In 2013, EA and Maxis released a reboot for Sim City, the beloved city building and management series that put Maxis on the map before The Sims came around. Sim City 2013 was–at its core–a pretty fair game. Unfortunately, no one was able to appreciate the game for what it was due to the copious amounts of nonsense piled on top. Always online DRM that malfunctioned from day one, to the point where it was nigh impossible to play the game for days, very limited building space, and overall stripped down gameplay made Sim City 2013 less than favorable in the eyes of gamers.
Since then, the division of Maxis mainly behind Sim City has been shut down, leaving a bleak future for the franchise. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, as Colossal Order and Paradox Interactive have brought us Cities: Skylines, a city builder that could easily pick up Sim City’s legacy and run the whole ten miles with it. Now don’t get confused and think that Cities: Skylines is in the same series as Cities XL/XXL, because it isn’t, those games are horrendous. Trust me.
In Cities: Skylines, you have the choice between 9 maps, each with its own different amounts of water, minerals, trees, etc.. When you start the game, you’re given a decently sized piece of land to work with, with the ability to buy even more becoming available as your city grows. To start a city, you must build roads, and what are called “Zones” along the roads. The basic zones are Residential, Commercial, and Industry. These zones allow houses, businesses, and goods industries to be built, respectively. These three types of building are integral to keeping your city alive, requiring you to meet the supply and demand of the citizens.
You need residential zones for people to live in, and those people will want to buy things at commercial zones, which will require them to get jobs at industrial and commercial zones, which will give you more money. As supply increases for residential, usually demand for the latter two will start skyrocketing. Keeping these three things balanced is a task that requires constant attention. Your city will quickly get overcrowded, and people will move away, and if your people move away, the industry and commercial zones will lose employees\customers, and put a considerable dent in your income.
Power and water are things to consider as well. You start with the ability to build coal plants, with considerable power output–at the cost of money, pollution, and general unsightliness–or wind turbines, which are cheaper, cause no pollution, but aren’t nearly as effective. You must construct power lines to give your different zones power. Connected zones will give each other power, so you won’t have obnoxious power lines running all over the place, and with careful planning, you can even eliminate a good majority of them all together.
Water is fed from a water source, usually a river. You need to build a water pump, and then construct underground pipelines to cover all of your buildings. A new addition to this game that is absent in others is a sewage system. Not only do you need to give your city water, but you need to dump out the sewage as well. Just don’t dump the sewage upstream from a water pump, unless you think giving your citizens a liquefied version of their last meal (and other disgusting things) is funny.
Now, that all seems pretty easy, right? Well, that’s because it really is, except here in lies one of the problems with Cities: There’s basically no tutorial. Sure, the game tells you basic stuff like “Build roads!” and “Make sure your citizens have power and water!”, but to someone who has never played a city builder before, that won’t do much for them. The only reason I knew how to play was because I’ve been playing Sim City since I was 12, and even then, certain aspects of Cities didn’t immediately jump out at me. For veterans of Sim City, this game will be easy to pick up, but for total noobs, it won’t be as cut and dry, and could easily come across as completely overwhelming and turn them off from an otherwise great. I feel as though an in depth tutorial is something that should be added, to better explain how the game works.
As your city grows, you’ll unlock new buildings to further advance development. Hospitals to keep citizens healthy, fire stations to keep buildings from burning down, police stations to keep crime in check, and one of the more important ones: schools. Schools will allow your citizens to be educated, which will “level up” your residential zones, increasing their property value, thus giving you more money. As commercial and industrial zones level up as well, they’ll need educated workers to even function.
All of these mechanics work together harmoniously, with everything you do affecting the city in some way, for better or worse. The feeling of balancing all of these things out is one of immense satisfaction. Getting a town running, and slowly growing it into a thriving metropolis is easy, yet making it perfectly efficient is something that will take a lot of practice. It keeps you coming back saying “How can I improve things now?”. The possibilities are endless, and fortunately, so is your building space. Unlike Sim City 2013, you have massive amounts of land you can purchase as your city outgrows its initial starting location, allowing for gigantic Utopian-like cities.
Aside from a complete lack of in depth tutorials, I could barely find anything wrong with Cities: Skylines. A minor complaint is that for whatever reason, my game would crash during loading a lot. Never during actual gameplay, resulting in lost progress, but just when I was either loading a saved game, or quitting. It’s not exactly a turnoff, but a bit irritating nonetheless. However, it may just be my PC.
I also had a bit of a hard time nailing down why residents were unhappy at times. The game gives you little to no context as to what is causing their unhappiness. It just basically says “They’re unhappy” or “They’re happy”. Some context sensitive tooltips in the “happiness” menu giving you some idea as to what is making your citizens happy or unhappy would have been a very helpful addition.
In addition to all of this, the game also has Steam Workshop support, allowing players to create their own maps, buildings, or really anything. This addition takes the endless possibilities the game already offers, and makes them even more endless.
Finally, I must comment on the graphics. They’re pretty amazing. When I zoomed my camera as far in as it could go, I was stunned at how close you could get to your buildings, and how detailed they were. It made me feel like I was looking at one of the model cities my dad used to make when I was a kid.
Cities: Skylines is a wonderful, wonderful game, and even as I write this review, I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what you can do. My city isn’t even that gigantic yet. If you’re a fan of Sim City and want something new and honestly better to play, do yourself a favor and pick this game up. If you’re a newcomer, I’d say Cities is a great starting place for you, but just don’t expect the game to teach you how to play that effectively. Look up some tutorials. There are loads on Youtube.
I honestly feel like this could be the new Sim City we’ve been waiting for. It’s done everything Sim City 2013 was supposed to. Here’s hoping this is only just the beginning.