[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Cities: Skylines is an exciting prospect for console owners, because it brings the promise of a deep and long lasting city building simulation, which is rare on consoles. Unlike the abstract and otherworldly building style in the recent Aven Colony, Cities is a game that is deeply focused on planning out your city at a micro level, including everything from power lines, sewage and clean water, right through to public transport and other services. The scale and ambition of Cities comes at a cost however, with the console version featuring a number of downgrades in comparison to the somewhat aged PC version.
Jarringly I was surprised to find that Cities features not only a complete lack of campaign mode, but also a lack of structure of any kind. There is a functional tutorial included in the first thirty minutes or so of each new game, but there are no dedicated tutorial missions and players are simply free to choose any map they like. The most successful cities are built in straightforward and efficient patterns, but that soon becomes boring and I found most fun when I created more visionary cities. You may want to replicate your home town, for example, including all of it’s imperfections, or a famous city that you love such as Paris or London. The flexibility and scope for experimentation is vast, but I would have liked to see some part-baked scenarios, where players save cities from earthquakes, monsters or poor financial management.
Coming into Cities, I wondered how the developers would be able to map such a complex game onto a game pad, but thankfully, I needn’t have worried, because the game features a pretty masterful demonstration of how the job should be done. The sticks are used to pan around the map and select things on screen, whilst the triggers are used to provide a huge degree of flexibility in zoom range. The D-Pad and the X button select items from what you could loosely call a construction menu that lies across the bottom of the screen and is navigated with the bumpers. The other face buttons can be used to enable demolition, cancelling an action and the opening of an overlay that demonstrates , pollution, crime, education level and more, plus a ton of more detailed general management options. The management of taxes and budgets for services happens deep in these menus, but it’s a breeze to get where you want to be once you’ve done it a few times.
With the controls so concrete, Cities feels eminently playable, but it still took me several reruns at the first map before I felt like I had started on the right foot. I think this is mainly down to the crap tutorial, and the fact that advanced features and nuances of the game are never explained. The biggest issue I had to overcome was the desire to build as efficiently as possible from the outset by cramming my zones into neat, efficient and tight spaces. This approach proved effective once I had become proficient at how the game worked, but initially, it was a recipe for disaster because I was simply unable to respond to the overspend I had created early on. Instead, I found success in the first few games of Cities was best found by spacing out my zones, building relatively close to the water source and not necessarily starting out with anything too complex.
Graphically, Cities is the kind of game that can be beautiful if you set the camera up nicely and catch the sun behind some of your most impressive buildings, but outside these limited opportunities, the game looks just about good enough on console, despite clearly pushing the hardware close to the limit. Whilst any given city is still small, you’ll notice pop up of lights, buildings, trees and other details as you zoom in and out, but performance is stable. Later though, when the city expands across each of the maps, frame rate does start to suffer as you undertake fast movements. I played on a PS4 Pro and an Xbox One S, and I did notice that the PS4 Pro version was a little better, but then again the Xbox version has improved since I first played it at launch as well.
The sound and music in Cities is not much to write home about unfortunately. The music is particularly bad, and lands somewhere between lift music and… Whatever is worse than lift music. The sound effects are OK, but they tend to be locational, and there is a weird feature where if you zoom in on a residence and hear kids playing, then pan to a power plant, the game brings the sound from the initial location with it. It’s distracting enough that I found myself just wanting to switch the sound off, to be honest.
On balance, Cities is relatively complex when you consider all of the many features it includes, so I don’t think it is a game that will appeal to everyone, but then again it does provide nearly unlimited scope for experimentation and lasting challenge. Cities is an essential purchase for any city building fan that doesn’t own a PC and has been longing for a game with more depth than say Tropico 5, or to whom Aven Colony and similar games don’t appeal. If you are looking for high octane and lots of action, you almost certainly won’t want to dive in here, and because it will divide opinion so broadly, I suggest the average gamer should:
Ads (learn more about our advertising policies here)