Cities: Skylines ReviewPrice:
A quick note before we begin. I was hoping to have a review of Battlefield: Hardline ready for you today. But EA were late in sending us review code, so that will be delayed until later next week. This does mean we'll have a better idea of how it plays on full servers, but that doesn't make such scheduling hiccups any less irksome.
Rather than twiddle my thumbs or stare glassily at my Twitter feed as I waited, however, I decided to investigate another recently released game, Colossal Order's new city-builder Cities: Skylines. Never have I been happier to delay a review, because Skylines is absolutely splendid. It's also exceptionally cheeky, stealing great chunks of its design from 2013's troubled SimCity, before fixing most of the problems and then parading its tinkered swag for everyone to see.
I'd heard about Skylines' similarities to SimCity before I played it. Indeed, it was partly those which attracted me to it. SimCity had some excellent ideas, but fudged the execution with its infamous tiny building plots and always-online fiasco. Nevertheless I was astonished by just how much Skylines lifts from Maxis' last stand. The bright, chunky aesthetic, the camera movement, the UI layout, the road-building mechanics, the zoning functionality. Even the cheery music has that upbeat, bustling rhythm that screams SimCity.
Normally such flagrant copycatting would be deserving of admonishment. Instead I found myself laughing at Colossal Order's sheer brass. For all its imitation, Skylines is no clone. Instead it's the game I hoped SimCity would be.
Within minutes of starting a new game, Skylines addresses what was arguably SimCity's biggest problem. It recognises that cities are huge, sprawling things, and provides you with plentiful space to build one. The initial plot is so large I bankrupted myself trying to build enough roads to cover it all, and immediately had to restart with a more modest transport network. I still haven't filled that initial plot completely, since Skylines lets you purchase many more plots as your hopeful hamlet grows into a town, a city, and finally a metropolis.
This is another area where Skylines improves greatly over Maxis' ill-fated offering. SimCity threw all of its features at you at once, and when you'd got your city up and running, there was very little to do. Skylines drip-feeds its buildings and services in a way that is both more sensible and more satisfying. You start off with a few basic road-types and zone allocators (the traditional residential, commercial and industrial) and unlock more specific services, zones, and other abilities as you reach designated population milestones. This provides just enough structure to keep you interested, while offering plenty of room for you to build the city of your dreams.
There's a vast amount to construct too. Alongside the more obvious service buildings like fire stations, police stations, and education facilities, are unique structures including a stadium, a botanical gardens, and several finance skyscrapers. Skylines also distinguishes between low and high density zones, letting you create a built-up downtown surrounded by more domestic districts. Everything follows a simple but pleasant logic too. For example, building your water pump downstream of your sewage outlet is not recommended unless you plan to poison your populace with poo.