Title: Cities Skyline Xbox One Edition
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Tantalus
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Price: £32/$40 (Xbox One)
Release Date: Out Now
TL;DR: It’s Sim City without the whimsical side
Family Friendly? Click here to for more information

I think it’s fair to say that the world is in a bit of the mess at the moment. Switch on the news, or read an article, and you’re almost force-fed the dire state of affairs. It’s at times like these that escapism becomes a very attractive prospect, perhaps you’re thinking ‘the world would be better if we used X kind of energy’, or that a higher corporate tax would solve more issues than it creates, or maybe you just think you could make Milton Keynes a more interesting place. In any case, if you want to play utopia or dystopia creator, then Cities: Skylines offers a strangely enjoyable yet numb experience as you go about playing God with a Filofax.

Before you start to build, the game offers you a selection of environments to build your city on. These environments vary from green fields to beach fronts. Each environment has varied amount of natural resources and space to build on. The initial choice should give you some indication of the level of detail and strategy that runs throughout the game. And whilst the environment you choose won’t significantly alter the availability of most services as the game progresses, it is still a feature that adds a little more credence to your decision.

When you break ground on your new city, as I did with the bustling GGS-tropolis, you’ll begin the never-ending task of building, maintaining, and expanding your tiny empire. Initially, you’ll have to spend a bit of time connecting a network of roads, power, and water lines. As you go about doing this, the game never holds your hand, that is to say, that there’s no clear-cut tutorial. Instead, the game gently nudges you with reminders of what you need to do. This can be a little frustrating to begin with, as you stutter around whispering ‘it’s my first day’ as you connect water pipes that lead to nowhere, but you quickly begin to grasp how to make everything work. It’s a steep learning curve to have at the very opening of the game but it’s one that prepares you for the more intricate aspects of the game that you deal with later.

Such nuances of city planning will have you dealing with how you actually power the homes and businesses that have miraculously sprung up in a matter of minutes. The game provides a variety of power sources that should appease your environmental outlook. With conventional fossil fuels in oil and coal, green energy in solar, wind, and water, along with nuclear power means that players can experiment with the effectiveness of each source.

Why choose one type of power when you can have them all!

The environment you build your city on will affect the impact your choice of power has, in that if you’re going to use hydroelectric power, you’re going to need a large source of water. And even this is sometimes not enough, as each form of power brings its own downfalls. Want to be a progressive Mayor and use solar energy? well, then you’re going to have to deal with power cuts when the sun goes down. Or you might end up with a situation similar to mine, in which my hydroelectric dam caused mass flooding.

Right, you’ve got roads, you’ve got water, hell – you might even have power, so where are all the people!? Cities: Skylines implements a feature that allows you to plan the diverse areas of your city, with zoning categories like high and low-density housing and commercial areas, industrial areas, and office spaces; enabling you to pinpoint the different areas you want residents to live in and businesses to thrive with pinpoint accuracy. This aspect of the game is developed further as you’re able to create entirely separate districts within your city. And whilst the game does allow you to simply create an unholy mishmash of residential, commercial, and industrial areas, the zoning and district feature means that you can create a highly organised environment in a district with its own distinct name.

The game expands on this customisation by allowing players to activate a set of policies that affect different aspects of the city. These policies range from tax rates for different housing and businesses to legalising recreational drug use and introducing harsher prison sentences. What makes the policies in the game more intriguing is that you can limit which districts implement which policies. Meaning that you can have an onus on education in one part of your city, whilst the northern district of GGS Tropolis is busy paying extortionate tax rates. And whilst it is certainly a level of strategy that allows you to customise your city further, the consequences for some policies were rarely obvious to see.

For example, significantly raising the tax rate for small businesses has consequences that are fully evident, as shops are unable to employ workers, and is eventually forced to close. The trouble comes when you activate the more niche policies, like drug legalisation. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the policy – whether productivity would decrease, or weed cafes would begin popping up throughout my city – unfortunately, neither happened. In fact, nothing changed at all, so whilst it’s a fun policy to include, it’s one that has no impact on the game whatsoever. The policy management is certainly an interesting feature, though I had hoped for these policies to affect the environment in a more profound fashion.

Unfortunately, t he problem with policy making is somewhat reflective of the entire game. Cities: Skylines offers a fun simulation builder that, when you’re creating your first set of districts, sucks you in very well. Though once I built the utopian society of GGS-tropolis, the thought of maintaining or expanding the city seemed far more like work than playing a game.

Instead, I did the mature thing and submerged the city in water

I’m sure that Cities: Skylines will scratch your city simulator itch, it offers a detailed catalogue of infrastructure for you to experiment with and some interesting social features in zoning and policy making. Though, the features become somewhat superficial rather quickly. It’s certainly a game that you will want to revisit now and again, and if you’re a fan of simulators the game will certainly provide a great deal of gameplay. However, casual players of simulator games – I think – will see this more as homework than a game.

What rocks :)

  • The variety in each category of infrastructure allows you to build an incredibly diverse city
  • Following a random vehicle as it moves around your city is oddly satisfying
  • Includes the After Dark DLC

What sucks :(

  • The policy making feature falls flat in places
  • The experience can become repetitive to the point of boring after an extended play

Family Friendly?

The game is rated 3+ in the UK and “E” for Everybody in the US. However, the level of strategy and planning involved makes this a great game for parents to play with their children, and slowly hog the controller as you tell them that you’re making the city a better place.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher