Cities: Skylines
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7.74
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Allow me to take you on a brief tour of beautiful Radon Heights, the premier new town here in California. No, I wouldn't drive in on that road - traffic between Dobbs' Hill and Effluence Park has been atrocious since the early days of the city, and the ground is a disturbing shade of pink. No, get off at the next junction and follow the Dr. Seussian on-ramp. There's an elevated highway that rings the city on enormous concrete struts, and we can see everything from up there. Weirdly, almost nobody uses it to get around, and I don't really know why.

Over there is Radon U, the university district. I know, it's built on a weird slope. The few small stores all look like they're going to topple over and squash the university itself. But that probably won't happen, eh?

Over there is the Dingett. We don't really go over there very much. It’s sort of dangerous. Mostly covered in stinking factories as well. Which is actually a good thing - the trademark 'Dingett cough' makes spotting burglars from here very easy. Yes, it's usually fatal - the Dingett cemetery filled up twice as fast as the cemetery over in Bergeron, and that's mostly a retirement community.

We used to just pump the waste water out into the river over on the other side of Averagetown, and there was this ugly slick of... well, waste... that stretched right down the river past the forestry park and the lumber mills. Now we use modern waste water treatment plants and the gross slick has been replaced by... well, still slightly odd-coloured water. Apparently it's safe to swim in, although nobody ever does.

Over the river is Zangief Meadow. It's a well-to-do suburb, with lots of parks and leafy crescents. Crime's nonexistent and there are good schools there too. People come from all over the city (mostly by metro) to go to the schools, walk in the parks and eat at the fashionable restaurants. There are no skyscrapers here, due to a local ordinance, to preserve the natural beauty.

Over the other side of the highway is Tancock Valley. It's a farming community with a couple of small housing estates as well. No, the farms don't do very well, as a matter of fact. Why do you ask? No roads leading into the area? Hmm, now that you mention it, perhaps I should build a few...

Cities: Skylines had one job. One simple task. It had to be a halfway-decent city-builder to beat out the famously-unsuccessful SimCity. And it's probably a coincidence that EA decided to close down Maxis, the development studio for SimCity, in the same week that Paradox and Colossal Order choose to put out Cities: Skylines. But it looks mighty good for the Scandinavians.

As well it should. Because Cities: Skylines is really fun. Its roots in the Cities in Motion games are evident from pretty much the outset. There is only one way to get offices - zone a bunch of space for offices - but road construction is a complex symphony of game design that allows incredible flights of fancy with soaring skyways, winding country lanes (constructed with a blissfully simple road construction tool) and alder-lined boulevards for the rich people. Some areas of the game feel maybe a little too simple - fire and police work in essentially the exact same way, with two buildings available for each: small and large), but for the most case this straightforwardness actually adds to the game rather than detracts. Again, it all comes back to roads: You can build a hospital right in the middle of the polluted part of town where everyone's croaking, but if the roads aren't well laid-out, the ambulances will sit in traffic for hours, only to arrive and discover that actually they now need a hearse.

If ever there was a game that needed to take advantage of the Steam Workshop, it's Cities: Skylines. And if there was ever a publisher who lives by the motto that working with the community is the way ahead, it's Paradox. So it's no surprise that there is a robust model editing system and simple tools for publishing new builds to the Workshop. Sure, the vanilla game has no churches, but the Workshop contained a number of famous places of worship for download prior to the game's official release.

Everything can be edited, in fact. Districts can be named (and individual civic and taxation policies applied to different areas), individual buildings can be renamed (and, as discussed, reskinned) and even people in the street can be clicked on and renamed if that's your thing.

The frustrations I felt with Cities: Skylines were mostly results of my imperfect understanding of the game. I placed a fancy 'cloverleaf' road layout on top of the main highway into town, but must have put it the wrong way around, and all the one-way roads were back-to-front. Tearing it up, I attempted to restore the highway to normal and ended up with back-to-front roads again. Now I could throw those roads together without any trouble, but I would have liked a 'blueprinting' system to experiment with roads without actually having to shell out for them before I know if they'd work or not (and without loading and saving he whole time). But it's a small concern, and one which a little experience does away with.

It's not the most beautiful of games, and the camera is sometimes sort of strange. But these aren't really things that city-building aficionados need really worry about.

Perfection is kind of impossible to attain, at least at first. There WILL be pollution, and your landfills and cemeteries WILL fill up and sit there like bloated, unpleasant blots on the landscape. Buildings will burn down and people will say mean things on 'Chirper', the game's (kind of unnecessary) Twitter-clone that occasionally messages you about your successes and failures.

I could do without the drip-feeding of new buildings. Cities: Skylines starts you out with nothing much but a few zoning options, and new buildings become available as your population grows. As a tutorial it’s perfect – rubbish doesn’t need collection and fires don’t break out until the required buildings become available – but if I want to waste all of my initial money on an airport and one house, and try to make things somehow work from there, I would like the option. Of course, the answer lies again in the Steam Workshop.

Colossal Order’s stated goal is ‘to let you build the city of your dreams’, with the emphasis on everyone having unique needs and interests. Of course, their covert goal was to topple SimCity. In both cases, they’ve succeeded gloriously.