Does anybody remember the catastrophe that was SimCity? Not the original game, SNES-version, or those with numbers between 2000 and 4, as they are still strong titles, but the one from 2013? Not only did it have a terrible name, but it was a mess of a game that had a bunch of problems at launch and still was an underwhelming entry after its patches. Needless to say, many fans were disappointed. Until Colossal Order came to the rescue. These guys I am more familiar with for making both the Cities in Motion-games, which dealt with constructing transportation systems. However, the team was interested in making a city-simulator game, similar to the old SimCity, and pitched it to Paradox Interactive for support. After a back and forth over how the title could improve, Paradox used SimCity from 2013’s terrible reception as an opportunity to greenlight the development of Cities: Skylines. Needless to say, It worked wonders and is probably my favorite game to micromanage.
With a city-building simulator-game, there is a lot to take in, so let’s take it one step at a time. Whenever you start a new game, you will be able to pick between a map or a scenario; Basically, the first option giving you land to create your town in, while the other will have more specific goals to achieve. The latter is more reserved for the extra-segment, so we will come back to it later. As for the maps, there are tons to choose from, with a different climax, resources to provide, and landscapes in general. If you are still not satisfied with the plenty of diverse choices, you can always edit out one yourself to satisfy your own personal preferences.
Once you start the game, you have to draw out roads from the highway in order to create buildings. There are a lot of roads to choose from, such as one-way, two-way, or highway, but you will need to plan carefully so you don’t get bombarded with roadblocks later on. With roads, there are plenty of buildings to create, but let’s first look at the main-districts. On the bottom bar where you can see your amount of money, inhabitants, and their overall happiness, you have 3 bars representing residential, commercial, industrial districts. These evolve and build themselves up ones you cover an area in their proper color, and neither costs money to build. You are going to need a balanced setup of this, so the bar is always available for showcasing the demand. These buildings are important, as they will be your number one source of income, and they work of each other by giving resources, areas to sell them, and of course, houses to live in.
However, they are going to also need other services to stay alive and they can cost money to set up and maintain. Firstly, electricity is important, and you will have to consider whether you are going for green and loud or polluting sources of energy, which needs to be connected to town by either a landwire or other buildings. Next, will be water sources, where you might go for a water-tower, or take straight from the river/lake. However, these will also need waste-relieve and a good pipe-connection in order for citizens to actually be able to use them, so you are not off the hook yet. Heat will also be important in colder areas, so keep in consideration that you may need boilers and pipes for those too.
Then you are still not done as there are other important facilities. You will need different kinds of schools for education, different firefighter facilities, police stations, hospitals, graveyards, areas for disposal of garbage such as a landfill or recycling-place. Then you might want to mix up the variety, like giving them a yoga-house for better health, crematorium if burial is not their thing, or perhaps upgrade the small police-station to a headquarter by replacing that building? Also, why not decorate areas to make citizens proud of their home with statues, parks or gardens?
Thanks to this coming from the same developers as Cities in Motion, there is also a high focus on transport-management and, while it is far from as deep, there is still an impressive amount of depth to be had here. You can decide routes for the busses, monorails, boats, and others, including the ability to create taxi-stands and airports. This is not all even, as you can interact with the traffic by making an area without traffic-lights, make roads into bus-lanes, change roads’ altitude and much more. Going even more into depth with other aspects, you can change taxes for people, enforce plenty of laws such as no smoking allowed or free studies, create districts, and make them focus on either resources, creating parks and more, you are really given plenty of options and then some.
This might sound like a lot to take in, and I suppose it won’t help when I tell you, you can also gain higher value versions of residential and commercial districts, as well as offices for those studying at universities. However, while there is a lot to take in, Cities: Skyline is careful to make you start small and grow alongside with the amount of options you gain. You will have a decent amount of area to take in with a lot of creative freedom, but you will only have a couple of options for water and electricity at the start, as well as being able to shape the landscape. As you gain more citizens, you will also gain more options when a required amount is met, similar to leveling up by gaining XP. As you meet a milestone/level up, you will gain rewards such as money, more income, more buildings, etcetera. You are never bombarded with options and with clear bars showcasing your citizens’ needs for each facility, you are never lost on what you might need to focus on. You can even name districts or facilities, in case you want an easier time remembering them.
