Game Review: Cities Skylines

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Introduction

Cities Skylines is a City Building game in the vain of Sim City. It has been many years since a proficient City Sim has been released, and following the debacle of the most recent Sim City game, expectations were understandably tentative.

Details

  • Developed by Colossal Order
  • Published by Paradox Interactive
  • Released 10th March 2015
  • For PC, Mac, Linux

Notable Features and Trivia

  • Modding support, integrated with the steam workshop
  • Built in the Unity Engine
  • That faux-Twitter display

Rating

The rating system I use consists of various categories, with a selection of applicable words for each category. For example, for “Visuals – Fidelity”, the possible ratings are “unbearable”, “adequate”, “impressive”, “masterful”. There are a total of 8 categories, and for each there are 3 to 5 possible ratings.

I find this system to be a good balance between the swift impression possible from a numeric system, whilst also giving the detail necessary to create an informed opinion.

Mechanics

Concept: Average (3/4)

City Sims have not been common in recent years, but they have been done a lot in the past. Cities Skylines doesn’t revolutionise the genre, it just aims to bring a much needed continuation to it.

Gameplay: Proficient (3/4)

For me, Cities Skylines not only sufficiently continues the genre, but streamlines many of the more cumbersome aspects of older city sim games. The only criticisms that I could level at the gameplay are some minor balance concerns, but nothing egregious.

Issues like controls and duration are covered in later sections.

Controls: Adequate (2/3)

Largely, the controls are about as good as they could be, but there are some areas that conspicuously lack controllability, such as the layers. It’s impossible for example, to show one layer (water, for example) without having a water building selected, and conversely, impossible to view the standard layer while a water building in selected. What seems to have been an interface design intended to simplify control and help players can at times be very restrictive and cumbersome, even annoying.

Visuals

Fidelity: Impressive (3/4)

Visual quality is high, even individual people are fairly well detailed, with every object in the city looking as sharp as you would expect at the closest zoom levels.

Style: Fair (3/4)

The developers have gone for a tilt-shift perspective look, generally using flat colours and smooth curves in an attempt to, ironically, make everything look like small models. While I think they pull off this style well, I also consider it the opposite of what a City Sim should go for. It doesn’t seem like a real city if the style forces you to see it as a small model. Personally, I turn off the tilt-shift.

Technical

Performance: Impressive (4/4)

For the amount of moving detail to be rendered to the user, this game does an excellent job of staying at 60fps. It gets Impressive rather than Adequate because of the impressive LOD (Level Of Detail) tiers that the game must transition through the improve performance at a great distance. All this being said, there are certain perspectives you can take that will cause the game’s FPS to drop significantly, zoomed all the way in an unoccupied space for example, although the numerous grass objects and detailed trees don’t seem to be to blame, as the performance increases before the two change while zooming out. Such FPS drops are quite rare, even as the city grows as large as it can get.

Customisation: Good (3/4)

Not including mod support, the customisation options are above average for Cities Skylines. Video, Audio, general interface and control options are all more than sufficient. There are a few quirks and problems however, such as the fact that Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering are both on/off values for some reason, at least some numbers would be preferable here.

The Twitter thing can be practically completely disabled, though there isn’t a single option to disable it.

Miscellaneous

Length: Average (3/5)

I should be giving a City-Building game a higher rating than this, unfortunately, we come now to the biggest problem I see with this game. The overall scale and duration of the city that you can build is about 10x less than it should be.

The game awards you with several milestones while you’re playing, representing the size of your city. To start with, they seem pretty accurate to the city you’ve created, but gradually, it gets rather excessive, for example, which Capital City do you know in the western world with a population of only 30,000? London has a population of 8.3 million, the game doesn’t allow the player to go anywhere near that. I could perhaps understand the argument that the population is not literal and is scaled down, like the currency, except that the population seems to be scaled exactly with the size and density of the city itself. Without even filling the initial 2km square you are able to build in, you can reach the largest milestones.

Also on this point, you can own a total of 9 2km squares. That’s a total of 18km squared. London is 1,572km squared. Even for just ‘representative’ scale, this is an extreme difference. An easy way to fix this would be the abolish the square areas entirely. They frequently make it impossible to place buildings near the edge of your territory, and can’t just be bought whenever you can afford them, they are unlocked one per milestone. It’s a contrived and pointless mechanic that significantly reduces the game’s realism.

Verdict (total: 24/32, 75%)

A satisfactory city builder, (the first for years) which should form the baseline for all city sims in years to come. Cities Skylines is sure to be an ongoing standard for the genre for the next five or more years. Modding support should keep it current for many years longer. My concerns about the game’s scale are a massive black mark for me… the game doesn’t even go close to simulating modern western cities, but rather simulating a city-like microcosm, which is a noticeable and grinding reality.

Still, it has replaced Sim City 2000 as my City Builder of choice.

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