The classic is back.
If you’re a big city builder fan, chances are you’ve been wanting a new game for some time now. Thankfully, that wait may have just come to an end.
During March this year, Paradox Interactive and Colossal Order released Cities: Skylines. Now, judging from the name, you might think it’s related to the Cities: XL series of games. However, its gameplay more closely resembles the Cities in Motion games, which becomes evident when you realize that some of the biggest challenges in the game involve traffic.
The game has a very interesting grid based zone system which is based on the roads that you place. Whenever you build a road, the game creates a 4 square wide grid on either side of the road (if terrain allows for it). You can end up with traffic related issues if you don’t carefully plan which zone goes where. You have city services like garbage collection, healthcare and education to account for too. However, with some clever planning or even experimentation, even those traffic issues can be overcome. And boy does it feel rewarding to untangle a massive knot of traffic jams!
Cities: Skylines is a very visually appealing game, with an optional Tilt-Shift feature making the game look and feel more like a real-life model city than anything else, which I consider fitting considering the mechanics of the game are so fleshed out. It feels just like having your own tiny model city that you need to take care of!
Mechanically Cities: Skylines has most everything you could ask for in a city building game. It takes heavy inspiration from the classic SimCity series, and leaves nothing to compromise. Sure, the game is single player only, and you can’t really interact with the outside world other than sending cargo/passengers to and fro. But those features aren’t really required for a solid city building experience in my book.
All the essential features are there, and they feel good. Proper zoning and room to expand, along with districts and policies you can use to really fine-tune your city to your liking, makes this a very solid addition to the genre.
The scale of the game is immense. Once you get into the hang of things and manage to figure out how to make your city work without massive traffic issues (or other problems for that matter), you can eventually look forward to a full 36 square kilometers to build on. If this isn’t enough space, you can use the power of mods, to increase this number to a mind blowing 100 square kilometers in total. Needless to say, Cities: Skylines leaves room for a lot of expanding.
On the flipside, the game is also very detailed when you scrutinize things up close. You can see individual humans going about their daily lives on the streets – be it walking dogs, going to work or school, or simply engaging in leisurely activities. Every citizen has an origin and a destination, which makes it all the more impressive when you consider that they’re also the ones driving the cars in your traffic jams. Buildings are also very fun and detailed up close, with things like donut shops having visible advertisements and giant spinning donuts on top.
However, everything has a rather limited number of models which means that as your city grows, everything starts to look more or less the same.
There’s no terraforming in the game, so what you start off with is what you get. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, since having a fixed map can be seen as a form of challenge to overcome. How will you manage a cluster of island cities? How will building on very rough mountainous terrain work out for you? Every map is different, and will provide new challenges and rewards. You can of course create your own maps if you so wish.
Speaking of creation, the game comes with a built-in editor for creating assets and maps, as well as Steamworks integration. So if there’s anything you feel is missing from the game, chances are it’s either already been made as a mod, or is in the works.
The game has some issues when it comes to telling you what you’re doing wrong. I had a massive death-wave wash over my city at one point, where the cemeteries and crematoriums couldn’t hope to keep up, and I had no idea what was going on. After some digging in the menus, it turns out that most of my citizens were seniors at the point of this happening, so it seems like they had all aged at pretty much the same rate.
I also encountered a save-game related crash which happened when I had steam cloud saving enabled, and because there was no auto-save I lost around 4 hours of progress. One autosave mod later, I had learned my lesson!
Any crisis you may encounter is strictly man-made though, since there are no major disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, monster attacks or zombie outbreaks. Which some may find as a relief, while others will be sorely missing them. I personally could have gone with some more excitement from time to time, as the game does invite you into a Zen-like state of mind. I pretty much haven’t been able to put the game down since I got it because of how fun it is.
Cities: Skylines is all about the city building. It’s a very impressive and often equally beautiful simulation that is easy to learn but hard to master. It doesn’t bring random events or disasters to the table, but it doesn’t need to. The game is exactly what it set out to be. A city builder. And that, my friends, it accomplishes in style.