Monday, September 14, 2015

[REVIEW] Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines
Platform: PC
Genre: City simulation
Developer: Colossal Order
Publisher: Paradox Entertainment

Back in 1996, a cousin introduced me to the first SimCity, and it just blew my mind. I was accustomed to games being fairly linear affairs, giving the player a lot of tightly orchestrated fun but very little control. In time I moved my strategy PC gaming from city simulation to stuff like Civilization and Heroes of Might and Magic, in no small part because, after SimCity 2000, most games in the genre failed to really entice me in a big way. Cities Skylines, however, managed to rekindle the proverbial spark, especially because developer Colossal Order seems hellbent on undoing all the damage done by EA's immensely disappointing SimCity reboot a few years back.

So yeah, forget all about that always-online crap, or the offensively tiny city sizes, or the lack of features. Cities Skylines works because it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, instead focusing on the simple stuff that made those 90's city sims so addictive in the first place. It perfects several tried-and-true mechanics, such as residential, commercial, and industrial zoning, as well as the spread of electricity and sewage/water supply. Almost everything here seems like it was design to cut the fluff and allow you to focus on the actual fun part of making your city prosper.

One of the defining characteristics of Cities Skylines is its focus on customization. And that's obviously awesome; after all, if I'm building my own cities, I want them to be unique, with their own structure, monuments and landmarks. For this purpose, the game features an extensive set of editing tools, encouraging players to try and bring their own ideas to life.

If you're not editing-inclined, worry not: it's extremely easy to browse the Steam Workshop for new assets to add to your city-building options, from real-world buildings and landmarks (although, to be honest, I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would want those things in their custom city; but hey, that's me) to a large amount of original stuff, including alternate designs for the in-game assets.

But that's not all: at this point, savvy creators have already came up with some very useful mods, allowing you, for example, to better manage your bus/subway lines, to zoom in and take a first-person walk through the streets, or even to fly a plane over the city. This process of creation will obviously continue for as long as the game remains popular, adding more replay value to a title that already has lots of it.

Of course, city simulation involves many different variables, meaning some less-than-polished aspects are bound to show up from time to time. Sometimes a building will have a crime problem that doesn't seem to get solved even when you surround it with police stations; other times your landfills won't send out its truck fleet even with a huge, six-lane road clearly in front of it; or maybe you'll have a lack of workers on industries that just won't go away, no matter how many residential areas you build nearby. These problems can get frustrating sometimes, but they'll more often be submerged by the sheer amount of stuff that works great.

You could say the city simulation genre was one of the big epiphanies in my gaming life, and Cities Skylines more than does it justice. It's an addictive, well-designed, ambitious title that actually knows why these strategy games tend to glue enthusiasts in front of the computer, making it by far the best city sim released in a long time.

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