Review

Cities aren’t built in a day, and city builders aren’t built like they used to be. The glory days of Sim City are behind us and other builders have struggled to bring the genre back to prominence. Just when it seemed as though all hope was lost, Paradox and Colossal Order are prepared to change the fate of the stagnating genre. While, in most cases, it iterates rather than innovate, Cities: Skylines is easily the most enjoyable city builder of the last 10 years.

Cities: Skylines 2

Gameplay:

Skylines is a very familiar feeling city builder, though it is not without a few unique features. Laying down roads and zoning them it easy enough, but figuring out where to actually zone is where the planning comes in. Striking a balance of location and convenience can take some time, but it is immensely satisfying when you get everything right. Skylines adds many features that are taken for granted in other city builders. You’ll be charged with laying down power lines, water/waste pipes, and even cemeteries to manage the dead. Mass transit takes more of a front seat and tasks you with setting specific routes for buses stop by stop, as well as trains and even a metro. While these features could be elaborated a tad more for newcomers, they are easy enough to learn through experimentation, and the game does a good job of making reasonable suggestions to improve your city. There is also a twitter esque feed that can inform you of what the citizens think of you and the city, though this quickly becomes more annoying than useful.

One of the most interesting features is defining different districts within the city. By simply highlighting (basically painting over) an area of the city, you create a named district. Within each district you can set policies unique to each, or remove policies that may be present in the city as a whole. Providing tax relief in a low land value district can bring in more potential home owners, while banning large industry vehicles can relieve traffic congestion. The value of districts goes even beyond policies by allowing you to designate a district for specific industry specialization. In doing this, you can create farms, lumber industry, ore mining, and even oil drilling. By simply placing industry within these specialized zones, the game does the rest for you. You’ll have plenty of room as well since you can purchase up to 9 additional tiles surrounding your city (more with mods, but we’ll get into that later), so build, zone, and district to your heart’s content.

Single/Multiplayer:

As it is with all city builders, you are a mayor tasked with the role of God. The roads bend to your will and citizens’ homes can “disappear” at the first signs of negativity (you don’t like my farms? LEAVE!). With a little imagination you can make your own crazy story for your city, but you don’t play a city builder because of any plot (outside of Tropico, but even that is stretching it). Obviously playing it safe for the right reasons, Skylines does not feature any kind of multiplayer. It is perfectly reasonable, but hopefully this is not a sign that developers are unwilling to pursue a similar online component to Sim City 2013, only done well.

Visuals and Sound:

Cities: Skylines is a pretty game, but repetitive building design detracts heavily from that. Seeing multiple buildings of the exact same design, sometimes even the same color, next to each other cheapens the quality of the design. The game has an almost toy like beauty to it with buildings looking more like models than digital homes and businesses. Patches of purple pollution stand out awkwardly, a tad too obvious a reminder. While many commercial buildings look very plain, individual homes can be quite beautiful. Removing the hud and zooming in for a few passes through the neighborhood is one of the most enjoyable privileges of being mayor. The music lacks the charm of the latest Sim City, whose soundtrack was a highlight in an otherwise so-so release. The soundtrack is by no means bad, a bit loud even at lower volumes yes, but not bad. It just never feels quite right for the mood.

Cities: Skylines 5

Originality:

Skylines doesn’t aim to reinvent the city builder genre, but that isn’t a bad thing. Where others have failed, Skylines always manages to either get it right, or close enough to be overlooked. New features like manually setting public transportation routes add a layer of depth unheard of in other city builders. Assigning districts is a game changer and is the kind of feature that other city builders will look to mimic in the years to come. The most exciting feature is Steam Workshop integration, which is already filled with thousands of add-ons and mods. Varying from cosmetic changes to added functionality, these Workshop items show how to properly make a connected game without compromising the game itself. CO and Paradox are also showing that a progressive mind toward modding can only serve to improve the post launch experience. Best of all, these features are executed very well. Though in many way it is an iteration of what has been successful, Cities: Skylines brings enough new to the table to stand far above the crowd.

The Big Question:

Is the world ready for another city builder so soon after the general failure of Sim City 2013? Sure, it’s been almost two years now, but we are still reeling from the aftermath of the botched launch and subsequent backtracking of the required online functionality. It even found its way back into the news recently with the closure of Maxis. Are we ready for another major city builder while the wound from the last big name title is still fresh(ish)? I’d like to think yes, and frankly, I think we need it. I enjoyed the last Sim City, but it was clearly flawed. Cities: Skylines is the game that, not to beat a dead horse, Sim City 2013 should have been. It’s time to be ready, Skylines is the city builder we deserve, and the city builder we need.

Value:

Cities: Skylines launches at the tantalizing price of $29.99, which is a steal when compared to the competition. Nobody offers as much content at the price, and nobody has the same amount of additional, community driven content. The game works, and these days that in and of itself is a selling point, but more importantly it works well. It blends in new features without diminishing the familiar ones, and its focus on community driven content looks to already be a massive success. A year from now, we might not even recognize the original game behind what is sure to become must have mods and skins. There are few games on Steam that offer more bang for your buck, and none within the genre. This is the city builder every fan should own.

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About the Author

Chris
No hard feelings... / Chris@thosegamingnerds.com /