Cities: Skylines: Earning My City Planning Degree

Throughout the years, city planning games have been inspiring kids who graduated from Legos to continue creating.  From SimCity to Evil Genius to Rollercoaster Tycoon, strategic resource-management and building games like this have empowered gamers to create sprawling landscapes and amazing and beautiful works or architecture.  Having spent much of my life playing games such as these, I consider myself fairly adept at making these amazing and beautiful works of city planning in Cities: Skylines.

Still less traffic than Atlanta.

I lied.  I’m really terrible at city planning and I’m really terrible at Cities: Skylines.  That doesn’t make it any less fun, though.  In fact, learning the game and trying new things makes the game a constant challenge and it keeps the fun level high as the hours tick away and your relationships dissolve from neglect.  Cities: Skylines is a time eater, and the micromanaging aspect of the game is so stealthily addictive that you’ll likely be late to more things than you can really afford.  Like your wedding.

I’m So Lonely Memorial Highway

Cities: Skylines does such a good job of hooking the player to the game by ensuring that there is always something to adjust.  Every aspect of a city requires constant attention to ensure that growth is possible, or even that stagnation doesn’t become a bad thing.  While a player may find that he or she has made a city that balances perfectly, demand for a specific sector may suddenly skyrocket, leaving citizens without homes or jobs or goods to purchase, requiring even more fine-adjustment to achieve a balance that works for another thirty seconds before the cycle repeats.  As if that’s not bad enough, those three aspects are the most basic aspects to balance in Cities: Skylines.

You’re tasked with creating a city that thrives, by building roads and zoning them.  Then you have to place power stations.  Then place the power lines.  But people need water too, so you’ve got to place water lines and a water tower, pump, or the like.  People need to flush as well so you’ve got to put a sewage center somewhere on your landscape, and it’s got to connect to the water pipes and electricity as well, but still be far enough from your water source to not pollute it.  Then you notice that industry has some demand and people don’t have any jobs. Stores are closing down for lack of freight and you need to knock down buildings.  The extra industry you zoned doesn’t have any water pipes running under it and those buildings have been abandoned so you have to place new pipes and knock down the abandoned factories.  Your city grew in the meantime and you’ve unlocked trash service and citizens are now complaining and leaving their houses because you don’t have any trash trucks patrolling the city.  As you place the dump you realize that once again you’ve forgotten your real-life job and your children usually go to school on Thursdays.  Thank goodness for the Steam Cloud feature, because at least you can bring your laptop to work now and tweak some stuff during your lunch break.

“I didn’t sleep last night because I was watching Sips play Skylines,” is no longer a valid excuse, Al.

While Cities: Skylines is a fun and addicting game, it’s not particularly hard.  Even when I was scrambling to balance every level of control over my city I never had an issue with running into the red, or even being low on cash.  “I probably shouldn’t let my cash go below one thousand” quickly turned into “I probably shouldn’t let my cash go below one million.”  While services can look expensive in the beginning of the game, I quickly had enough money pouring in to place a police station every two or three blocks without my gains being affected.  In fact, profit inexplicably returned to its high rate shortly after I placed cash-draining services.  CowCo City: Where the money is made up and the policies don’t matter.

Honestly, the biggest issue I had with the game was traffic.  A simple way to ensure that your industry isn’t a major polluter is to zone your industrial areas for agriculture.  This setting ensures that your industry pays the city more money for rent, doesn’t pollute, and takes up less space.  Even without fertile land, a supposed requirement for agricultural industry, your cities’ needs will be quickly fulfilled by this strategy.  Without fertile land, you will notice a deluge of trucks pouring into the city to deliver goods to the farms, but a dedicated highway and large roads between farms takes care of that issue with a decent rate of success.  While inefficient roads may pose a problem, the game doesn’t punish the player much for reworking sectors.  Cities: Skylines, in essence, is not a hard game to manipulate.  A lack of consequences for impractical and stupid ideas means that I can have a major city depend solely on a sector of farms with no farmland.  In fact, it’s smarter to do that because standard industry pollutes and makes everyone sick.  It would be dumb for me to play the game any other way.

Shown: Dumb.

Cities: Skylines performs pretty decently as far as graphics are concerned.  I’m able to run the game on medium-low settings on my crappy laptop with minimal slowdowns.  This is especially impressive given that the simulation of Cities: Skylines is very elegant and detailed.  As opposed to SimCity, where each citizen keeps a temporary name and vehicle until he or she turns in for the night at the nearest empty house and returns to work at the nearest unfilled job, Cities: Skylines allows a player to select a car, see the person who owns it, where they live, and what building they’re in currently.  While EA claimed that this feature (previously seen in Rollercoaster Tycoon) would be far too taxing on even a good computer, Cities: Skylines accomplishes it for thousands of residents on my aforementioned crappy laptop.

In fact, Cities: Skylines outperforms the work of the now-liquidated Maxis in many aspects.  Cities are bigger and have the capacity to expand across an entire region.  While the initial plot of land may seem no bigger than a plot in SimCity, a player will quickly learn that gaining population allows the playing field to become the size of a state.  Steam Workshop support allows players to develop their own models, decorations, and services and import them into the game with ease.  Within a few days of learning the facets of Cities: Skylines,  I was adding in different parks, statues, and a recycling center that worked seamlessly with the game as if it was developed by Colossal like the rest of the game.  Graphics are less taxing on a low-spec machine in Cities: Skylines, and forced online play was left out while useful online features such as cloud saving were added.  To top the cake, there are no major expansions to Cities: Skylines that cost just as much as the game itself.  Honestly, how does EA get away with this?

The music of Cities: Skylines is good, but not particularly diverse.  As you spend countless hours of your time playing the game, you’ll notice that the same track seems to be replaying over and over.  In any other game, this may not be such a problem, but in a game where action is low and a player has time to take in his or her surroundings, the repetitive music begins to grate on the ears.  Cities: Skylines is best played with a playlist of your own going on in the background.

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