SimCity, if you've never played it, is a computer toy rather than a computer game. You never get to win, but you can build some cool stuff while playing with it. It should come with a government health warning though, because it's the granddaddy of all addictive games. It sucks time out of your life like a black-hole sucks in stars. If you can't afford to spend four hours a day playing SimCity I would recommend avoiding it. My city is barely even a town, and I'm already thinking of seeking counselling for my addiction.
For those not familiar with the concept, SimCity is a virtual city where you're the mayor. You decide on everything - from allowing missile ranges and building attractions to zoning laws and school funding. Your citizens react to your decisions by moving in or out of the city. It's a simple concept, but infinitely complex because every decision affects dozens of things. Building a police station makes a neighbourhood more attractive to citizens; building a landfill doesn't. You can set tax levels to attract certain types of businesses or citizens. But giving tax breaks to the rich will also mean that you run out of poor people to fill low-paid jobs.
All this stuff is standard SimCity fare, but there are plenty of new features, too. Instead of each of your cities being alone in the universe, now you can have cities that adjoin each other in a bigger region. This means that if one region has a surplus of power or water, it can be sold to a neighbour if they need it.
Once your city is running smoothly, you can add all kinds of attractions and features to amuse its citizens. From the Hollywood sign to the Chrysler building, you can buy all manner of architectural attractions. If the ones included aren't enough, there are plenty more to be found on the SimCity 4 Web site (www.simcity4.com) and fan sites.
If you remember playing version one on a creaky old Mac a dozen years ago, you may expect this version to run quicker. Wrong - it's more complex than ever, so there's no massive speed boost. Another thing this version has that's reminiscent of the original is its capacity to crash occasionally. Save often because there's no auto-save.
You'll need a fast Mac to play this version, and Optrex drops to keep your eyes working after staring at a screen for so many hours. Be careful you don't start playing and find that it's Christmas when you look up again. I'm off to SimCityers Anonymous to share my problems.