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Cities: Skylines Review - The Best City Builder in a Decade

Jonathan Bolding | 10 Mar 2015 09:00
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The only other major complaint for many will be Cities: Skyline's traffic model. Cars often use the best lane to get to their destination, and don't overtake others or switch lanes while doing so. You can imagine the problems this creates: Cars lined up for miles in the central lane because they want to go straight four intersections down, while the turn lanes and mixed turn/straight lanes sit empty. That said, Colossal Order has already begun work on the pathfinding system, and during the two week long press period already deployed several patches with fixes, like a completely broken police system that I had a rant all written into this review for and then was forced to delete, and one that improved the pathfinding considerably for traffic circles. Since they come from a background in making transit sims and seem quite committed to providing both fixes and free content alongside their DLC scheme, I think it's safe to say that fear of unfixed bugs and unimproved systems shouldn't keep you away from this game.

The game does give you some tools to stay organized, like the novel and clever districting system. Districts can be painted onto the map and given policies unique to the buildings in that area. At their simplest, they're things like saying that all industry in that area must be farming (to take advantage of natural resource areas scattered across the map), or that free smoke detectors are distributed to buildings in the area. At their more complex, you can ban heavy traffic from a neighborhood, place extra taxes on the wealthy, or begin a smart home program to increase land value and upgrade buildings with solar panels and robots.

The included mod tools are impressive, letting you put together buildings, parks, and road interchanges as you please. It's nice to be able, even as someone with zero 3d modeling skills, to jump out of your city and custom-make a park that fits the exact space you want to fill with greenery. Similarly, when I was having problems getting a highway interchange to work well, I was able to simply save my city, jump into the mod tools, and make the interchange there with a nice visible grid and no pressure. I then jumped back into the game, slotted in my interchange after some copious bulldozing, and kept playing. It took less than ten minutes.

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The game performed well on a variety of hardware, my older gaming computer, running a GTX 660 and a Core i5, didn't have any problems up to and beyond 300,000 citizens and using a mod to unlock extra building areas the developers didn't intend. Meanwhile, even my MS Surface Pro 2, certainly never intended to run such a game, managed to do just fine on minimal settings using onboard graphics running an 80,000 citizen city. The Mac version of the game is a little less optimized, dropping frames occasionally on both an 8 year old macbook pro that doesn't meet the minimum requirements and a two year old graphic design desktop, but both of those ran for hours comfortably and problems were far more rare on the modern machine.

All said, I put about 85 hours into Cities: Skylines in ten days I had it. It's a fun, fun game and even the little complaints I have about it did nothing to stop my enjoyment of the game. The learning curve is a tiny bit steep at first, but my partner who has zero experience with a city builder was able to make a passable city of nearly 70,000 in ten hours of play without encountering that many stumbling points. The mechanics are easily understood, the goals elegant and open ended in implementation, and the gameplay smooth. Did I mention it's not a full price game? That it's only $30?

I did not? My apologies. I have been remiss. You must forgive me.

Now go forth, my child, and build.

Bottom Line: The finest city builder in over a decade, Cities: Skylines's few flaws are so minor I only noticed them after hours of enjoyment.

Recommendation: Those with even a passing interest in management simulators and city builders owe themselves a few dozen hours with this game.

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