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Cities: Skylines Impressions

Cities: Skylines is everything you really wanted the SimCity of 2013 to be. It is expansive and approachable; it features a robust core system set that is easy to use; and more than anything else, it doesn’t require you to connect to EA’s servers just to play. I haven’t played a game this side of the original SimCity 2000 that really captured the thrust of what a city building sim should be, though that is not to say Cities: Skylines doesn’t have a few drawbacks. Over the last few days, I had some unexpected spare time on my hands and took full advantage of it with Cities, finding it to be a life-killing game. One day, I sat down with an idea for a new way to combat traffic in my city; four hours later, I tore my eyes from the screen long enough to realize the day was over.

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If you’ve ever played a city builder, you know the basic premise of Cities: Skylines. You build roads, power plants, and other necessary services, then zone blocks for either residential, commercial, or industrial use. C:S is not really a revolutionary game, but it doesn’t try to be – the last city building sim that did went up in flames, playing a large contributing factor in the shuttering of Maxis Emeryville (the same studio that brought not just SimCity, but also originated The Sims series as well as Spore). Instead, what C:S sets out to accomplish is a thoroughly competent, modern city building game, with a few tweaks added in to help progress things.

Most important among these is the addition of districts. Districts are arbitrarily determined areas of your city (defined by the player using a nifty, simple paint brush) through which you can control policies like tax rates, recycling initiatives, and even the legalization of drugs. This allows a level of granular control over your city which you can choose to pursue – a sort of min/maxers approach to pushing cities to their limits. Of course, you can always elect not to do such a thing and just set all policies city wide, but I suspect at higher population levels that becomes impractical.

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If there is one thing that stands out to me right away as a drawback, it is the traffic system. I’ve experimented with a few different ways to combat traffic and found most of them wanting, though I may have struck upon a solution that is annoying but effective – one way roads only. There isn’t a ton of micromanagement in C:S – unless you want to micromanage things – though to be fair I’ve only gotten as far as a capital city, far short of the populations achieved by others.

So far I’ve sunk well over a dozen hours into Cities: Skylines, on just three maps, and with little in the way of mods. Already a community has coalesced around the title, churning out everything from simple building models to new forms of roundabouts and intersections to full scale map recreations of famous places in both the real and virtual world. What’s best is that Cities appears to have been built with the hope that just this very thing would happen, again a deep contrast to SimCity’s flawed mechanics. Cities: Skylines encourages you to experiment, giving you just enough rope to have some fun, and never enough to hang yourself. I’ve yet to have a city spiral out of control, and it appears that it would take some intent to do so.

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Overall I’m quite pleased and will, if I can, add Cities to my normal rotation of games I pop in on every so often. If you have been on the fence about giving it a go, perhaps still feeling the sting of disappointment that was SimCity 2013, I can assure you this is a safe bet.

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