Cities: Skylines review

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Welcome to Jamietown, where I am king.

Look at this amazing city that I didn't build!
Look at this amazing city that I didn’t build!

This game first caught my eye due to the super rave reviews – on closer inspection, most of these reviews were saying “fuck you EA!” and “this is so much better than SimCity!”. Nevertheless, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good simulation game, so I bought Cities: Skylines (I even went the extra mile to get the Deluxe Edition because of course I want to put the Eiffel Tower in my town). I grew up playing Rollercoaster Tycoon and Sims, so there is always a place in my heart for this type of game.

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You can also split your map into districts, allowing you to customise policies and hilarious names.

With the massive brown stain left by the disappointment that was EA’s SimCity (2013) still terrorising computers around the country, there has been a big ol’ space in the market for a new city simulation game. Cities: Skylines fills this hole, and succeeds in washing away whatever remnants of SimCity still linger using some sort of Febreeze sorcery. Cities takes what made the older SimCity games fun and exciting, and brings them into the modern day. Well, mostly anyway.

This option allows you to see noise pollution. NB does not include people listening to Cheryl Cole
This option allows you to see noise pollution. NB does not include people listening to Cheryl Cole

When you boot up Cities, you have a few choices of maps to begin building on. Each map is split into square sections. You always start on the same section when you load a new map, but there is a lot of room to expand as your city grows. A lot of room. This enables you to strategically expand in the direction/area that suits your city’s needs. Do you look for an area rich in oil? Or perhaps a heavily forested area? Maybe you want to build some sort of lakeside town, in which case you want a big ol’ body of water. There is a lot of scope to let your imagination run wild.

Water pipes are essential in separating your poop from your drink.
Water pipes are essential in separating your poop from your drink.

The first and foremost thing that you need to be aware of when playing Cities is the importance of roads and energy. Roads are essential in building your town, as each one creates a build zone around it. Electricity powers your town, whilst water feeds it. These three components yield a high upkeep cost, so it is important to figure out how to get the best bang for your buck. Also, make sure that you place your water waste pipe downstream of your water plant, lest you get dirty poop water. Too often do my peeps get sick due to dirty poop water.

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Once you have established the basics, you can begin creating zones. At first, you have three types: low density residential, low density commercial and industrial. Finding the correct paradigm in managing these zones is key to a successful town – for example, industrial zones produce a high level of noise pollution, so shouldn’t be near residential and so on. As your city expands and you meet more and more milestones, you will begin to unlock new buildings and zones, eventually turning your quiet little hamlet into a bustling city. Unless you go bankrupt first. Which I keep doing. But more on that later. Anyway: whilst building zones, it is also important to pay attention to the way in which your roads work. There is quite an extensive choice of roads to build, including multiple lanes and one-way systems. Playing around with these will enable you to find out which road best suits that area of your town. That brings me on to traffic. The traffic system in Cities is pretty impressive. Managing your congestion will result in a happy town, so stay on top of it. Cars appear to plan their routes well in advance, resulting in intelligent lane discipline. If a service vehicle needs to stop in the road, the traffic build up will cause a massive domino effect, resulting in your city coming to a standstill.

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But you have to figure all of this out yourself, because there is no tutorial. You would think that, for a game with so many complexities, there would be some sort of tutorial. There are ‘advice’ bubbles which are pretty handy for hints and tips, but I would recommend checking out some YouTube tutorials before you really get stuck in. I’ve played for four hours now and still haven’t saved a game because I keep restarting; I can’t figure out how to save money on my electricity costs! Just like real life…

Map editor. I'm trying to figure out how water works.
Map editor. I’m trying to figure out how water works.

The graphics are kind of what you would expect from a sim game. Nothing amazing, but nice enough to look at. Zooming in on your town reveals intricate detail and little animations that make your city feel alive (though building variation is quite limited, so neighbourhoods end up looking similar). You can also see people walking around – going to work, school, taking their dog for a walk etc. It’s a nice little addition to bring some life into the game. That being said, that’s kind of…all there is to do. Unlike SimCity, there are no disasters. No earthquakes, tornados, aliens. Even fires aren’t particularly dangerous because they don’t spread. It’s a shame, but here’s hoping that developers Colossal Order might add something like this in future DLC. Even a day/night cycle would be nice; I’d love to see my city lit up. Additionally, (and here is something that SimCity did right) there is no online option that allows you to visit your friends’ cities. Not that I have any friends, but it would be nice to have the option. If there is, I have yet to discover it.

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On top of city simulation, there is also a map building tool (again, no tutorial, so good luck) and an ‘asset’ builder (buildings, roads, parks etc.). I can’t really add much more as I keep failing at this game. Which just makes me want to play more. If you enjoy simulation games, then I really recommend checking out Cities. At £22.99, it’s affordable for what it is. There are definitely some shortcomings, but with the incredible popularity and sales that is has received within just a few days of being released, there is a chance that future DLC or an expansion is on the way. To tide you over though, there are a few mods out as well as Steam community content. Now, if anyone can figure out how to maintain a positive profit, please let me know….

Mmmmmmm yes.
Mmmmmmm yes.
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