Preview - SimTower: The Vertical Empire (Windows 3.x, 1995)

Every now and then, a computer game is launched which is completely unlike anything ever seen before, and it turns out to be such a good play and so addictive that it creates its own genre, with rival companies scrambling to jump on the bandwagon. Tetris, Lemmings, Doom . . . games that make such an impact that after your first experiences with them you literally dream the game that night. About five years ago, that mold making game was Maxis' Sim City. There have been numerous attempts to duplicate the formula by other companies, but Maxis will always make the best Sim games. Or so it would seem . . .

Sim Tower, the latest addition to the family, is an interesting contradiction. It is the first Sim game not created by Maxis. It was developed by a Japanese company called Open Book. Yet, it fills the Sim bill well enough that even the folks at Maxis are calling it "Sim City, only straight up."

You can probably guess at the basic premise. Instead of trying to build and manage the ultimate metropolis, you are trying to build and manage the ultimate skyscraper, presumably within the ultimate metropolis. You work from the bottom up (naturally, the law of gravity wouldn't have it any other way) constructing a lobby, offices and, most importantly, an elevator. Transportation management is one of the big keys to doing well in this game.

As more people lease out the offices, you get more money to create more facilities for your tenants, and the more cool stuff is in the tower, the more businesses will want to move in. There is a star rating system that keeps track of how many people are in the tower, and the higher the rating, the more interesting features you can add. Why stop at boring old offices when you can have hotel rooms, underground parking, a recycling center, or even a movie theater? As the tower grows, not only in population, but in size, there are even more interesting things you can add. Every fifteen floors you can construct a "sky lobby", complete with express elevators, and if you actually make it to the hundred floor mark, you can fulfill your spiritual nature and install a "sky cathedral."

Keep in mind that, as with the other Sim games, no one will declare you "the winner" at any point. This may disappoint some people, but it's also very liberating, because you can decide for yourself what the standard of success is. While the game does keep track of a star rating, you may prefer to judge your achievement based on the amount of money you gain, or the stress level of your tenants, or maybe even a balance of those possibly contradictory ideas.

You will be kept informed about all these factors. While the cash count can be easily displayed in numeric form, stress level is a bit more subjective and harder to quantify. So, when you call for a global evaluation of tenant stress, the people turn different hues according to a color code. If some one seems overly perturbed, you can click on them and determine the reason.

The ability to receive this kind of information from the tenants is definitely one of the strongest points of the game. You can even choose to name the "sims" individually, and track them through an ordinary business day. Then you can find the recurring stressors and, hopefully, eliminate them. It may be more difficult if the problem is noisy neighbors, because you want to keep them happy too.

Of course, if everything continued along exactly the same every day, this wouldn't be much of a simulation of life, now would it? Another important aspect of Sim Tower, and Sim games in general, is the random element of natural disasters. It is the handling of crisis situations that beings out the best, and occasionally the worst, in players. The host of disasters possible in your skyscraper runs the gamut from cockroach infestations to terrorist attacks, not to mention fire.

While Sim Tower fits in very well with all its Sim-siblings, it's interesting to note how its Japanese lineage affects some subtle details of gameplay. For example, if you are planning to add a restaurant, a sushi bar will do far better business than a hamburger joint. Go figure.

But there is no doubt that Sim Tower will live up to the high expectations established by its predecessors. It will appeal not only to city dwellers who can identify all too well with the game's events, but also to those in more rural settings who wonder just how anyone can get along inside one of those big steel and glass things.

Download the demo for SimTower