The city building simulation genre has always been dominated by one video game series, EA’s SimCity. The series has been so successful that the game is now a synonym with that genre. Whenever city building simulation is mentioned, one name will always pop up in everybody’s mind, and that is SimCity. Any games of that genre will be automatically compared to SimCity and usually the latter will come up tops. I love city building and SimCity was my first choice but I started looking for an alternative due to the many complaints reported on it. Back when SimCity was first launched in 2013, it was plagued by a host of problems such as connection issues and people are always complaining about its always-online DRM and small building areas. So when Cities: Skylines was introduced by the developer/publisher duo of Colossal Order and Paradox Interactive on March 10, 2015, I did the usual comparison with SimCity to see how it matches up with EA’s popular series and to see if I finally found the best alternative I was looking for. Based on the initial reviews, it is safe to say that I did.
Unlike SimCity, Skylines was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews when it was first launched. Dan Stapleton of IGN rated the game at 8.5/10, praising its flexible and powerful building tools as well as its beautiful building models and simulation. PCWorld and PCGamer each gave 4 stars out of 5 and 86/100 ratings respectively with praises ranging from the game’s massive building areas to its cheap price. So now it’s time for my own review on the game. Motivated by these positive reviews, I took the chance and bought the game to try it out for myself. Right from the start, I can see why people are saying good things about this game. Well for one, this game allows support for custom contents or mods. There are tons of mods in the Steam Workshop and they have everything from building models to advanced building tools. After browsing through the mods in the workshop, I have selected and downloaded a few that will make my city building experience more enjoyable and I have written about them in the Mods section below. Besides mods, there are other positive aspects of the game that I have found while playing and these aspects have convinced me that this was indeed a great buy.
- Graphics and User Interface
Let’s start with the graphics, shall we? I tested this game with all graphic settings on the highest one possible and I am glad to report that it ran as smoothly as I hope it will be. This game is fully optimized for the PC so you can be sure that there will be no lags or crashes to report. Of course, I tested it on a R9 280X graphics card which is more than capable of running most games on high graphic settings so check your own PC capabilities first. The building models are so well done and detailed that you can help but stop for a while to zoom in on your city and admire the architecture. The game is not 100% detailed though so minor stuff such as the vehicles and citizens might look a little bit boxy and stock but for as long as the main focal point of the game which is the buildings is done properly, I really don’t mind. Come nightfall in-game, the street building lights are so well lit-up that even from a bird-eye view you will not have trouble navigating your way around your city. Skylines’ user interface or UI is pretty much simple and does not look that overwhelming to first-timers. This game has a unique feature called ‘Chirper’ which is basically an in-game Twitter feed and you can find the icon which is a blue bird at the top of the UI. Your citizens will use this feature to express their feelings on your city although there are times where they will spout nonsense just for the fun of it. At the bottom of the game’s UI, you can find the building tools which I will write about more in the next section. Besides the tools, you can also view the current in-game date, the city’s name, vital information, building demands, finance and population.
- Building Tools
Just like any other city building simulation games, Cities: Skylines provides you with an array of building tools and options to help you build your dream megalopolis. Here you can choose the type of roads you want to build, building zones and districts, utility and public service buildings, transportation, unique buildings and monuments as well as landscaping. You can also set taxation and other policies for each city district. Not all buildings and roads will be unlocked at the beginning of the game so you will need to unlock them gradually by achieving milestones set in the game. You could however unlock all buildings at the start in the Content Manager option in the main menu. When you start a new game it is always important to pay attention to the city’s water and electricity needs to ensure all buildings are well supported. You can build water pumps to supply fresh water to the buildings as well as wind turbines and power plants to supply electricity. To pull in citizens to your new city, you will need to build houses for them. You can do this by selecting Low Density Residential Zone under the Zoning tool. Besides the said zone, there are further five types of zones that you can use and they are High Density Residential Zone, Low Density Commercial Zone, High Density Commercial Zone, Industrial Zone and Office Zone. Out of the six, only Low Density Residential, Low Density Commercial and Industrial Zones are available at the start. You will need to build roads first though before placing these zones. Once you are satisfied with your buildings, you can set districts and their specialized industries.
- Building Areas
You will start with a plot of land that when scaled to in-game size is equivalent to a 2-by-2 kilometer area. Citizens will come in via a nearby motorway interchange exit. SimCity also comes with the same map size but that’s where the similarities end. Whereas SimCity does not have map expansion which means you have to make do with a 2km x 2km area throughout the game, Skylines allows you to purchase adjacent areas for further building. Each plot has natural resources which you can utilize for maximum profit. In total, you can purchase up to 8 plots of land which means that you can have 36km² of land for your building pleasure. That is massive right? If you think that is good well hold on to your hats because it gets even better. With good ol’ mods, you can potentially have 100km² of land! Now that’s massive. With that amount of land you will spend days if not weeks building and rebuilding that megalopolis that you can be proud of. I will talk about this particular mod in the next section.
- Mod Support
The developers scored a homerun with its audience when they announced that this game will have mod support and we all know by now that mods make a game interesting. As it is, there are already some in-build mods such as Hard Mode which makes the game more challenging, Unlimited Money which allows infinite cash flow and Unlock All which allows all progression milestones to be unlocked at the start. Besides these three, you can browse and download other custom mods from the Steam Workshop and there are hundreds of mods that you can choose from and they vary from building models to extra building tools. The best part? They are all free! Bear in mind though that once you activate a mod, Steam Achievement will be disabled and the more mods you have active, the longer it will take for your city to load. Besides that, some mods became incompatible with the release of the After Dark expansion. With that said, if you are having trouble trying to decide which mods are compatible and worthy of download, you can check out this Reddit post as reference then decide from there. Here is a list of mods I have selected for my own city building needs:
- Automatic Bulldoze – Automatically destroys burned or abandoned buildings
- Precision Engineering – Allows for more precise building
- All Spaces Unlockable – Unlocks all 25 tiles for purchase
- Traffic Report Tool – Display traffic information for a single vehicle, a section of road or a building
- City Vitals Watch – Adds a configurable panel to display vital city stats at a glance
The game is unfortunately not 100% perfect though. As with all building simulators, Skylines tend to be a bit repetitive and boring once you got all buildings set up and traffic running smoothly. Once I reached that stage, I found myself trying to purchase more land to expand my city further because that is all I can do. The fun part is always at the beginning where you will get accustomed to the game, learn its mechanics and try to solve any problems your city might encounter. Speaking of city problems, the game does not properly tell where is the problem occurring and what you did to cause it. For example, I found out, on my own no less that traffic is clogging up in one section of my city. After 30-40 minutes of head scratching trying to figure out what’s wrong, I realize that the road system is set in such a way that AI vehicles coming from the main motorway are using that section of the road like it’s a one-way street. Go figure. Another game feature that I find annoying is the Chirper. Sure it is nice to read tweets of satisfied and happy citizens but some of the tweets are just nonsense and they will be repetitive as you progress further in the game.
So in conclusion, Cities: Skyline is all about the fun in city building. Even though at times I can get frustrated at the never-ending problems that my city is facing, over time I learned from those mistakes and to finally see my beautiful city flourish is indeed a rewarding experience. I had so much fun planning my city layout and setting buildings and zones and shaping them to my liking and with the addition of mods, it makes my city building experience even more enjoyable. And to top it all off, you can experience all this for only $30. So if city building is right up your alley, go get this game. Thank you so much for reading this and if you have any suggestions or if you want to talk about your own experience with this city, please do leave a comment below. Thank you once again and have a great day.