strategy

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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Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 Review

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Ok, firstly, whoever designed the menus for this game needs to be fired. You hear that, Wizards? Fire your menu man. Get a new menu man. Or menu woman. I don’t discriminate.

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To coincide with the release of the core sets, Wizards of the Coast have been releasing the Duels of the Planeswalkers games yearly since 2011. If you aren’t aware, these video games are based on the trading card game Magic: The Gathering. The basic format for each game is the same – players must battle (sorry, duel) through a series of opponents in games of Magic. Whilst not as fun as playing with pals IRL, the Duels games have been a fun way to get that little bit of Magic fill when your friends aren’t about. Until now.

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Duels 2015 is a bad game. As I mentioned, the menu screen is clunky and unresponsive. It takes about 4 clicks of “start” before you can actually get into the game. From there, you are greeted with an ugly ‘minimalistic’ black and white home screen. Once you have gotten over this melancholy menu, you must traverse rocky animations and perilous scrolling. You would be mistaken, after all this, for thinking that you can just jump into a game. But how wrong you are, my little cherub. Duels 2015 features a tutorial, which is very handy for new players, but if you’re a veteran of Magic then you don’t need to hear all this spiel. You can skip the five tutorials…individually. If you opt to take them, you are accompanied by a patronising female voice. It’s the kind of voice that, if you heard on the phone, you’d think “goodness, what an attractive woman!”. That isn’t what a want, Wizards of the Coast! I don’t want hot women mixing up my Magic! That’s like…antithesis. It’s confusing. I want to hear a gruff mage or something! Anyway, after the tutorial, you choose a colour from the five Magic colours – red, blue, white, green or black. From there, you are then taken to another screen where you pick a dual-colour deck centering around that first colour. I went with a blue/black, which (as you’ll know if you’re a Magic nerd) generally focuses on milling and discarding. This deck did not. As I was cast into this ‘boss’ fight, I played common after common after uncommon, with no real synergy or purpose. This deck was terrible. After a few attempts (I cranked the difficulty up to max because I’m awesome in my head) I beat him. Now the real game begins.

255420_screenshots_2014-07-17_00002The story is alright – Garruk, a planeswalker, is cursed and has gone scatty and is killing other planeswalkers. You must track him down and gently soothe him into submission. Like more Magic lore, however, it’s one of those stories that reading the synopsis on Wikipedia is a lot more interesting than the actual thing. It’s basically just a chase through various planes, as was Duels 2014‘s story. The difference with 2015 is that this shit is canon. But we don’t play these games for the stories, do we?

255420_screenshots_2014-07-17_00006Nah. It’s the gameplay that draws the boys to the yard. From the beginning of the game, you can only play with the deck that you chose in the tutorial. This is unlike past Duels games, in which you could choose from a variety of very different pre-made decks, each with an interesting play style. For me, this was one of the best features of the Duels game, as it enabled you to play with card combinations that you had never seen before. But unfortunately that has gone. Thrown out like yesterday’s ham. I struggled a bit, using my shit-deck to defeat the boss in the first plane, but managed to do it eventually. Afterwards you are given the option to now fully customise your shit-deck. However, unless you pay IRL money for awesome cards, your shit-deck is probably going to remain a shit-deck for a while (or a crap-deck at best). Yeah, Duels 2015 incorporates that old gamer favourite, micro transactions! Defeating enemies unlocks booster packs, which contain cards you can use. But if you want the real good’uns, you have to fork out for ‘premium packs’. This is, quite frankly, disgusting. Not only are you limited to only playing decks from a relatively small (300) card pool, you must pay for really good ones! If I wanted to pay for Magic cards, I would be playing Magic Online…or in real life! As far as the actual battles are concerned, the pace is quite quick, which makes a nice change from previous instalments. That’s about all that’s changed for the better really. They have gotten rid of the nice little animations on some of the uber cool cards from 2014, which is a shame. Also, when you enter combat, the playing board splits apart to reveal this big red…bit? I…I don’t even.

What even is that?
What even is that?

The pay-to-win situation is not even my biggest gripe with the game, as I was excited and forked out the money to buy the ‘special addition’ before the game was released, highly anticipating hours of joy, so I was rewarded with some pretty good cards. No, my main gripe is just the overall design. Duels 2012 had the Archenemy game mode: a 3 vs 1 game, where the 1 draws special archenemy cards to give themselves buffs and boosts. It was a fun addition that provided ever changing challenges. Duels 2013 had Planechase, in which players fought on different ‘planes’ that added various effects to the game, changing the dynamics completely. Even 2014 had its sealed mode, which was a complete let down and waste of time, but at least it was something. 2015 has nothing apart from the campaign. You can play a ‘practice match’ with up to four AI, but there is no option to make it a team game, only freeforalls (to my knowledge anyway – these other options may well be in the game, hidden among the tangling vines of the unforgiving and unforgivable menu screen). So the campaign is split up into 5 planes, with each plane consisting of four battles including a boss fight. There is an option to ‘explore’ the plane, which I assumed meant that you were cast into a 3D rendering or something, which would have been cool. But these are just some extra battles that you can do to unlock a couple o’ more cards. There is an achievement for completing them all, but there is no screen telling you how you are progressing. You just have to kind of guess when you have completed it, lest you be caught in an everlasting cycle of fighting spiders or minatours. There are a handful of extras features, which include looking at Magic adverts and a handful of concept art (with some information about each plane) but that’s it. I tried to jump into multiplayer too, but it seemed that no one was online…. But instead of giving me the option to quit whilst it was looking for a game to join, I was forced to wait a few minutes until it timed out by itself. What is this.

I was on this screen for much longer than I would have liked.
I was on this screen for much longer than I would have liked.

So there you have it. Save yourself some money, and go and play one of the old instalments instead of picking up Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015. With clunky menu screens, poor pacing and less features than its predecessors, 2015 is more of a brain haemorrhage than fun game. I find myself genuinely getting angry when I play. I don’t want a smoke animation when I click exit! I just want to exit! They have turned the innocent Duels series into a bad clone of Magic Online. £6.99, as it is on Steam, is an ok amount to pay for this disappointment, but unless you fork out more you’re probably not going to have a good time. The question is, when Duels 2016 comes out next year, will Wizards rectify their mistakes, or will the Duels series fall into that money grabbing pit that so many games these days tend to do?

The cutscenes are kind of cool though.
The cutscenes are kind of cool though.