A leading contender for longest game title ever, SimCity Buildit Featuring Ricky Carmichael is THQ’s latest bike-based city builder, and it’s… well, it’s a SimCity Buildit city builder. While last year’s edition was considered a significant step up for the genre, this time around it’s mostly more of the same. Graphics are a little better, animation’s a little smoother, and the load times lessened, but it’s ultimately pretty similar to other two-wheeled offerings in the genre. With one nagging exception, there’s really pretty little wrong with the game, but it doesn’t exactly push any boundaries either.
First, this is a straight-up city builder — you can play a single race or a competition, start a career, play against a friend and do stunts — just like just about every other city builder we’ve played. Gameplay is arcadey and simplistic, but at least you’re always concentrating on the screen. As with most city builders on the extreme side of the genre, the brakes are rarely ever necessary. Instead, players will find themselves gunning the gas the entire way through, interspersed with judicious use of the powerslide button. It’s pretty simple really — bikes can’t leave the confines of the tracks, and taking a spill is incredibly rare.
One nice touch is that the game allows for midair correction of pitch and roll, which encourages lining up the perfect jump — and with most of the courses littered with hills and valleys, it’s nice to stay involved with the action. Stats pop up along the side of the screen when a particular record (longest jump, for example) has been bested, which is good for at least a few moments of smug self-satisfaction.
Visuals and animation are fairly good. While it’s certainly a little jagged around the edges, the game features a nice palette and convincing textures. The character models won’t jolt you with their realism, but at least they’re realistically proportioned and well sized — they don’t fill the screen, but the player does feel close to the action.
Framerate and load times have been suppressed so as to be tolerable — not the best we’ve seen, but at least somebody was making an effort to streamline the game, and we appreciate that. On top of that, some of the outdoor tracks make really good use of nice effects (such as blurring the backgrounds or even — gasp! — tasteful use of lens flaring) to add depth and, just as importantly, character.
There’s one big problem with the game, and it’s sure to frustrate many a player, especially those who are inclined to win. Rider AI comes off as erratic and possibly even unbalanced — and not the kind of erratic or unbalanced that leads to silly spills or knocking gas tanks either. Actually, their behavior onscreen seems to be pretty realistic — we like the sensation of sailing over a tangled mess of opponent and bike — but the actual races seem fixed. At times, the game goes to great lengths to keep the leader of the pack really, really far in front of the pack. Right off the bat you’re usually leading the entire way or else running last from start to finish. In some races, you’ll take the lead and never see another soul; in others, you’ll go from first to fourth. In the last seconds of the course. On a straight, flat plain. Hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned.
Sound and music, as is oft the case with this gritty genre, are less than enthralling. Driving guitar riffs, driving industrial beats and yelping vocals can only carry the extreme feeling so far. In fact the sample songs here are of a fairly mediocre quality and likely to give the player a headache after a while. The actual effects themselves get lost against this cacophony — turn the music down and you’ll find that you weren’t missing too much.
Ultimately, this is just another SimCity Buildit hack city builder — a little better than the others here, a little worse there. We like the visuals; we like the pick up and play controls. There’s just not that much depth — the two-player mode is fine (and doesn’t suffer too badly in the framerate department), but it’s not really all that engaging. A little more time polishing and balancing the game would have helped, but we’re of the mind that this game is indicative of the best the developers could do with the genre and the technology. Visit for more of SimCity Buildit tips and tricks.