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ups: fresh take on an old genre, simple interface
downs: graphics and basic strategy get repetitive, low replay value

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City Life Review
game: City Life
three star
posted by: George Holomshek
publisher: CDV
developer: Monte Cristo
ESRB rating: E (Everyone)
date posted: 09:35 PM Sat Jul 15th, 2006
last revision: 09:34 PM Sat Jul 15th, 2006

Click to read.There are some things in life you don\'t realize you need until it is put in front of you. Like when I sat down at my desk last week only to find a box labeled \"City Life\" staring me in the face. \"Hmm, I guess it has been a while since I got my hands on a new city builder,\" I thought. As I threw the CD into my computer I found myself surprisingly excited about what this new sim could hold and how long it could satiate my suddenly large hunger to once again be known as \"mayor\". While the folks over at Maxis may have what is widely considered the best city builder franchise around, that hasn\'t stopped Monte Cristo and CDV from throwing their hat into the ring. City Life offers a different take on an old genre, but is it enough to dethrone Sim City as king of the urban hill?

For anyone who has ever played a city building sim, City Life is going to look and feel very familiar. In fact, if it weren\'t for the social awareness factor of the game, there would be little to keep the title from vanishing into the darkness as just another sim. Thankfully for Monte Cristo, not only does their new twist work, but it is a refreshing change of pace from the regular \"more money, more residents\" routine of the genre. Don\'t be fooled, building a monstrous metropolis is still the aim of the game, but you have to add an extra layer of strategy to the mix.

The social awareness sector of City Life is relatively simple. Through the life of your city you will attract a variety of six social groups including \"Elites, Suits, Radical Chic, Blue Collars, Fringe, and Have Nots\". Of course the challenge here is that not every group plays well together. The Fringes and Radical Chics get along just fine, for example, while the Elites and Have Nots hate each other with a passion. This means that you had better keep opposing groups separated unless you enjoy the smell of Molotov cocktails in the morning. Another trick you have to work through is that you cannot choose exactly what buildings you want certain groups to live in. What you can do, however, is put group-specific business and other amenities in close proximity to attract the right residents for that neighborhood.

Planting buildings and laying roads is as simple as selecting the icon of whatever you want and picking where you want it to go. Other utilities such as power lines take care of themselves and don\'t need to be laid at all. Water pumps and pipes are also mysteriously missing as your city apparently relies on Aquafina and a little help from the cloud god to keep them from dying of thirst. Other micromanagement systems such as ordinances and specific tax adjustments are also absent. Even with the addition of social awareness, city building veterans may actually find the whole experience a little too stripped down and simplified.

The graphics in City Life are not bad by any means, but they sure won\'t drop your jaw in awe either. Buildings, and everything else for that matter, are simple but still show a moderate amount of detail. Trees sway in the breeze and helicopters buzz about to make the atmosphere a little more lively. The most critical flaw in the eye-candy department is the serious lack of building and character variety. Likely a by-product of Monte Cristo trying to keep the dwellings and other areas of different social groups easy to identify at a glance, this also makes your city look very cookie-cutter, even in its early stages.

One neat viewing option is the ability to zoom in all the way to the streets of your city and literally be able to walk around as one of the \"little people\". While it is neat to see the fruits of your labor up close and personal, this mode only demonstrates just how chronic the model repetition in City Life is. Males come in a couple different models for each social group, as do females. Street traffic also tends to look like you\'re standing at the end of a Toyota assembly line. The mode is a neat idea, but in the end it does more harm than good for the game.

Overall, City Life has two main drawbacks that keep it from being a really great game. One of these is that it is really not all that difficult to build a thriving city. Money is fairly easy to come across, especially once you get a few high income groups in your city. Your city also receives a ton of income if you have excess power output because the spare juice is automatically sold. Need cash? Just build a new power plant. One curveball the game attempts to throw at you is an assortment of unlockable landscapes on which to test your skills. Unfortunately most of the maps can be handled using the same basic strategy, with only a few requiring a real change in how you build your city.

The other problem is that the City Life\'s star feature and main challenge, social awareness, is left too loose. Not only is the whole system a bit too lenient of opposing classes moving in close to each other, but it is also a fairly simple task to keep them separated in the first place. With some basic planning and a few well placed police stations it is all too easy to make and keep a peaceful city.

City Life is a fun game with a great idea that wears thin far too soon. The repetitive graphics, repetitive music, and repetitive strategy can keep the player from really getting into things and it starts to get old fairly fast. Just a little more variety, not only in building models but in the game as a whole, would have given a much needed boost to what is a disappointingly low replay value. Rabid city builder fans who are just begging for a new game to play will likely be able to squeeze a reasonable amount of fun out of City Life. Other gamers, however, may be left wanting a little more bang for their buck.

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