Once again, I have found a game whose single purpose seems to revolve around reminding me why I will never become a civil engineer.
Developer: Colossal Order
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release: March 10, 2015
Cities: Skylines is a single player city-builder sandbox game for the PC. As such, the gameplay revolves mostly on plotting roads and buildings down and watching your city slowly build from the ground up, much like starting an ant farm (assuming people still have those). You begin with a square plot of land serviced by a highway, and from there build roads, a power source, and a water source and allocate different areas for residential, commercial, or industrial buildings. As your town becomes hospitable and desirable to live in, people slowly begin to populate it with said buildings while generating tax revenue so you can further develop it. As the city grows, it encounters problems such as fires, disease, crime, or unemployment for you to solve with certain buildings or city policies.
Cities: Skylines looks and feels very similar to the latest Sim City game, which generated a great deal of controversy with its initial always-on online gameplay coupled with poor server service which denied many players the ability to play. Fortunately, Cities: Skylines is completely offline while still offering many of the features that Sim City did. Another popular issue with Sim City was that the city boundaries stifled expansion and made it near impossible to include many key buildings in one city. Cities: Skylines offers a great deal of expansion through the use of a sort of leveling system which allows you to buy another square adjacent to the ones you already own. This not only makes it possible to expand to your heart’s delight, but also challenges you to expand intelligently as each square may have access to different important resources.
One unique feature is the ability to create districts throughout your city. While initially, it seems purely cosmetic, separating your city into different districts allows you to customize policies specifically to each district. Additionally, you can designate industrial districts to focus on a particular type of industry, such as oil or agriculture. The district system adds an entirely new level of customization for your cities as well as a nice aesthetic as the name of the district is displayed over the buildings, so you can feel like a true city official.
While it is peaceful and relaxing to watch your cities grow over time, Cities: Skylines is not a very exciting game. Admittedly, you are unlikely to be looking for excitement in a city-builder, but even compared to Sim City, where crime sprees, pollution, and natural disasters are common events, Cities: Skylines does not seem to offer that sort of hectic gameplay. Crime and fires exist, but unless you are trying to build a city with no fire houses or police stations, they are not going to provide a real sense of urgency.
Another feature that remains missing is an easy way to create evenly squared roads. This is the main reason why I have come to realize that I would make a terrible civil engineer or city planner in real life. It is far too easy to create uneven roads and lopsided blocks, especially when trying to build without any previous plan. When building roads, the road tool snaps in a weird way that can make it difficult to keep the roads straight. Sim City had a tool that created a square grid for you as well as a dotted line system that provided a useful guideline, and I kept finding myself wishing that this game had a similar tool.
Finally, one of the nicest features of this game is that it is nicely integrated with the Steam Workshop. It even has a showcase of some of the more popular Workshop creations on the title screen.
As a sandbox game, Cities: Skylines has no real story, and does not need one. You can always imagine your own political stories as you build, though.
The graphics of Cities: Skylines are not overly impressive, strictly speaking. As you zoom out, the buildings all become sort of white and dull. Zooming in real close gives them some color and flavor, but the detail is not particularly amazing. As an interesting note, zooming in to look at the high schools, you can see a reflection that isn’t really there, so that is both cool and awkward at the same time.
Looking at the city as a whole by zooming out is oddly satisfying, though. It feels like you are really seeing the city from the view of a helicopter or something, and as the city gets bigger and bigger, you start to get more and more proud of it. All in all, while not breathtaking, the graphics are sufficient in letting you know what’s going on, and that is really all you need in a game with such a broad scope.
Unfortunately for Cities: Skylines, the sound is by far the weakest aspect of the game. The gameplay is fun, the Graphics are decent, and even the lack of a story is excusable, but the sound quality is just horrendous. The in-game music is pretty terrible, and as much as I’d love to use some sort of colorful metaphor to explain it, there really is nothing more to it. It isn’t immediately noticeable as bad music, but it most certainly is not the kind of music you would want to listen to as you spend hours peacefully watching your cities grow. Worse than the music, though, is the grating “atmospheric” sound effect of the wind that plays as you zoom out to get a good view of your city. After spending half an hour to try to find a good zoom level that gave a good view of the city while still saving my ears from the audio equivalent to sandpaper, I finally concluded that the best course of action was to turn off all sound aside from UI alerts and turn Pandora on. While doing that is usually a good idea in sandbox style games in general, it wasn’t until this game I felt it to be a necessity for maintaining sanity.
Howlongtobeat.com claims that it takes about 30 hours to beat Cities: Skylines, however sandbox style games do not really have an actual end. I imagine it means that it takes about 30 hours to achieve the highest city level, unlock all of the buildings, and overall achieve everything it takes to fully create a real city. Coincidentally, it costs about $30, so the old 1 hour equals 1 dollar holds up. Still, unless you are really into city builders or are just in that sort of mood, I recommend holding off until this game goes on sale, preferably for about $20-$25.
Overall, Cities: Skylines is a fairly decent city builder simulation. In terms of graphics and playability, it has nearly everything you can reasonably ask for, and it is highly customizable, especially with the Steam Workshop in mind. While peaceful, the gameplay can get boring, though, and the audio quality leaves much to be desired. Even with its faults, Cities Skylines is generally preferable to Sim City, and most other “city” builders lately have been focusing more on medieval settings lately, so Cities Skylines may be the best at what it is. If you are a city-sim enthusiast or are just really in the mood for one, then Cities Skylines has just what you need. Otherwise, it is something that you will want to wait for a sale on or possibly avoid altogether, as it is not going to provide much excitement.
+ Solid user interface
+ Tons of room for expansion and customization
+ Very peaceful and therapeutic
+ Well-integrated with Steam Workshop
– Unexciting gameplay
– Difficult/awkward road placing
– Terrible sound quality