Review – Cities:Skylines (PC)

Before we talk about Cities:Skylines, I have to ask… do you remember Sim City? It was great to start with. I enjoyed the early editions, putting hours into the early editions, spending days working on Sim City 3000 and then started to get disheartened with Sim City 4.

As for Sim City (2013)….. I read the reviews and never even bothered.

So I was apprehensive when I bought Cities:Skylines a few years ago based more on the hype and the stills than actually watching any gameplay. You will already have seen the professional reviews, but I wanted to sink a few hours into it first, buying some of the DLC’s and expanding my Cities:Skylines to more of what I hope Colossal Order wanted the game was meant to look like. 500 hours of play later (a mere scratch on the surface of some players) and here we are.

Cities:Skylines is Available on PC and Console

If you are a PC gamer then the game is available via Steam. You can pick up Steam codes from outlets such as Amazon for less than you can on Steam (at the time of writing £23 on Steam and £6 on Amazon) as you can the expansion downloadable content (DLC).

The game was also released on XBox One earlier this year, and more recently on PS4. Some elements of the PC game, such as the Steam Workshop, unfortunately do not apply to the console editions.

Before I Got to Cities : Skylines

Not surprisingly, I came to C:S via other strategy games. What really pushed me towards buying the game was that I was already playing the Cities in Motion games published by Colossal Order and Paradox Interactive.

Cities in Motion (and CiM2) was good, but I desired more. Without getting into the deviancy of additional assets and ‘modding’ I felt like I was always wanting more…. you did not really get the chance to influence the development of the city, no way of creating huge sprawling districts that matched the timetable.

Now I am a big C:S fan with a growing library of subscribed assets from the Steam Workshop; something you can not do on the console versions of the game.

Steam Workshop is a place where you can subscribe and download things to enhance your game. In most cases simply subscribing to the asset or mod will allow Steam to do all the hard work.

In The Beginning…..

Your job, if you can handle it, is to build a city from scratch… quite literally.

You start with a selection of maps, the range of which depends on which of the downloadable content packs you have also purchased – we will come to DLC’s later – but they all have stats on essential features:

  • How much water there is, in the form of rivers, lakes and the sea
  • What natural resource there is; farmland, oil, ore and forests
  • The percentage of the map that you can build on
  • The option to switch to left hand drive traffic.

When you have selected your map, you load into a 2km x 2km square in the center of the map. The base maps that come with the game and the expansions have a highway running though the starting square with a T-junction to help you on your start.

Once you get into the game, you will find Steam Workshop mods that allow you to unlock 9, 25 or 81 squares from the beginning, depending on the actual size of the map.

Build, Build, Build – Spend, Spend Spend

You have to start, as with any new city; building the roads, allocating space along the road to residential, commercial and industrial, and setting up the first cheap and cheerful electric and water supplies.

Cities:Skylines does not offer much money to start with,  so a single wind farm turbine and dumping water waste in the river will just have to do.

Of course, you have to plan that in advance and not put your first hamlet far and away from the water. You also have to remember that not only do you have to buy and build these things, but you also have to pay for the upkeep of it. Spend too much on roads and you get crippled with the maintenance costs.

So already we have to make sure that we build the first few homes and businesses with access to the highway, close to the water and with enough potential to not get broke.

Thankfully you will find the first people moving into your new city relatively quickly. Just make sure that you can keep them happy and support them without pricing them out of the county.

Build the Support

Along with building the residential estates, you also have to build the support infrastructure. Police, Fire, parks, public transport; the list is long.

You also have to consider the lives of your new citizens, they need hospitals when they are sick and cemeteries when they are dead. They need trash collection and to stop getting sick and to be told to recycle more. Of course, recycling is not quite embedded in the game, so someone has created a recycling center on the workshop.

The problem with building the support of course is that someone has to pay for it. Your job is to set the budget, by way of some incremental sliders that take into account, power, water and garbage, transport, education and more. Be careful though, spend too little and your Cities:Skylines citizens will move out. Spend too much though and they will be very happy, but eventually very broke as you will have to raise funds to pay for it.

Where is the income to pay for all this then? As you grow your new city through the target populations, you can move on to managing the finer points in life. The one thing you can not avoid in life or death is taxes and this city is no exception – set the tax levels, raise or lower them in specific districts and encourage the factories to move in by …. overlooking… a few planning regulations.

