The city-building game better than SimCityCity-building games are great fun and have been around for decades, but the genre is difficult to get right. The latest SimCity, for example, may have beautiful graphics, but gameplay is over-simplified and unbalanced, and playing it requires a constant internet connection. However, Cities: Skylines gets it right.
The game revolves around keeping the citizens of your city happy, employed and spending money. Keep them content by providing them with schools, parks, hospitals, police stations and other services and amenities. Key to this game are zones – residential, commercial, industrial and offices – which you place wherever you see fit. If there’s sufficient demand for new buildings, these zones automatically fill up with houses, flats, offices, shops and industrial estates that your citizens will flock to for work and leisure. While planning these areas is up to you, the actual construction and management of these buildings is handled by the game, so your main responsibility is balancing the budget and smoothing out any problems.
You unlock more types of building, transportation options and services as your city’s population grows. You can buy more land to expand your city’s borders – assuming you have also increased your finances – to accommodate your booming population. Thanks to the wonderfully detailed graphics, zooming into your city and watching a neighbourhood going about its business has a bewitching charm similar to that of a model railway.
Each zone is divided into districts. To appease the citizens of each, you can choose specific policies, such as lower taxes, a ban on pets and free smoke detectors. You can also change a district’s economic speciality, effectively creating towns dedicated to, for example, ore mining, oil drilling, logging or farming. Get the right mix and you’ll boost both your finances and the happiness of your citizens. Plus, this also allows for enormous creative freedom, letting you effectively create multiple towns within one map, each with different specialities and residents, but all connected by your roads and public transport systems.
Your city’s roads will become gridlocked if you fail to plan ahead, especially as traffic behaviour, while intriguing, is unrealistic and flawed, sometimes resulting in tricky-to-solve congestion. As the traffic piles up your ambulances can’t make it to their patients, fire trucks can’t get to emergencies and the bin men can’t pick up the rubbish. Everything quickly starts to fall apart.Although traffic behaviour is bizarre, troubleshooting your tailbacks is great fun. Going from a three-mile jam to free-flowing traffic with some road tweaking and public transport is very rewarding. It can be overwhelming at first: if you’re struggling, tutorials made by other players (such as the one at www.snipca.com/15992) are great starting points.
Despite this, the game can become a little too easy. There’s no equivalent to the disasters in the SimCity games, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, which keep you on your toes.There are other irritations: you can’t build tunnels, although the game’s developers say they’re working on it. There’s also an annoying Twitter-like news feed that displays messages from your citizens, which quickly become repetitive and lack the charm and humour of similar feeds in older SimCity games.Despite these quibbles, Cities: Skylines is the city-building game we’ve been clamouring after for a decade, and it beats the 2013 SimCity hands down thanks to more in-depth gameplay, bigger cities and better transport management.If you ever get bored, more than 10,000 player-made add-ons are now available, adding even more depth to the game. Whether you’re a wannabe mayor or just want to while away a rainy day, Cities: Skylines is great fun.Not a perfect city builder, but hugely addictive and beautiful.