Every now and then a game comes along that does things a bit differently. Throws out the rule book and and takes a bit of a risk given the player a new gaming experience. SimCity is one of those games.

SimCity isn’t a game with a definite goal. It does tell you what you should do. There’s no right or wrong way to play. There’d been management sims before and games like Elite but this is the first real sandbox experience. Here’s the tools you need, get on with it.

You are provided with a birds eye view of some undeveloped landscape. As the resident town planning department for the newly formed city council it’s up to you to provide zoning rights for A.I. builders to develop in to a living, breathing metropolis. Where do you want the road network? How is the light rail (think DLR/Trams) connected? Power stations? Sport stadiums? Shopping precincts? Factories? Housing? It’s up to you to lay all this out how you feel.

There are a couple of head nods to traditional video gaming – IF you want to engage with them. Each year there’s a budget where you raise money through taxation to finance your ongoing building projects. You set the tax level and how much you fund the various city running costs. The other gamification is disasters. As your city grows you may have shipwrecks, plane crashes, tornados, etc, that seek to destroy parts of your hard labour and challenge you in to fixing the damage caused.

However both gaming mechanics can (for the most part) be safely ignored if, like me, you prefer concentrating on the basic no restrictions sandbox of city planning. There are a couple of simple cheats that reduces budgeting to an annual tax fiddle. As for disasters, on later versions of the game they can be permanently disabled in the main menu.

SimCity isn’t a perfect game. But it does come close. It is a very strong first outing paving the way for more complex future city building sims. The choices and variety of zoning types are a little limited. Later games will give you things like water supplies, zoning densities, etc. Likewise the annual budgeting (if you do want to engage properly with it) is very limited with just a single income tax and percentage funding for three city departments.

Despite it’s of the time low resolutions and limiting building options, the first SimCity remains a surprisingly fun and engaging game play today loosing none of its original charm.