TeamLava Launches City-Building App, City Story, on the iPhone

City StoryThe folks at TeamLava are expanding their repertoire of social iDevice titles with the recent launch of their new city-builder, City Story, for both the iPhone and iPad.

Adapting many of the mechanics found it the developer’s popular Farm Story application, City Story also resembles its Facebook counterparts. But despite being quite similar to games like Playdom’s Social City, City Story feels like it has even greater social potential than some Facebook games. It has succeeded so far on those merits, being the current #2 app on Apple’s top free iPad app list, and #5 for the iPhone. All the same, it’s far from a perfect game, with some unfortunate issues stemming from a very low progression curve.

Like all city-builders, the object of the game is to create a thriving, bustling city. The core game play is no different than any other social version, save being on a mobile device. The success of one’s city is broken up into two major elements: Population and Happiness.

These two statistics translate into three major types of structures that can be created: residences, businesses, and decorations. As one would expect, residences build up one’s populace. The higher the population, the more happiness is required, which comes from businesses like schools, cafes, and shops, as well as decorative elements such as parks and roads. Larger, more effective buildings will also become available as players level up.

BusinessesThe big issue with this population vs happiness mechanic, however, is there does not appear to be any real reason to concern oneself with either stat. It is possible that one would be unable to increase population should happiness be too low, but due to a very low difficulty/progression curve, the issue never presented itself. Also, once a building is placed, its value appears to be set, with no forward effect. In Social City, every house continually produced more population while businesses produced small amounts of income. However, the former could not be done without enough happiness. That does not appear to be the case here.

In City Story all revenue stems from contracts, fulfilled at factory structures, that take a period of time (a few minutes to a few days) to complete and will expire if not “harvested,” so to speak, after they finish. Moreover, as one levels up, more factories will be available for construction and better, more lucrative, contracts as well.

Despite the importance of revenue in the game, it’s almost pointless early on. When starting out, players are given a moderate amount of land in which to build upon, as well as an almost absurd amount of starting money. This suggests a progression problem. In less than 15 minutes or so, it was possible to fill the entire virtual space with structures and décor and still make it look quite good. At that point, there was nothing more to really strive for.

City StoryThis potential flaw is mitigated slightly by unlocking expansions, but by then, starting money is more or less gone, and factory income will take some time, leaving users with the very little to do.

Eventually, the players will only be able to expand with virtual currency or the use of in-game money and a set number of neighbors. Luckily, neighbors aren’t hard to come by in City Story, as players can interact with the whole of the community, and after creating a Storm8 ID, can add any other players as neighbors.

Of course, if players don’t wish to add random people as neighbors, the social features of City Story still shine, for they can visit any other person’s city and help them out by cleaning up to five buildings a day (10 if they are a neighbor). For the player being helped out, they will receive a claimable bonus to income and experience, Additionally, helping others out will also earn the user Star Ratings.

SocialLike in Farm Story, when players visit the social tab of the game, a list of random individuals appear that can be visited. The higher one’s Star Rating, the higher the chance that they will appear first in that list, effectively improving one’s growth in the game. In addition to this, players can also send messages and comment on each others’ walls within the app.

As if there were not enough social elements to City Story already, the game also has Facebook Connect integrated into it. With it, users can take photographs of their and other users’ cities and not only save them to their iDevice, but post them to the social network as well.

Overall, City Story is not a bad game, with a design that’s quite visually satisfying when one builds up their city. Unfortunately, it is so easy to progress early on that it’s easy to feel that the game’s possibilities have been prematurely exhausted. Honestly, it just gets boring once the space is full, and while the social features of the app are phenomenal, we wonder whether or not that will be enough.