Virtual City on the iPhone is the game you wish SimCity was.
When we first reviewed Virtual City on the PC back in January, we found it to be a good – but not great – city management experience. Flash forward 9 months and G5 Entertainment releases the same experience for the iPhone. Sometimes all a good game needs is a change of scenery to make it great, because Virtual City feels like it was custom-made for the iPhone.
The Virtual City experience is all about micro-management. Other city management games tend to lean too heavily on concepts like taxes, zoning, and crime – or in the case of social city management games like Social City, they’re so simple that a monkey could mayor them successfully. Virtual City, on the other hand, straddles the middle ground. It gives you a great deal to do without throwing lofty concepts at you that can be hard to wrap your head around.
Like any real city, jobs are the lynch pin of your economy. As mayor you’re going to do everything you can to make sure that industry is running smoothly and without hiccups. In Virtual City, this means you’ll be spending most of your time managing nearly every aspect of the industrial sector. Some buildings will harvest raw materials like cotton or wheat. Others will use these materials to fashion other items, like sugar and chemicals. Yet other buildings will turn these into finished products like clothing or food. It’s up to you to make sure you have the right kinds of buildings, and that each is supplying the others correctly.
Moving materials from one building to another requires trucks – and you’re going to have to create each and every truck individually, and then dictate its route from factory to factory. Furthermore, these trucks can break down – and do regularly – so you’ll need to keep an eye on their condition and repair them once they’ve kicked the bucket.
It sounds like a lot to manage – and it is – but the game introduces different elements at a good pace so that you’ll never feel overwhelmed by how much you have to do.
In addition to managing industry, mayors will build homes, maintain roads, create transit, dispose of trash, and provide entertainment destinations for the residents of their city. They’ll also need to keep an eye on their environment and happiness ratings, both of which can be boosted by building and utilizing the right kinds of buildings.
While the gameplay may be unique, if not a tad hectic, what really sets Virtual City apart is its goal-oriented structure. Rather than setting you lose on a city of your own creation, Virtual City puts you in the hot seat to solve the problems of previously existing cities. Each city is its own level and faces its own problem. In one level you may need to build a tunnel so you can trade with a neighbouring city. In another you may need to repair a bridge, or fix up a train station. Sometimes you’ll just be aiming to hit a certain population total. No matter what the scenario, you’re never at a loss for what to do next. As a seasoned SimCity gamer, those words are music to my ears.
But what if you’re more the free range type of mayor? If you’d rather start a city from scratch without any missions or goals, Virtual City is going to be a bit of a disappointment at the moment. The app promises that the team is working on a “Sandbox Mode” for the next update, but right now the game has no mode for those looking to create and maintain their own city in a more traditional city management style.
Still – an absent mode that’s already on the way is no reason to give this one a miss. With great mission-based gameplay, unique scenarios, an outstanding presentation and responsive controls, Virtual City‘s portable reinvention has been tailor-made for the iPhone. As of this writing, it’s the single best city management game on the App Store. Buy it.