could more accurately be called “SimCity for Dummies.” It’s a city building game shorn of any serious simulation elements, where players merely balance a few arbitrary numbers involving homes, jobs and some virtually unshakable societal values. The challenge here isn’t figuring out how to win, but how to stay awake while one’s city inevitably prospers, tying “SimCity: Societies’” appeal only to the youngest or most casual of players.

Developer Tilted Mill calls “SimCity: Societies” a “social engineer simulator” and not a city builder, like its predecessors. That’s fine, and more or less accurate, but sidesteps a more fundamental issue: Leave “SimCity: Societies” alone and it effectively plays itself. Once a few basic number values are set, players can sit back and watch the money roll in and happy citizens multiply

Want to build a “spiritual” city? A “cyberpunk” utopia? Pick the respective structures from over 500 available and balance societal values like creativity and knowledge against others like productivity and authority. There’s not much to it, just a lot of relentless shuffling from one value bucket to the next, selecting Clown Schools or Castle Ruins or Creepy Barns that offset one value with another until everything’s circulating in a dull homeostasis.

Maps open on blank tracts of temperate or tropical and hilly or flat terrain. Players plop down power structures and workplaces and homes, frame with roads, add a few courthouses and police stations, then polish with decorations (statues, parks, memorials) and venues (clubhouses, carnivals, chocolate bunnies).

Those with an aesthetic side will appreciate the many decorative options, but it’s all more or less a vanity show masquerading as a strategy game. Building up the city treasury is almost effortless, after which players select structures which effortlessly nudge values and citizen happiness in a positive direction. Thereafter, it’s a snap to slop together a half-baked megalopolis and gobble up medals and achievements, the game’s unimaginative prizes.

“SimCity: Societies” is easily the prettiest “SimCity” game going, with its adorable animations and familiar Sim-ish sound effects. But there’s something troubling about a game that from which players can literally step away for 30 or 60 minutes with almost no chance of something going wrong.

SimCity: Societies

Rated E. $50

Production: An Electronic Arts presentation of a game developed by Tilted Mill Entertainment for the PC.

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