I’m having a really bad day.
My water pumping system is making everyone ill and the electricity supply hasn’t enough power for the growing needs of my city. But if I change to coal there will be an environmental backlash. The crime rate is rising and every time I raise those much needed taxes to counter it, the people start to revolt. I have a major garbage problem, there are constant fires, not enough jobs and I am now praying for an asteroid to come down and wipe out my little city. If only so I can start again with a fresh canvas.
It’s hard being in charge of everything, and that is the lesson I am learning while playing Cities: Skylines.
If you’ve played Sim City in any of its incarnations throughout the years, you probably have a very good idea of what this game is all about. If you haven’t got any idea what I’m talking about, listen very carefully.
You start the game by choosing a template from one of many landscapes. Do you choose some land near the sea? Or something with a little river flowing through it? It’s up to you to visualise the potential of your growing city. The first thing you must do is build a road and connect it to the main highway so people can find you. Then, quoting “Field of Dreams”, if you build it, they will come. You start out building small areas of residential, commercial and industrial zones, connecting them all with electricity and, most importantly, water. Now, you have to get this right, it took me at least three attempts, with various cities, to work out how to properly deal with pipe placement, stopping the whole residential area filling with, well, human waste. When you do get the perfect system though, becoming the king of sewage, if feels so so sweet.
When people start to move to your fair city then that is where the fun begins. You have the option at the start of the game to play with unlimited money and have all the facilities open, but where is the fun in that? In the normal game you have a small number of features to start with like a health centre, or a roundabout, and the key is to entice people to come and live in your paradise. The more people you get, the more milestones you unlock and then you can start to get the really good stuff. Transport systems, police stations, nuclear power and huge monuments like the Statue of Liberty can all eventually be unlocked.
But the more people and more fancy facilities you have, the trickier the city is to manage. Key to this is your economy section. Here you have to balance the income and expenditure, rise or decrease taxes, or get loans and hope you never have to pay them back. You can make policies that affect the game and help you save money, like a water policy on saving water or a pet ban to stop littering and help the constant strain on the garbage collection.
The size of the city, and the areas you can expand into, will increase as the milestones get bigger. The residents will tell you when they are unhappy, usually via Twitter messages and little icons that appear on the screen. Keep them happy, balance the books and don’t build more then you have to – that is the real key to success in Cities: Skylines.
It has taken me multiple attempts at building different cities to work this method out, but thankfully there is a nice feature whereby you can pause the game progression and deal with all the things you have to do, before un-pausing it when you are ready. This means you don’t get too overwhelmed and lose control easily. Saving is key you see, and the only problem is that sometimes the pace of daily life can be a bit slow and when everything’s going well there is no button to fast forward time.
The beginning of Cities: Skylines is confusing at first and some might give up. Please don’t do that though because the gameplay works brilliantly. There are no glitches or bugs (at least not from what I’ve seen), and the direct port from PC has been designed so that the Xbox controller fits like a glove, with nothing seeming too fiddly or awkward. The gameplay is fun and when it goes well, feels utterly brilliant. Just be prepared to start again and again and again.
Cities: Skylines looks superb. You have your overall god like view of a map and without the slightest of stutters, can zoom in to the smallest of building and people walking in the streets. It’s all very bright and cheerful, but when pollution takes hold the world darkens and panic sets in. The design of the text and info screens, are both sharp and vibrant,whilst the night and day cycle comes complete with some of the most stunning sunrises I’ve seen in a game. The city at night is just as stunning and majestic.
The soundtrack included is huge, and with an almost Phillip Glass homage, it soars and leaps as more successes reign down on the world. It’s very relaxing as well, and good to have on in the background as your city steadily grows. All the sound effects are effective, fun and well designed; from the huge cheers of the residents when good things happen, right down to a distant dog bark echoing down a neighbourhood alley.
In conclusion, I am very much enjoying my time with Cities: Skylines. I say enjoying because you will be spending hours of your life playing this game and in theory it can go on and on forever more. You can build better cities, experiment with designs and become a god. There is no online, which is a shame, but after the problems encountered in that department by another city sim title, maybe it’s a blessing.
If you love taking charge, want to manage worlds, balance budgets and take on a heavy load in your quest to become god, then this is the game for you.
Just remember… if you build it, they will come.