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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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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons review

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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released in 2013, developed by Swedish company Starbreeze Studios (who also did the Payday games, which is kind of odd) and directed by Swedish director Josef Fares, who wins the handsome smolder competition. Like Child of Light, we’ve got a real European feel goin’ on here. Also like Child of Light, one could instantly dismiss Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as being ‘indie-bait’ – the art style, gameplay, type of story and unique elements that make up the game are all those that make game reviewers rave about what an outstanding experience this is. But don’t let that deter you. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is truly a unique game, and only taking up about three hours of your time, it’s definitely one that you should check out. I can only rave about what an outstanding experience it is.

225080_screenshots_2014-06-25_00001One of the aspects that makes Brothers a stand-out game is the control system. You play as two brothers, believe it or not: the younger Naiee and the elder Naia. A controller is required to play this game, as you, the player, manoeuvres each brother individually using the two analogue sticks. The shoulder triggers are also used to enable each respective brother to talk to other characters, grab ledges and generally interact with objects. That’s it for the controls. Simple? Non. As the game is played from a third-person overlooking view, you must keep the two brothers within a certain distance of each other at all times. This means, more often than not, controlling both Naiee and Naia at the same time. Believe me when I say you’re going to have to take numerous pauses throughout the game to reassess your bearings. Controlling one brother with one half of the controller and the other brother with the other half is difficult enough, but then you get an instance where they cross over and suddenly the right half of the controller is controlling the brother on the left and ahhhhhhhhhhhh. As such, rushing through this game is pretty difficult, which is great because if you take your time and absorb the surroundings you will get a much richer experience. Which leads nicely onto another aspect that makes Brothers such an outstanding experience.

225080_screenshots_2014-07-14_00001Brothers is presented in an entirely fictional language that sounds a lot like Simlish (NOT SWEDISH!), an as such, the immersive story is told and interpreted pretty much entirely through gestures. Some critics have argued that this distances players from the characters and restricts you from really caring about them, but I disagree. By interacting with NPCs, exploring and really making the most out of the game, you can get a real feel for the brothers’ personalities: Naiee, the younger, is a bit of a mischievous dick but means no harm really, whereas Naia is a bit more gawky/cool in a Zac Efron in High School Musical kind of way.

225080_screenshots_2014-07-15_00003The game opens with Naiee mourning at the grave of his mother, who drowned when she seemingly fell out of a boat, and Naiee was unable to save her, thus living with the guilt of her death. Naia beckons his brother over, as they must take their ill father to the village doctor, who then sends them on a mission to retrieve water from what is probably called the Tree of Life in order to save him. Thus their quest begins! Throughout their quest, the brothers must traverse through various lands to reach their goal. It’s these atmospheric environments that makes the game really feel alive. At first I thought the game was just set in your standard medieval work, but oh-ho I was wrong! The journey is an adventure, and along the way you’ll meet an array of interesting characters and settings that will make you want to just sit and appreciate how populated this world feels. It also really made to want to play Minecraft. There are various benches scattered across the world that allow you to just sit and enjoy the view for a while. This was a game that was meant to be enjoyed, not rushed. To make the world even more immersive, there are also several little side-quests along the way. These are very short, but offer a greater insight into how this world works, and how its inhabitants live. It’s an outstanding experience.

225080_screenshots_2014-08-01_00006Ultimately, the Brothers is a puzzle game. To get from point A to B, Naia and Naiee must overcome various obstacles using teamwork and brains. These puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, but are still enjoyable for the most part. Some get a little tedious at times, but they always politely excuse themselves and leave when they have overstayed their welcome, like a good house guest. My personal favourite was climbing a giant tower, using momentum and PHYSICS to aid me along the way. Such an outstanding experience.

225080_screenshots_2014-08-01_00003Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game about relationships, overcoming fear and moving on from death. It would be cool to offer a co-op option, where one player controls one brother, which I’m sure would lead to some hilarious hi-jinks, but then I think that that would deduct from the overall impact and point of the game. Whilst at times I did get a teency weency bit bored, the environment and atmosphere sucked me right back in and made me want to play more. The Steam price of £10.99 is a little high for the three hours or so of gameplay that you will get out of it, but if it drops down to around £6 or so, I definitely recommend playing. Also you can abbreviate the title to Brothers: ATOTS, which is fun. It’s a real outstanding experience.

Also, at one point, you ride a goat.
Also, at one point, you ride a goat.