Review: SimEarth: The Living Planet (TG-16)

Put the weight of the world in your hands...

The simulation genre has come a long way - maybe not so much in the area of depth, as that's always been there. Where it has really progressed is in presentation: nowadays it’s no longer up to the player to have enough imagination to fill in the gaps left by technical limitations. Unfortunately, those gaps are in abundant supply within SimEarth: The Living Planet. The challenge now is to get those imaginative juices flowing once again: you’re going to need them.

SimEarth is a game with a large scale. Unlike SimCity or The Sims, you’re tasked not with the progression of a small geographic area or a single person, but rather the construction of an entire planet. The idea is daunting in theory and in practice, and first impressions of the game and interface may leave you scratching your head. There is a noticeable lack of tutorials or in game instructions aside from a chatty planet that fills you in on the goings-on now and then. If you do not consult the manual for this one, you’ll be in for a wild ride.

Progression through the game is essentially determined by the natural changes of the planet, and events that you trigger yourself. To succeed you will want to create subtle changes in the environment to keep the planet moving. Doing so is not as complicated a task as it might seem once you get the hang of it, but the archaic graphics definitely lead to some confusion in regards to what is actually taking place. It's hard to knock a game more than ten years old for dated graphics, but the visuals definitely present some confusion now and then.

Keeping tight maintenance on your planet can be a satisfactory experience, but the results are a long time in coming. The game moves along fairly slowly, which makes experimentation difficult as the results can take time to appear. This all has to be taken with a grain of salt of course; if you’re expecting a simulation game up to snuff with the current bigwigs, you’ll likely be disappointed. SimEarth has all the contents that you would want from a game of this sort, but the packaging is definitely showing its age.

Continuing on that note is a few other troubles with the game. The controls have a slight lag to them which can be annoying, and although precision isn’t key since you’re merely controlling a cursor over a grid, it still can be frustrating. The same is true of the load times in the game: while not excessively long, they can drag the experience down even more. This is a game that requires patience, as without it you will likely get frustrated before long.

Yet another downer is the music, which occasionally pleases but mostly grinds on the ears. SimEarth progresses slowly, and the music loops quickly. That combination will likely lead anyone to turn off the sound; an option that is thankfully available. It’s a bit of a shame really, since the silence lends a bit more to the overall monotony of much of what’s taking place in the game world.

Needless to say, there are many things to complain about in SimEarth. Despite the gripes though there is a decent game in here. What it really comes down to is whether or not you will want to play this instead of a more recent, and possibly better iteration of what SimEarth is putting on the table. Without feelings of nostalgia it seems unlikely that this one will really hit the nail of the head with someone.

Conclusion

If you’re a veteran of the genre, then you may find enjoyment to be had in SimEarth. Everyone else would be well advised to think twice about delving into the game, as its overwhelming options and dated visuals can present a difficult to enjoy experience in the wrong hands. SimEarth is not a bad game, it just hasn’t aged very well. If you can get past that barrier then you may very well enjoy the unique ride provided.

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