Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cities: Skylines

City building is addictive. So, so addictive.
My first city - right on a riverbank.
Cities: Skylines is the latest in a long line of city simulators that I've played way more than is good for me. The original SimCity found its way onto the Macs at school when I was in high school back in the early 1990s. If I remember correctly, playing it was even a legitimate way to spend study hall time. SimCity 2000 was a mainstay on my computers in college. I've played a few of the Anno series, Cities in Motion, and probably several more than I can't think of right now.
They love their soccer in simulation-land. You can even zoom in close enough to see the players on the field.
I skipped the 2013 release of SimCity, largely because everything I read or heard about the game made it sound poorly designed. Requiring a connection to a central server and emphasizing interaction with other players makes sense for an MMO, but not a city-builder. The space you had to work with in building your city was limited, too. Some of that was addressed in later releases, but by then I'd already decided not to bother with the game.
Once you get harbors in place, the boats start coming in. Good for cargo and tourism.
When Cities: Skylines came along in 2015, it was widely hailed as the game that the community had been expecting from SimCity. I picked it up a few weeks ago and have played it for about 10 hours so far. From what I've seen thus far, everything I'm looking for in a city builder seems to be present.
The power generation block. Wind, solar, nuclear...plenty of options.
The weakest part of Cities: Skylines, in my opinion, is the very beginning. When you start a new game, you're given a list of potential areas to choose from. There's some information about what's in each, but not much to tell you what it means. Once you pick one (probably at random), you're looking at an empty landscape without much direction. There are some tips telling you what the various menu options do, and suggesting which ones you might want to start with, but it doesn't give a lot of detail. I've played so many city building games that I more or less understood what was going on, but someone new to the genre might have a tough time.
Once of several unique buildings you can unlock. This one is a massive office tower.
Once you get going, just about everything that Cities: Skylines does is great. As you build up your city, new building choices and other options are unlocked based on the city's population. You also get a cash grant at each milestone, so you can actually afford to try out the new things. The initial plot of land you have available is fairly small, but as you progress, you can buy up additional land around that initial area. I'm sure there are limits eventually, but you can build up a good-sized metropolis without any trouble.
Downtown at night, with that same office tower in the middle.
There is a lot of depth and complexity available in Cities: Skylines, but I haven't felt like I was required to use it. For instance, it's possible to customize the budget by allocating more or less money to the various city services, and those settings can be different during the day and night. I've barely touched those sliders and my city is working just fine. I'm sure it could be more efficient if I got into the details, but the game isn't forcing me to go there if I don't want to.
A wider night shot.
The developers did a good job taking advantage of current technology with Cities: Skylines. I've not had to worry about performance (some older games used to slow down terribly with larger cities), and the graphics are beautiful. You can zoom out to get a birds-eye view of everything you've built, or zoom in to look at individual cars and buildings. If you're interested, all the details of any object can be accessed with a simple click - where a car is headed, what a factory is making, how many people live in a house. Mostly I don't care about detail at that level, but it's nice sometimes to poke around in the inner workings of my city.

I've still got plenty of time left with Cities: Skylines, but even with just a few hours of play I can tell that it's a well-designed game. Looking forward to seeing what else I can construct with it.

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