For those of us burned by the 2013 release of SimCity, Cities: Skylines is here to tend to your wounds. It’s not perfect by any means, but it achieves much of what SimCity set out to do, with more honest, transparency and commitment than Maxis could achieve. A city-building simulator that really is all it is. There’s no scenarios, grand schemes, campaigns or multiplayer. But then there’s also no need to be online, there’s open modding (integrated into the Steam Workshop and possible through tools included with the game) and there’s huge spaces within which you can build your city.
Cleverly each game begins with you only having access to what seems like quite a small space. Similar in size to the maximum limits of SimCity you’re able to get a town up and running but you’re not going to be building any massive road systems that bankrupt you before you begin. In a way I’m sure you’re used to by now you set down road, creates power and water sources, work out where waste will go and then zone commercial, industrial and residential. As your city goes you get income from taxes and manage that against your expenses and upkeep costs. You contend with things like disposal of bodies, crime rates, fire and traffic as you expand your town into a city and beyond. At certain population checkpoints you get some cash to spend and a chance to purchase an extra square equal to the one you started in. By the time you get to 80,000 population you have a playing areas of nine squares and access to underground rail networks, overground trains, airports and a suite of specialised buildings including a space elevator (that’s clearly not actually a space elevator) and the Large Hadron Collider (that is also not what it should be).
Now this is just the vanilla game. In it’s most basic form it is purely functional and works the way you’d expect. Traffic is occasionally a little buggy but it generally runs in sensible ways and graphically it uses a familiar tilt-shift technique to make your city look a little like a toy-town. There’s no day and night cycle but you can watch people go about their business and each person has their own house (Which they will return to), their own job, and certain shops they need to go to. Weirdly they don’t seem to care if they need to get a bus, the underground, an overground train and then walk three miles to get to a shop, but other than that it all runs pretty well.
The biggest problem is that this is all it does. It works how you’d expect and does nothing more. The most entertaining thing that we’ve seen happen is how dams seem to cause tidal waves when they’re placed, which is entirely a glitch and breaks parts of the game. In itself the title simply has no real character of its own, it just plays like a fixed version of SimCity. There’s no little quirks or secret things to see if you go to street level, no natural disasters to contend with, no scenarios to mix up the formula. It’s just a toolbox for you to do some city planning. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we would have liked to have seen some more game in this.
Of course any problem we face in this game might be solved with modding. It’s a handful of days since release and there’s already mods to fix some of the more annoying aspects of the UI (there’s already a mod to make sure you automatically or burnt down buildings). So as long as you’re prepared to make your own fun this is the most accomplished city builder on the market by far.