City Simulation games seem like a weird, niche area of gaming that only a few people would truly enjoy. Taking into account the surprising popularity of SimCity games in the past, it’s not a particularly strange concept. I’ve sunk a good, few hours into SimCity 4 and enjoyed watching the time fly by. For a while, Maxis seemed to corner the city planning market with bigger and better games coming out regularly. After their ‘slip up’ with the latest SimCity, however, there hasn’t been a better time to try and take that trophy.
Along came Cities: Skylines, just over 2 years after the flames had died down, who took that trophy swiftly and strode off triumphantly. Released by Swedish developer Paradox Interactive, Cities: Skylines is an excellent replacement for the city planning series.
The premise, as ever, is simple enough: using 3 different zones and plenty of roads, build a city. As your city’s population grows, you can unlock rewards – such as unique buildings or larger pieces of lands to expand your empire across, upgrades to your civil service buildings or variations of road types. As a time waster type, I tended to switch on autopilot and robotically drop down a residential section here, then a commercial section there, more residential, more industrial…
Just below the surface, waiting for you to snap out of the trance, is a rich expanse of advanced gameplay that will turn this game from being a quick, drop-in drop-out hobby into a full-time, CV ready City Planning job. It took far too long to realise that my planning efforts had been misguided and I could have really done this a lot better. Some of these features were probably pointed out by a tip window, of which there are plenty so they can easily just be dismissed and forgotten about.
There are options for projecting all sorts of data onto the map to aid you, from seeing where resources for extraction are to simply finding out how happy your citizens are. Utilising these menus and planning accordingly can take your city to a new level of productivity.
It’s a very good looking game; you can see your city sprawl into the distance from afar, high rises and offices jutting out above houses and shops, or you can zoom right down to street level and watch the firemen tackle the fire currently ripping through a factory. The UI opens up the environment entirely, without unnecessary clutter to distract you, and all of your options – except for data mapping – are lined across the bottom of the screen. It makes your city the focus of the game – this is why you’re playing, this is what you’re doing, now let’s watch it grow.
As you gaze over the city before you, it will be accompanied by soft theme music, but scroll in just a little further and you can hear the bustling sounds of your metropolis; cars and sirens zooming past, the buzz of people during the commute. Scroll away and you’ll hear only the sound of nature, the wind and the birds. And then your not-Twitter feed will plink and show you some (hopefully) kind words from a citizen, with hashtags and everything!
While you do have multiple options for constructing roads, I found that the straight lines and intersections was by far the easiest and most economical method of doing things. Once you start adding height and curves into the equation it gets a bit messy. I tried to recreate a highway intersection for my city, off the back of a tip to split traffic so my industrial zone had a separate entryway, but it ended up jagged and messy. And, while long, sweeping drives was fun at first, you can use a lot more of the space by just making blocks of buildings. There’s no lost little square stuck in the middle of two curves that way.
It can also be quite annoying to use the mouse to change perspective, considering that a scroll-wheel click immediately snaps the camera straight up and above your city. Clicking it again will swivel your camera round 90 degrees, which can be a little disorienting. If you hold down the scroll button, you can change the angle of the camera and view your city from the side. After snapping to directly above.
Cities: Skylines is a peaceful escape, which you can enjoy however you want to play. Your city may not grow as fast, but you’ll still have the chance to get the rewards and revel in your success. There is a great amount of stuff I haven’t had a chance to experience; I’m not quite the robotic city planner maximising on profits yet, but patience and understanding will get me there. SimCity 4 is still hidden away on my PC, just in case, but Cities: Skylines is an excellent replacement.
Oh, and there’s a couple of expansions out that add new features and customisation for your enjoyment.