The most important element to remember with Cities: Skylines is to take one step at a time. This will also make sure you always have more income than expenses, so you can actually expand your town with more buildings and services. Despite the upkeep costs, once you have a good start the game gets fairly comfortable and progressive. That is not to say it is easy, as once you fail at something there can be a domino-effect, such as people not getting dead bodies to the cemetery, or being filled with garbage, making them abandon their homes and possibly affecting others similarly. Although, these are usually easy to fix or you are warned with clear graphs and even icons on houses and their version of twitter in the upper middle part of the screen, so just be careful and you will be fine.
What can be a danger are disasters such as floods and tornadoes. These can destroy a lot, so it is important to consider what you will need in order for your city to stay strong, but since Cities: Skylines has a lenient difficulty-curve, I was never in a dire situation. Not even in the beginning as there is a great tutorial telling you what to consider when building. I believe this was a move to ensure you still had a lot of creative freedom, which I am always up for. Also, there is no shame in pausing the action or speeding it up when needed, as represented in the time-area of the lower bar.
Another great thing about this title is just how far you can choose to go with it, as it lasts as long as you want. You can expand your land by purchasing more, giving you a bigger city to deal with. There is sadly a limit to how much you can buy, which might have been done to make you tinker with your area to create a perfect place to live in. While I too love to micromanage every single detail about my town, I actually ended up installing a mod for it so I could expand to my heart’s content (for a price, of course). The same I did for automatically removing buildings that were abandoned, instead of using my bulldozer for every single small building. These issues, however, do not hurt what a fantastic simulator Cities: Skylines is, as it introduces newcomers nicely to a new mechanic, while letting veterans get quickly invested in this wonderful micromanagement game. It has rarely been this fun and creatively free to manage an entire city of your own.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Why hello NPC! It is your mayor GOD!
With so many options for landscapes, buildings, and even how the districts create unique buildings, there is a lovely site to actually see your creation come to life. In fact, seeing buildings actually emerge from the ground up is in itself a treat, and how everything interacts is amazing with so much going on. Firemen putting out burning buildings, people using trains, troubles in the traffic, even the lighting is diverse thanks to different buildings and how effective they are handled. This immersion is even more effective due to the lovely weather-effects, subtle changes between the seasons and the time of day, creating different scenarios slowly and believably. I also love that this change affects others, such as how the water might rise slowly when a flood appears, or how the windmill turns faster when a tornado approaches.
However, it is really the small details to see your city in motion and people walking around and doing their own elements, that leave me impressed by what can be on screen. There are certainly some buildings you will see multiple times, but it is hard to not be impressed with this scope and what town does not have at least two of a fast-food joint or a grocery store? This is all made complete by an excellent soundtrack focusing on calm violins, pianos and other soothing instruments to make this all a less stressful experience. Jonne Valtonen and Jani Laaksonen did a fantastic job providing a rich and varied score with different tones, yet create a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere that fits perfectly with a game about micromanagement.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Varied lands, tasks, and mods
The scenarios you can choose are basically setups with clear goals to achieve and hope you will survive. These are quite creative, such as reaching a number of inhabitants before a flood appears, or smaller goals like transfer a specific amount of people over with a ship. These are fun ways to be creative or plan more thoroughly on what to do, but it can also halt creativity in exchange. There are 11 to choose from, but about 3 times the amount for maps and with the ability to edit, there are many more ways to actually play through and make a dedicated city to be proud of. Not to mention, there are plenty of mods to enjoy, with Cities: Skylines having a huge community to sink your teeth into, and with the game being open to it.
Extra Score: 8/10
While SimCity has its legacy and I will always have a soft spot for the Super Nintendo-instalment, Cities: Skylines takes what made SimCity-games fantastic and makes it accessible and almost perfect. There are so many options that can be overwhelming, yet the game makes it all easy to digest and fun to go in-depth with to make you able to make the perfect establishment. To visually see your town become something magnificent, with a calm atmosphere is as satisfying as ever, and combined with plenty of maps to choose from (and being easy to mod), it is hard to ever get tired of this installment. However, if my hour-counter is anything to go by on steam, I probably should take a small break.