Many time management/casual simulation games, such as the Build-a-Lot series or Be Rich!, challenge the player in different ways, whether it be building or development, services or power. Now, along comes a new player in the field, Virtual City. Created by G5 Entertainment, Virtual City gives us a new and different take on city development: transportation.
Whereas Build-a-Lot focuses on building, and Be Rich! focuses on development and wealth accumulation, Virtual City takes an entirely different route. The player owns not a real estate company or development company but a trucking company. It is up to the player to develop supply chains, garbage hauling, and people transportation as the underpinning to development (or redevelopment) of various levels. You will end up constructing buildings, but your money comes in solely from moving raw materials, manufactured goods, people, and garbage. Whatever you do, don't forget the garbage.
A handy tutorial will walk you through the first few scenarios. Something simple, like, for instance, the shopping mall needs a supply of pies. However, even something as easy as that takes some thought and planning. Wheat needs to be transported to a mill, then the flour needs to be transported to a bakery. The bakery can't make anything without milk, though, so you'll need a third truck delivering milk from a dairy farm. Then, once pies are being made, you'll need yet another truck to transport them to the mall. And while all this is going on, businesses are generating garbage, necessitating the purchase of dumpsters to haul it away. And a recycling plant to handle it. And... well, you get the picture. Each scene has a certain amount of time in which to accomplish all goals to achieve expert status. If you go past that time, the game will continue until you complete all of the stated goals. You can, of course, go back and try again if you want to nab expert in every scenario.
You start small with a few buildings available, but eventually you will tackle much larger projects such as train stations, marinas, and even a space shuttle launch center. Beginning trucks can only haul so much (usually one unit of a material or good) but can be upgraded to larger and more efficient sizes. And everything you do has a measurable environmental impact, as well as a happiness impact on the citizens of your little virtual city. Early on, towns will be small and will fit easily into a screen. Later, as you tackle bigger and bigger projects, the map expands. Move the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen to scroll around, or right click and drag the ground.
Virtual City consists of 50 separate challenges spread across five states, each with their own "flavor" due to the location and climate. California, especially, is a challenge as nearly every town has just survived some sort of natural disaster and needs cleanup and re-establishment of services. Complete a town or two and unlock the sandbox mode for that state, a fun separate challenge where you start with a set amount of money and a vast open space to develop as you please. No timers, no goals, just fun.
Analysis: Despite the resemblance to established time management/casual sim games, Virtual City stands on its own merits. The gameplay is thoroughly absorbing and quite fun as you watch the dance of your little trucks to and fro in the city streets. By shifting the focus to transportation needs, Virtual City has opened up a new way of seeing the world and a whole new skillset that needs to be learned.
Visually, Virtual City is fantastically appealing. Bright, vivid, and minutely detailed, you can spend a lot of time just enjoying the scenery and forget that there are actual goals to meet. Lively music and sound effects are the perfect accompaniment as you get lost in each town's transportation needs. Each state features not only appropriate background scenery, but also accompanying weather systems and other unique problems to the regions. Definitely watch out for the California rounds!
With loads of scenarios to work through, trophies to be won, and the sandbox modes for each state, Virtual City offers hours and hours of fantastic casual gameplay. Fun to play in small chunks or while away the time in immersive gameplay. Not a clone or a knock-off, but a virtual experience all its own, Virtual City is a fantastic wild ride. Just, really, don't forget the garbage. You won't like what happens if you do.