A couple of months ago I reviewed the iPhone version of Virtual City, noting that my only real complaint was the lack of a sandbox mode. The game already took advantage of the high resolution Retina display, so my assumption was that there would be a minimal difference in the move to the iPad. Turns out I was right … and wrong. Read on to find out what I mean.
Build a city of your dream – a residential paradise or an industrial center. Build dwelling houses and industrial buildings. Produce goods and deliver them to the shopping malls. Setup mass-transit system to take your citizens to places like parks, cinemas and stadiums. Make your city a better place to live by recycling garbage, adding hospitals and fire stations, planting trees, and upgrading buildings to make them more eco-friendly. Make citizens happier by launching spectacular public events.
Trade with neighboring cities and accomplish the construction of landmark buildings like Marina, Train Depot, and Spaceship Launch Pad. Help troubled cities get back to prosperity, deal with economic downturn, population crisis, and consequences of natural disasters. Achieve balance between key parameters of your success: Time, Income, Environment, Population, and Happiness. Play over 50 challenging levels, and unleash your inner mayor in Free Play mode on 5 large sand box maps.
Support of iPhone 4 Retina Display
50 Challenging Levels in 5 Settings: Colorado, California, Michigan, Montana, New York
18 Distinct Mission Scenarios
Free Play Mode on 5 Large Sand Box Maps
More Than 50 Types of Buildings
25 Types of Goods to Transport and Trade
7 Production Chains to Master
16 Special Achievements to Earn
Tens of Upgrades and Buildings to Unlock
Since the core game is identical between the iPhone and iPad, I will largely repeat what I said before, and then detail the differences I found in the experience between the two platforms.
As I mentioned before, Virtual City HD is a single-player focused game in the city builder genre, one representing the all-too-rare intersection of a good game and good controls! Single player means the game is all about you and your city, in the tradition of SimCity! That being the case, I wasn’t surprised that the iPad version was every bit as good!
You start the game with a quick intro in which you are given a city to develop and improve. A city planner is there to help you with tips and advice, including some significant early hand-holding. Surprisingly it is helpful and unobtrusive, and actually gives you reasonable latitude to learn from the very start.
And learning is very important, as the city you have to develop has a load of needs. Not only do you need to do the usual construction of buildings, transport routes, improvements, and so on – you also need to manage overflowing trash, health issues, wildfires, and so on. So the integrated help is critical as some of the missions would be nearly impossible if your understanding of things hadn’t been slowly ramped up during the early missions.
You start small with a single city, but quickly need to branch out – Virtual City offers 50 cities across 5 U.S. states, and at times you will lack the local resources and need to branch out between communities to get what you need – or to provide to another community to gather resources for your own.
Virtual City HD isn’t a ‘free for all’ – with each new city you are given certain objectives you need to meet. What I really liked about the objectives was that they were well-balanced. You wouldn’t be creating massive industry in a residential zone, nor can you have all malls and parks without any resources to support them. Happiness of citizens matters, as does your environmental rating and how much cash you are bringing in.
The major challenge comes from tight resources and overlapping objectives – you might need to increase industrial output in a certain area but not be able to destroy other buildings to build in additional capacity to help you meet your goal. It can be frustrating – particularly since you have a fixed time to complete the goals, and more than a few times I found myself staring at the countdown hoping my bus would get everyone to the mall or the last upgrade would finish in time. But at the same time it teaches you to be more focused and efficient, to watch your objectives and make sure that everything you need to do is taken care of first.
After getting your objectives underway you can continue making things better for your residents and industries which will help you earn a better score and more resources to use to buy new things to build and things that will provide for a better environment and living situation for your citizens. Then you move on to the next city!
The SandBox mode lets you start with a blank city and some amount of money. As the starting screen says ‘there are no deadlines, no limits, and the only rule here is to have a good time.’ If you want to add extra cash for building, you can buy virtual cash using an in-app purchase (i.e. with REAL money) – but as stated, it is purely optional, and you can even remove the button so that kids or others using your iPad don’t accidentally charge purchases to your iTunes account. This is a great way to handle things that is very family friendly!
Virtual City HD also looks and sounds great. I wasn’t sure what the iPad would add since the iPhone version already supported the Retina display. But it is clear that the developers took the time to consider how everything would look and feel on the much larger iPad screen, and it makes a big difference.
An even bigger difference is in how the game feels. The controls worked well on the smaller screen, but it was just that – ‘good for a small screen’. More and more developers seem to realize that many folks reviewing iPad games also play PC games, and for me a comparison point is the netbook. This game gandles every bit as well as playing the PC version of Virtual City on a netbook – and performs better!
Virtual City is my favorite portable city-building game, and is available on the App Store for $9.99, making it an bit of a tough recommendation: the game is excellent, but the price is at the high end of App Store games. At the iPhone price of $5 it is an absolute must-have for anyone who has ever enjoyed a city building game, but for $10 I would suggest checking out the free edition before committing to the full game. If you enjoy it as much as I do, buy with confidence!
iPad Game Review: Virtual City
Where to Buy: iTunes App Store
What I Like: Excellent tutorial; Clear and challenging objectives; Plenty of variety of things to do; excellent graphics; sandbox mode is a blast!
What Needs Improvement: The price differential ($10 for iPad compared to $5 for the iPhone) seems a bit steep given the near parity of features.