Colossal Order is a relatively new developer with only two games under their belt. Cities in Motion and its popular sequel showcased the team’s knack for complex strategy and innovation, although both titles were geared towards a very niche audience. They’ve now decided to branch out and tackle the city simulation genre in hopes of giving gamers a true follow up to the SimCity franchise. Cities: Skylines isn’t just inspired by EA’s 2013 sequel, at first glance it looks identical to it. Fortunately, where SimCity 2013 failed, Cities: Skylines succeeds gloriously. It’s a deep city management sim with beautiful visuals and unlimited replayability. Despite its steep learning curve and unconventional tutorials, Cities: Skylines is one of the most rewarding and satisfying city sims ever created.
Colossal Order takes an interesting approach to introducing its building and management basics. Cities: Skylines offers no direct guidance in developing your first city, instead it gives broad suggestions and indirect corrections should you make major mistakes. A question mark symbol provides in-depth descriptions of each UI function, but it’s up to you to figure out how to put the game’s tools to use. As a result, there is a lot of trial and error during the early hours, and you’re likely to go bankrupt a dozen times before successfully expanding into a thriving city.
"Despite its steep learning curve and unconventional tutorials, Cities: Skylines is one of the most rewarding and satisfying city sims ever created."
The steep learning curve encourages critical thinking and strategic planning, which is unquestionably satisfying when things are going well, but it also introduces frustration when progress halts due to the lack of proper direction. For example, my power plant kept running out of coal no matter how I positioned the factory, and no matter how much money I had in the bank. The only hint was that trucks needed proper paths to transport coal from the main road. Unfortunately, no matter what I did, the plant kept running low until it stopped powering the city. Was it a bug? Was it a mistake on my end? Eventually, after restarting my city numerous times, coal began arriving on schedule, but the solution never became clear.
Frustrating as it may be, Cities: Skylines presents players with enough tools to overcome any obstacle. To alleviate some of the stress, a useful Milestones menu gives beginners some structure by outlining goals that, when met, unlock new buildings and gameplay elements. There is also a Twitter-inspired social icon on the top of the screen that allows players to monitor the citizen’s tweets, revealing their happiness status. The developer seems well aware of the tough challenges, as they’ve included pre made mods to aid struggling gamers. Financial problems? No problem, just access the unlimited money cheat. Don’t have patience to wait until all Milestones are unlocked? Why not use the unlock all mod. Alternately, there is a hard mode mod that adds higher construction and upkeep costs, although I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone just starting out.
"Frustrating as it may be, Cities: Skylines presents players with enough tools to overcome any obstacle."
A successful city builder thoroughly depends on its UI design, and Colossal Order has done a remarkable job of making the game feel like an easy to use Google Sketchup program. Every function is easily accessible, and identifying specific problems is a matter of simply hovering above a home or business. Keeping an eye on financial and city services is done via cleanly designed panels that outline individual stats, making management a completely hassle free experience. As far as strategy games go, Cities: Skylines’ user face is exemplary.
"If strategy and micromanaging are your strong suits, Cities: Skylines may be the most enjoyable title available right now."
The SimCity similarities are only skin deep. Cities: Skylines takes a more realistic approach, meaning there are no monster attacks, meteor showers or tsunami disasters. Depending on your expectations, this could be either a good or bad thing. Personally, I enjoy the realism of Skylines. SimCity’s disasters are fun at first, but ultimately become annoyances as the game progresses. Skylines retains an emphasis on city management. Unlike SimCity, Skylines’ city size can cover vast areas, and having to deal with unexpected catastrophes would transform the already challenging gameplay into frustration.
Like any good strategy game, Cities: Skylines’ gameplay has many layers, and it’s impossible to dissect everything it has to offer in a single review. I’ve played for an entire week, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. In the 30+ hours, I’ve failed my city more times than I can count, but being able to overcome impossible circumstances is one of Skylines’ most alluring aspects. If strategy and micromanaging are your strong suits, Cities: Skylines may be the most enjoyable title available right now. The timing couldn’t have been better either. Now that Maxis is officially shut down and there’s probably no future for the SimCity franchise, Colossal Order has taken up the torch, and they’ve delivered a masterpiece.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC