There’s phenomenal complexity to Cities Skylines. From building residential, commercial, industrial and office zones, connecting them all up with power, water and sewage, then linking them via road and ensuring they’re catered for by police departments, fire departments, hospitals and schools. Of course, on top of all of that you need consider future expansion, traffic management, pollution from power plants and industrial zones, and the cleanliness of the city’s water source. Indeed this is a micromanager’s dream and a very well-crafted city building sim to boot.
Fortunately, for those who enjoy the genre, this is precisely the kind of tasks and complexity you’re looking for from these kinds of titles, and the enjoyment and immersion is through the roof, monopolising your time and gripping you entirely. It is, however, an experience of trial and error in the early game, as you figure out how all the systems fit together and how best to build your bustling metropolis.
The aforementioned complexity can mean myriad of problems, can hurt your city in its infancy, and some design choices to facilitate this console version can exacerbate these problems. It’s all too easy to suffer unknown problems that drain your funds, prevents districts growing, or poisons your people, and it’s hugely frustrating to not find the cause until it’s too late, or even not find it at all.
This is due to the city status screen not drawing your attention to certain issues, with the onus on you to check the Inspector tab frequently in case something occurs. Meanwhile, some problems, such as poisoned water sources, point you to the problem but not how to fix it, failing to show you where and why a water source is compromised. Largely this is a UI issue with the Xbox version hiding the Inspector tab, however, with some practise, it becomes easier to diagnose a problem in your city and plan around it. As frustrating as it may be to be building up a small town after hours of work only to have to start again, this trial and error process results in your ability to build a much better city, and indeed this is a big part of the fun.
Understanding the complexity of it all becomes challenging by satisfying quests, and the payoff of a large, self-sustained city is a superb prize in the end. You can then start to experiment and building different kinds of cities; different shapes, different sizes, with different policies. And it becomes hugely compelling. And while the UI can make troubleshooting city issues a little tricky, it’s otherwise a well-designed system for the gamepad. Large icons make up the different building categories at the bottom of the screen, selectable through the D-pad, with population, money and city name below them. Meanwhile, the rest of the screen is dedicated to the city itself, allowing you to move the camera around freely, zooming in and out to see the streets alive with pedestrians and vehicles.
Unfortunately, there are some technical limitations with this version, with the ability to accelerate time entirely removed, making the early game extremely slow paced. As your city increases in size and more and more demands are asked of you, the pacing kicks into gear but the early game drags. Additionally, the busier your city becomes, the more hazardous zooming in becomes, with your frame rate taking a huge hit as industrial zones kick out more smoke, more traffic swarms your roads networks, and even the lights of the city as the sun sets. Keep the camera back a bit and the frame rate remains reasonably stable.
There’s no denying the compelling nature of building and maintaining your own city, and Cities Skylines is an exceptionally enjoyable title with a huge range of possibilities to explore. However, once the challenge of the early game is overcome, the late game can feel far too easy and inconsequential. Managing the many aspects of your city becomes less of a chore once the cash starts rolling in, in Cities Skylines, and while the included After Dark DLC adds some nice considerations and differences to how your population acts in your city depending on the time of day, it’s crying out for something more akin to the PC version’s natural disasters expansion. Still, Cities Skylines is a rare example of the city building genre on consoles and its transition to the platform, while not perfect, brings with it all the enjoyment of its PC brother.