Review Date: December 9, 2010
It's only been a few weeks since Zynga announced its next game, CityVille. And now it's finally here. In a lot of ways CityVille feels like a melting pot of other games all mixed together. Games like Sim City and FarmVille and FrontierVille. It's also one of the biggest and deepest games on Facebook. By borrowing liberally from so many other games, CityVille manages to create a unique experience that will keep you playing for quite some time.
We Built This City
At its heart, CityVille is all about building a city. You start with a small town with the goal of turning it into a thriving metropolis. And to do this you'll have to erect various types of buildings. Businesses will provide a steady stream of income, houses and apartments will increase your population and provide rent money, and community buildings make your city more enticing to new residents. You'll also need to build farms, add decorations, and even expand your businesses by setting up franchises in neighboring towns. You'll be able to expand the size of your city through incremental upgrades.
There's a lot to do in the game, and thankfully there's a great quest system to keep you busy with a steady stream of goals to achieve. The goals do an excellent job of helping you make your city bigger and better. You'll be tasked with setting up certain buildings, increasing your population, and more. It's very similar to the structure found in Zynga's previous game, FrontierVille.
In fact, even though you're creating an entire city and not just a small frontier town, CityVille and FrontierVille share much in common. You build homes and businesses through a series of clicks (the bigger the building, the more clicks it takes to complete); collecting rent results in a splash of coins, experience, and other goodies; and there are collections to complete, which result in bonuses. You'll even have to chop down trees to make room for further development.
From The Farm To The City
Similarly, farming works much the same way as it does in FarmVille. There are numerous crops to plant, each of which takes a certain amount of real world time before it can be harvested. The difference here, though, is that harvesting crops doesn't earn you cash. Instead, the crops are used to supply local businesses. And if the businesses don't have supplies, they can't earn you money. You'll also have to worry about storing your goods. Any crops that aren't used to supply businesses are stored away, but if you don't have space, you can't store them. So you'll have to build farms and other structures to make sure your crops don't wilt away.
So even though you're building a city instead of a farm or frontier town, the basic structure of CityVille will feel very familiar to many players. The difference is that there's simply a lot more to do. There are so many different things to build and ways to customize your city it's pretty staggering. And though you'll start out small, you'll eventually be able to turn your city into an incredibly huge place. So big, in fact, that chances are you'll eventually need to visit the game multiple times a day just to collect all your rent and harvest all your crops.
This is because CityVille uses the familiar energy system, so the number of actions you can make at any given time are limited. Your energy refills over time and you can also refill it by buying batteries with real world cash.
A Little Too Social
Unsurprisingly, CityVille also lets you play asynchronously with your friends. Once added as a neighbor, you can visit a friend's city and help harvest their crops, collect their rent, or send tour buses to areas of interest. You can even set-up franchises in empty lots to earn some extra money and once you have enough neighbors you can buy and sell goods via train.
And that is the biggest problem with CityVille: this is a game that's hard to play alone. Many of the most important aspects of the game require you to have a large stable of friends who are also playing. Setting up community buildings, for instance, forces you to staff the building with friends. If you don't have enough, you can't complete the building. And if you can't complete the building, you can't expand your population limit. The only solution to those looking to play all by themselves is the in-game cash, which is separate from the coins you collect during the game. You can use cash to pay for non-friend staff members, but you'll earn additional cash so slowly that this will take quite some time. Of course, you can spend some real-world money to get cash as well. So you either need lots of friends, lots of money, or lots of patience to grow your city.
The Bottom Line
But the forced social play is the only major gripe we have with CityVille. There's just so much to do and so much to see that you can really play CityVille indefinitely. It manages to combine familiar gameplay from several sources and turn it into something that feels both fresh and addictive. It's not only one of the biggest games on Facebook, it's also one of the best.