The city-builder genre in video games, while relatively niche, has been one of the most competitive and controversial areas in the industry. There have been games released worthy of being deemed classics while others have tried to do something unique but ultimately have fallen flat on their faces. Not since the timeless Sim City 4 could we say that there has been a truly great city-builder on the market. But this has now changed.
Developed by Colossal Order the same minds behind the Cites In Motion games, comes Cities: Skylines, an ambitious and well thought out city-builder. This was quite an ambitious project for a studio like CO given their small size but it would be fair to say that they have pulled it off. The game is exactly what we are looking for in this genre. It not only uses the mechanics that we expect for this type of game but it also brings in some new features that could set the standard for years to come. In short this is was Sim City (2013) should have been.
The first thing that will strike you when you start a new city is the build space. At first glance this looks worryingly like the same space you have at your disposal in the resoundingly disappointing Sim City (2013). I won’t lie, this was a major concern. Aside from this the UI also bears a striking resemblance to the aforementioned EA title. You may be forgiven for being more than a little worried at this point. However the important thing to note here is that the developer learnt from EA’s mistakes. While the same principles apply in that you must build roads in order to zone for residential, commercial and industrial, the developers pedigree in making transport-centred games really shines through, but we shall return to this later. What sets this game apart is that you are not just stuck with that starting area. Panic over. After you reach a certain level you are able to purchase adjacent plots to expand your borders for a small fee. You can buy a total of nine different plots to create the ideal city. This was not only a one-up on EA but also a great idea since you can choose which plots to buy depending on the needs of your city. This was something that the other competitor also got wrong in the Cities XL series.
City builders are often seen as being on the more relaxing side of things when it comes to video games. While they are not what you would call casual, they are far less intense than FIFA or LoL. This is the kind of game you could play while watching Netflix … for the most part. The early part of the game is less hectic simply because you are small but later on the game becomes a much welcomed challenge as traffic starts to increase. In this game EVERYTING STEMS FROM TRAFFIC. Like a real-life city, any creation in Cities: Skylines depends upon your ability to plan your city effectively and deal with any problems that arise. Just to demonstrate what I mean here: if your city is permanently grid-locked then fires won’t get put out, criminals won’t get caught, rubbish won’t get picked up, ambulances can’t tend to the sick, the dead won’t be picked up … you get the idea. This is where Colossal Order’s pedigree really shines as this is the first city builder in a long time to really place emphasis on the transport side of matters. This is very much welcomes for the more meticulous planners amongst us.
The developers have also put a lot of thought into the tools at your disposal. It is quite obvious that they went back and looked at their competition and identified the things that needed changing/introducing. They have introduced more efficient ways to zone for RCI, different ways to draw roads and my favourite tool – the neighbourhood painter. This is a really cool feature as it literally allows you to paint over areas of your city to designate them as their own separate suburbs. That’s not all. You can rename them to your heart’s content. And the best thing is that you can set policies for that specific area. For example in your downtown area you will want to ban heavy traffic to reduce congestion while in your industrial areas you will not. There are no words to describe how amazing this is (I’m a nerd, I know).
Overall Cities: Skylines is the game that all players of city builders have been crying out for. It has instantly leapt to the top of the modern-day titles in this genre and is even challenging the impervious Sim City 4. Much time and effort has gone into this game and they have paid so much attention to what the community has been asking for that it really needs to be commended. The replayability is vast with great Steam Workshop support and the developers themselves stating that they intend to keep working on the game to make it better for the next ten years. At £20, this is an absolute steal. Hats off to Colossal Order and Paradox Interactive.
(All images from in-game are screenshots from one of my cities)