You can also set policies for your city planning or for you citizens. Such delights on offer include encouraging recycling and bike cycling, conserving power or water; each for a the low-low payment of a few pennies per citizen. You have to careful what you pay out for.

City-wide or District-by-District

As you grow your cities you can allocate them as districts using a brush tool. After renaming them you can individually manage the taxes and policies on the more micro-managed basis and let’s you dedicate resources in a less than blanket fashion.

The one thing that – disappointingly – not managed by the game sans mods is that the districts can not explicitly manage their own services. So if I was to place a hospital or a refuse dump in a district that I have marked out; I can not limit the ambulances or bin lorries to serve that district only.

There are, of course, mods for that.

DLC – The Official Expansions

Over the last 2 years Cities:skylines has seen a number of expansions in the form of paid for DLC as well as free updates.

The latest DownLoadable content will be available in the fall, called Green Cities; but this is what is already available:

  • After Dark – Added day and night cycles, leisure and tourism specialisms for commercial buildings, prisons and taxi services
  • Snowfall – Added winter and weather, heating systems and trams.
  • Natural Disasters – Exactly what it says on the tin, with earthquakes, meteors and tsunamis. also included was the first look at scenario mode.
  • Mass Transit – Monorails, airships and cable cars were the order of the day along with new in-house transport hub options and updates to the ferries and road management options.

All the Cities:Skylines DLC are available on Steam and Amazon

Modding via The Workshop

I have mentioned this a few times, so lets have a quick review of how good the community filled Workshop really is.

Rush Hour

One of the mods that I have used for some time is Rush Hour. This changes every way that the citizens work and play; making the schools work during the daylight hours, the lorries deliver to factories far less at night and changes the day and night cycle to last 24 hours instead of a number of weeks.

That means that you will find your bus stops full of people at 8am, they go to lunch at lunchtime and you could run a separate night bus network if that was your poison…. well I say you could but there will still be a few people prepared to wait all night for the bus to work.

Traffic Manager: President Edition & Network Extensions

These two mods are complete game changers in my opinion. Some of their features have become baked into the games development updates and if Colossal Order wanted to take the vast amount of concepts and make them into a DLC then it would sell.

These two mods completely change the way you can granulate your traffic strategy. You will get traffic, you will get traffic jams and you WILL get evil, hideous sprawling car parks of moving traffic when you play:

These two mods though help you fight it, then make it harder for yourself.

Firstly Network Extensions 2, which for the core part was a range of different types of road layout that you could use. The mod introduced asymmetric roads so you could have 4 lanes in the dominant direction and 2 against the flow. You could turn a dual carriageway into a dual carriageway with a turning lane and more.

Traffic Manager: President Edition takes this idea one step further. It introduced timed traffic lights, the ability to remove traffic lights altogether (now also integrated into the core game) and manage lane control at important places like roundabouts.

Lane control at Roundabouts, you say?

Oh god yes. Citizens in your city will be stupid. They will prefer the slow lane all the way. Using TM:PE you can change this so that you can have a consistent three lane roundabout all the way around and lane 1 can be set to leave the roundabout or be left clear for traffic to join.

Usually… if there are three lanes all the way around the traffic will simply use lane 1 regardless!

Your Personal Social Media Channel

…. and then we come to the complaints. The Citizens always like to complain. Thankfully you can find out about things using Chirper, the little blue bird that will give you deja-vu as it tells you about the water being contaminated or the fact that trees can help the noise pollution.

Hint; noise pollution will probably be better solved by moving the damn noisy wind farm right next the housing estate.

Cities : Skylines is Your City Builder

Now you are already saying “this kid only had 500 hours in, what does he know?” but it is the game I keep going back to.

Sure, it does not have the sophisticated transport network, it does not have school buses or night buses… well, not really.

Sure the idea of having meteors hitting the city as a natural disaster seems…. unnatural.

The citizens fact that the in game “social media feed” talks rubbish and the city has a mass death wave every few years is an issue.

Where there is something that the community finds missing, you can be assured that the workshop has a solution. It might not be YOUR solution, but it is a solution to head int he right direction. Paradox Interactive have listened to the more vocal user-base and have taken on board what is attracting uploads to the workshop; so I can only hope that they continue to support the game for many years to come.

But Cities:Skylines is more than half way there to being the next 10 years of city building like EA and Sim City did for many years before it. Long live Paradox Interactive, even if it only expands now with more paid for DLC.

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