It’s hard to start a review of this game without a look to the past. Cities: Skylines wouldn’t exist, or be as great as if is unless it paid homage to the venerable franchise that made the city-building genre itself: SimCity. And I’m melancholy that, with its last iteration, the SimCity franchise didn’t just falter; it totally crashed and burned (rightly so, as that game was awful) but also pleased that with Cities: Skylines the mantle has been passed to a fitting successor.
Cities: Skylines is my first dip into city-building in a 3D environment. I was initially sceptical, mainly through a lot of what I’d seen of the 2013 release of SimCity; trade-offs had to be made? I was pleased to find that my concerns that the city-building genre would have to make compromises in the transition to 3D were unfounded.
The game takes an initially-worrying amount of cues from SimCity. A small square tract of land to start with with one highway connection that everyone uses? Tilt-shift effects? Heck, even the clinically-white overlay layer borrow a lot of influence from the most recent and disastrous SimCity. But it would be unfair to judge Cities: Skylines solely with comparison to SimCity, as Cities: Skylines works as a game in its own right. This game succeeds not just because SimCity failed, but instead almost despite SimCity‘s failure. There’s plenty of detail and depth that’s introduced gradually, and seeing a city mature from a township into a bustling, sprawling metropolis, with each area or district adopting a distinct personality, with highways and transit interweaved intricately between is intensely rewarding.
I’d say the first faults I had with Cities: Skylines came from my own play style; I came to the game a veteran of the excellent but aging SimCity 4; where play styles and layout ideas from the old title don’t really work in the newcomer. But part of the fun of my first few cities was to try out all the new options and learn something new from e ach iterative town I played.
There are a few weaknesses and curious choices in Cities: Skylines – quite a lot of building homogeny, which I can only guess comes from the development team’s small size. But what they have made is full of character and charm – the “Banhammer Bank” being a firm favourite building of mine. There’s some nice complexity in there, slowly unwrapped as one progresses, though the addition of crematoriums and graveyards as functional buildings is an interesting addition. I don’t want to say it’s positive or negative… but a brave choice.
A rewarding break from my SimCity 4 days definitely comes from the transport/road building system – I felt spoilt for choice when it came to freeform roads and highways! The traffic model isn’t perfect, but trying to work around kinks in a system of your own design, as it outgrows it’s original purpose adds a sense of constant refinement and history to a game. I really appreciate the mass-transit granularity; in SimCity, one would place stations and join the dots, where then commuters would magically join trains or buses to where they wanted to go. Cities: Skylines makes a logical step forward where the player defines the routes mass transit takes, allowing for finer-grained control and customisation. It’s nice.
Where the game lacks content or refinement, it’s an astounding achievement to see the modding community come together to enhance the base game in Cities: Skylines, proving the ingenuity and imagination this game has inspired. There’s a great, disparate collection of items that go from enhancing the tools available to the player, giving a new perspective on the game (the FPS camera mod is amazing) and enhancing the game’s appearance in a lot of different ways. The Cities: Skylines modding community is definitely an exemplary example of why I love PC gaming. The additions other, creative players have made to the game go a long way to shoring up any shortcomings.
But above all this, there is a sense that Cities: Skylines has a developer and publisher that seem engaged and ready to enhance their players experience with this lovely game. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a game I look forward to sinking more and more time into. I’m still hurt over what happened to SimCity, but with Cities: Skylines it hurts a lot less knowing that game’s legacy spawned this impressive and charming game.
Buy Cities: Skylines on Steam right now!