Developer: Colossal Order
Platforms: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, OS X, Mac OS
Genre: City-building game, Construction and management simulation
I have a confession to make: I actually enjoyed SimCity (2013). I know this is far from a safe opinion, as chances are for every two of you that played the game, one either hated it outright for the small city limit size or initial lack of nearly any modding or customization options, or had so many difficulties with the game’s “always on” internet connection requirement that the game simply was unplayable right out of the box.
I’m willing to bet, though, that the other one of you was able to see past the faults and were able to respect the kind of city builder Maxis wanted to create, which was one less based around the traditional model of making one megalopolis in a vacuum, but one small, dynamic, built up and intimate city that would be part of a greater region complemented by the cities of other players with whom you could cooperate. Though feature-wise it’s far from perfect, and its scope may not have been what some had wanted, SimCity was still without question ambitious, and I can still bring myself to respect Maxis and EA’s noble intentions.
That said, and despite my own personal biases towards the new SimCity school of thinking for the 21st century city-builder, I admit that in nearly every objective way, Cities: Skylines is the superior game. Cities: Skylines begins much like SimCity does: you are given a 2×2 km area and a small budget with which you can begin building a modest town. You first have to build roads to connect your land to the highway, then begin zoning for residences. Soon, people flock in and immediately demand utilities and jobs. Once you zone for industrial area (providing the demanded jobs) and constructing your first power plant, water tower and sewage outflow pipe, you will be on your way to building a successful city. Very soon, your city will explode in size. Your citizens will demand places to shop and be entertained, so you will need to create an entirely new area just for commercial zoning. Also, your citizens will gradually grow in their demands in amenities from the city, which will see you building larger roads, schools, police, hospitals, fire stations, cemeteries, sophisticated transport networks and much more. Eventually, your city will grow to the point where you will see the equivalent of millions of people living there, and enough growth in your treasury to begin building world wonders.
So there are several departures that Cities: Skylines takes from the usual formula. For instance, unlike SimCity, where you are bound to that 2×2 plot for the entire game, Cities: Skylines allows you to purchase neighboring land to expand your city limits as needed, allowing for a maximum city size of 10x 10. Also new is the “Districting” system, which allows you to freely create areas where unique rules can be applied for the buildings that exist there, instead of just imposing blanket, citywide ordinances. For instance: you can prioritize education in a certain area by raising the education budget there, or prohibit high rise buildings from being built. Also, almost immediately upon beginning the game, you will notice a greater level of detail in such projects SimCity hardly even thought to address as drawing out your own water mains and manually building power lines. There is also a greater focus on transport as road upgrades and the eventual creation of bus networks and metro lines will become essential to the success of your city. You also have a collection of map overlays at your disposal, allowing you to see everything from the happiness of your citizens to land values to traffic and more right from the main overlay.
However, there is no improvement that Cities: Skylines offers more monumental than the integration with the Steam Workshop. This was possibly SimCity players’ (myself included) biggest criticism of the 2013 installment. We wanted to be able to build on (no pun intended) the base that was the main game. Cities: Skylines, however, has fully embraced mods and the many benefits they bring from day one, and now has thousands upon thousands of which can be found for almost every asset in the game.
Skylines isn’t perfect. The bigger your city gets, the more demanding the simulation becomes. As such, the graphics and smooth run of the game play can suffer if you don’t have a beefy, gaming oriented computer. Also, for a number of the transit tools, there is a steep learning curve, as Cities encourages players to try new things by going light on the tutorials. To boot, there isn’t any multiplayer function, so you will be creating in a vacuum. Finally, depending on the kind of computer you have, loading times can be pretty lengthy, and saving is non-automatic, so make sure to save your games before you exit.
Once you learn the ropes, Cities: Skylines is just a relentlessly playable game. The graphics and game play are crisp and comfortable and, thanks to ability to name and re-name almost anything you want, the game feels nearly infinitely customizable. Not to mention that thanks to the new features and Steam Workshop integration, there is a massive pool of content for you to experiment with and enjoy throughout the game. So, if what you want is to have an entire city at your fingertips, with all of the tools to build and manage it how you want, I recommend Cities: Skylines. It has become what it set out to be: a game that could do what SimCity couldn’t. And I look forward to many more hours building on both games for years to come.