“Truly, Cities Skylines will be the best city builder you will ever have played.”
I have long considered Cities Skylines to be the best city builder that I have ever played. Building upon ideas inspired by the classic Sim City games and the developers at Colossal Order’s own background in the Cities in Motion franchise, Cities Skylines is the ultimate city building and management experience.
Taking on the role of Mayor, you are tasked with taking control of every aspect of your city, from zoning and building to taxes, policies and even traffic management. You determine the structure, growth and prosperity of your city from the moment you connect your first road to the motorway, and Cities Skylines ensures you maintain total control throughout. This is what made the game a remarkable success on PC, and the console adaptation for Xbox One does little to lessen the experience.
Constructing a city in Cities Skylines begins with setting out your first roads and zones. There are three different zones at the start of the game; residential, commercial and industrial. Later on you can specify the density of these, and a new office zone becomes available as well, but first you must let your city grow. A unique feature of Cities Skylines is that is has what is essentially a progression system. Your city needs to reach certain population benchmarks in order for you to unlock new structures, policies and powers to use within it. This keeps the game interesting for hours on end and gives you some genuine goals to work towards. Whilst other city builders may leave you feeling objectiveless then, Cities Skylines gives you plenty of healthy motivation and challenge.
Speaking of challenges, building a city comes with many, and Cities Skylines does not forget this. Providing clean water and energy, managing the collection and storage of refuge, keeping transport systems rolling and ensuring good healthcare and emergency services provision are just a few examples of what makes the game feel realistic. There is a lot to pay attention to, but somehow Cities Skylines makes this experience interesting, focussed and enjoyable. Furthermore, the game manages to do this from the first hour to the tenth, and beyond.
What makes Cities Skylines truly special is the level of management available to the player and the systems in place which allow you to control this. These management systems are a city-builder’s dream. Your biggest test in the game is keeping the cash flowing. Various sliders allow you to manage taxation and spending in a dynamic pinch, whilst loans can give you a much needed boost when the going gets tough. The ability to set out districts in your city, each with their own individual policies in place, makes micromanagement of population a breeze too. You can offer tax breaks in order to attract new residents, promote green policies to increase happiness, or limit energy consumption to keep your own costs down. Careful micromanagement is crucial to your city’s prosperity, and although the concept might sound dull, the process is genuinely both fun and fruitful.
Controlling all of these factors through the game’s newly built console UI is surprisingly easy. The adaptation from keyboard and mouse to controller has been surprisingly solid, and whilst you still spend a lot of time scrolling around, this doesn’t feel like the faff that other PC to console transitions have in the past. The menus have smartly been adapted for controller use too, making full use of the ability to use several buttons at once to get a job done. Combining the d-pad and analogue sticks to provide a quick and fluid experience has worked for Cities Skylines like a charm. It is likely down to personal preference, but I do not feel that the console controls were ever truly going to match up to the PC system for a game of this kind. That being said, console gamers who have been looking forward to this release will not be disappointed, and will feel that they have been thought of carefully and treated with care.
There are a couple of notable absences in Cities Skylines on the Xbox One. For starters, only the first official expansion for the game, After Dark, is included in the package. This expansion adds a day/night cycle to the game, and allows the player to set separate systems, policies and spending structures depending on the time of day in their city. Whilst this does add a fantastic dimension to the game, it is unfortunate that the other expansions which have been released are not present alongside it. This may leave some console gamers feeling slightly short-changed.
The other loss which is sadly felt is that of the simulation speed options for the game. On PC, it is easy to speed up the game and let the city grow and unfold when there is little construction or planning to do. When an issue or opportunity arose, it was easy to pause the game to manage it too. Unfortunately, the ability to time-lapse your cityscapes has been revoked, at least for now, in the console version of the game. This can make progress and action feel particularly slow and steady at times.
If you are exclusively a console gamer and you have any taste for city builders, I implore you to buy this game. Truly, Cities Skylines will be the best city builder you will ever have played. With in-depth systems that put you in full control of every aspect of your city, a smart progression system to give your efforts purpose, and room for expansion of the game into the future, Cities Skylines is more than just a purchase for a couple of hours of fun. The game is an investment, and its growth thus far on the PC market is testament to that fact. The only downside to the console release is the features which it lacks. Some might have hoped to see the full expansion roster included in the package. The lack of a time lapse element is also sorely missed. Nevertheless, if you can see beyond this, you are truly in for a treat.