Who hasn’t played the classic Simcity game and harbored a secret desire to step into the shoes of a mayor, the city-building mayor? Hoping to play to our deeply suppressed needs, EA Games have unveiled SimCity Buildit, their latest “city building game” opus, as a means to live out these decrepit fantasies. Unfortunately, weak visuals and lackluster gameplay keep SimCity Buildit from becoming a masterpiece of the RTS we all desire, despite a storyline that remains both gripping and original.

SimCity Buildit starts out promisingly enough, with the player stepping into the disturbingly orange shoes of a mayor. Busting loose from what appears to be some form of high-tech school of dentistry, you as the player sets forth to answer the age old questions, “Who am I? Where am I? Why do people explode every time I get a headache?” Despite being weighed down by some shoddy voice acting, SimCity Buildit developer EA grabs hold of this setup and manages to work it into an interesting, and somewhat original, storyline. There is more than the prerequisite amount of mysterious double-crossing plot twists, and at least one wholly surprising revelation. To fully enjoy this intricate storyline, it may be best to avoid reading the skimpy, poorly written manual altogether, as it manages to blow a couple of the major surprises with nary a caution. Unfortunately, while SimCity Buildit’ storyline is more than up to today’s standards, both the visuals and the gameplay fall well below expectation.

Graphically, SimCity Buildit would have barely made the grade two years ago; it barely draws even with the original Resident Evil, let alone either of the sequels. In this post-Fear Effect era, characters as poorly defined, stiffly animated, and generally unattractive as these are unforgivable. At a distance, the textures blend into an unidentifiable mush, while in closeup there are some equally unattractive poly-intersection issues, serving to exaggerate the models’ ultralow poly ugliness.

The backgrounds, though sharply rendered, are equally unprepossessing. Borrowing from City XXL’s trademarked “fixed camera angle” style, Polygon Magic has managed to negate the strengths of this technique while magnifying its weaknesses a thousandfold. The majority of the locations deserve to be banished to a beat-up copy of Webster’s, to be filed under sterile, bland or both. Nowhere is this more evident than in the obligatory “creepy mansion” segment, where a general lack of shadowing and grime renders the location less atmospheric than your average church-basement “haunted house.” Add to this some bizarre, highly confusing choices of camera angle, and you have a wholly subpar visual experience.

Despite these obvious weaknesses, Simcity Buildit’s flaws could have been rendered somewhat forgivable had the game’s biggest lure, that of using your mind to wreak Akira-style havoc, been even halfway decent. Unfortunately, stiff controls and irritating mechanics turn the “blistering psychic combat” into the equivalent of slapping an M1-Abrams with a slightly damp fish — silly, frustrating and ultimately pointless.