iPad Game Review: Virtual City HD Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Virtual City HD would be easy to lump into the "city management" category of games. However, to do so would do it a disservice because it is far more than a city management game; and far less (in a good way). If you've ever launched SimCity (the comparison is inevitable) and stared blankly at the screen wondering where to start then take heart because you're in for a treat with Virtual City HD.
The game features an excellent tutorial, and I recommend it even for seasoned gamers. Once you play through it and understand how the game is organized, you will be ready to dive into the 50 levels spanning five different settings (Colorado, California, Michigan, Montana, and New York). Of course, you start simple; turning wheat into flour, flour (+ milk) into pies, and then delivering the pies to the store. But don't get cocky because to progress through the game you will need to plan ahead, be organized, and execute efficiently as you face natural disasters and attempt to build wonders. While this type of economic puzzle makes for fun gameplay, it is made or broken on the interface; which, thankfully, is the greatest design feature of the game. Want to set a route for a newly purchased truck? Simply tap the truck, tap the route icon, and then tap the buildings you want that truck to visit. To make it even more intuitive, the available destination options change dynamically as you select them. This prevents you from delivering materials to a useless location, and also helps you learn the economy as you play. Another great feature is the Goals menu, which clearly defines what is necessary to complete the level. These guys have stripped away all of the dry, husky tedium that is usually wrapped tightly around a game like this, leaving only creamy, chewy gaming goodness.
As I played through this game, I found myself comparing it less to other city simulators, and more to games like the Settlers (without the combat!) and some great ol' PC titles like Railroad Tycoon, Transport Tycoon, and Caesar III. While this game doesn't approach those levels of organic game play, it does a great job of recreating the same type of challenges; just on rails. There is something wonderfully satisfying about solving an economic puzzle by turning raw goods into finished products, and watching your economy grow in the process. If you manage to work your way through the pre-designed levels, or you simply prefer a more open-ended gaming experience, the Sandbox mode is a great feature and, sadly, one that is often left out of games like this in spite of the near constant hue and cry for its inclusion.
50 buildings (most upgradable), 25 goods, 7 production chains, and 16 achievements will keep you busy for a long time. As of now, the game does not offer connectivity via Apple's Game Center, or Openfeint. It does however, give you the chance to connect via Facebook if you're so inclined.
The graphics in Virtual City HD are high-resolution 2-D sprites. The downside of this is you can't rotate your view of the world, however, this is a small price to pay for super-colorful and detailed game elements. The vehicles are smoothly animated, and I found the entire game to be very pleasant to look at. The high level of detail also allows you to understand at a glance what each building does (although, there are some that are less than intuitive in appearance). While you won't be pushing the limits of your iPad's graphic processor, you also won't find your battery dead before its time.
The game sounds are a nice collection of vehicle and industry samples. Thankfully, these are not overused as I might be tempted to mute the volume like I do on some other games. While I enjoy ambient sounds as well as the next person, I don't want my games to sound like a child's spin 'n say toy. The soundtrack is about what you'd expect for a game like this. It's lively, upbeat, and entirely forgettable. Instead, I recommend you start your own music via the iPod app before you launch the game.
Virtual City HD is more of an economic simulation than a city-building game. This is a very good thing as the latter tends to come with a steep learning curve, and a great deal of tedium. This is not to say, however, that you don't get to build and expand. The difference is that your city grows as a result of you successfully untangling the economic puzzle rather than through the deliberate acts of zoning, putting down infrastructure, setting tax rates, etc. Expect to have a difficult time stopping when you complete a level. The curiosity of what comes next, coupled with the high level of fun makes this game tough to put down. Walking away from the sandbox mode poses an even greater challenge, as there is no definable stopping point. Obsessive completionists out there, you have been warned!
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - Highly detailed 2-D graphics. I would have liked to see a few more of the buildings animated, however, the game is very easy on the eyes. Sound: - 3 - Good use of sound effects, however, the music is likely to be quickly muted and replaced with your own via the iPod app prior to launching the game. Controls: - 5 - Very well thought-out interface design. Intuitive and uncluttered. Gameplay: - 5 - It?s not difficult to find the fun in this game. Easily understood objectives and a reasonable learning curve means you will likely play all the way through this one.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Play through the tutorial before you dive in. It does a great job of walking you through the interface. Consider leaving the Goals tab open while you play so you don't overlook any of the objectives.