Cities: Skylines, like most city builders, shouldn’t be fun. For all intents and purposes, this is a full time job masquerading as a video game. Not only do you have to build the city, but you have to make sure everything runs, that everything works and that everyone (all the little virtual workers in your city), are paid and kept happy. That’s a lot to deal with. I can hardly organise myself most of the time, how on earth am I supposed to keep an entire city running?
But it is fun, like SimCity before it, Tantalus’, Cities: Skylines is a hugely compelling and often dangerously addictive experience. Something all the more amazing given the fact that, well, it often goes out of its way not to be all that entertaining. Ok, that sounds harsh, but unlike the SimCity’s of this world, Cities: Skylines is a much more po-faced, clinical and slightly cold experience. There is none of the silliness that is so often associated with the genre to be found here. There are no giant monsters or aliens to come and mow down your creation; everything here is by the book.
The PC version has had a Natural Disaster expansion added that adds a bit of spice to the mix, but as for the PS4, well, that’s the same as the Xbox One – no natural disasters, just the initial, After Dark expansion that added a day/night cycle and a few more leisure-related buildings (not quite as exciting as an alien invasion). Sure, it’s a decent enough edition to the core game, but it lacks the overall impact of the Natural Disaster expansion that adds some much needed nonsense to proceedings.
Still, even with its somewhat cold exterior, simulation-inspired approach and lack of interest in the absurd, Cities: Skylines remains hugely addictive thanks to its smart systems and surprisingly user-friendly interface. It’s not as clean as the PC version of course, and the lack of a proper tutorial is downright bizarre (there are pop-ups to help you along), but even with these issues, this remains an accessible experience, one that has toned down the unnecessary complexity that often creeps into games of this ilk.
Whether it be creating individual residential, commercial or industrial areas or creating unique districts with distinct policies, Cities: Skylines is both far simpler and far more enjoyable than it sounds on paper. The core of the game is creating these individual zones so that you have all the tenants of a fully functioning city with the districts and policies allowing you to fine tune how your city works by creating class-specific areas and defining their area specific needs.
Of course, these type of abilities and options are as deep or shallow as you want them to be, but for the most part, they are intuitive and all needed to one extent or another if you are to build a flourishing city. Whether it be paying your police force or fine tuning the recycling laws, each policy can be applied on a city-wide or district-wide level allowing you to make both sweeping changes and more subtle refinements with relative ease.
The thing is, simply building and maintaining your city is a fair amount of fun, but without much in the way of progressive structure or actual risk (this game really could do with a monster or two), Cities: Skylines lacks the kind of traditional challenge that, for people such as me, is all but essential to keep me hooked in the long term. Those who enjoy ‘make your own fun’ gameplay will love the freedom that the game offers, but I like a bit more structure, and without specific challenges or goals, I did find that I lost interest during extended play. Again, it won’t be the same for everyone, but be warned, Cities: Skylines is all about creating your own experience.
It’s not the best looking game you’ll find on PS4, the control scheme is a tad clumsy and it lacks the personality of the best SimCity games, but despite these issues, Cities: Skylines, thanks largely to its strong fundamental creation tools, easily understandable systems and general accessibility, makes for one of the better city builders available on home console. It’s unlikely to win the genre many new fans, but for fans many, the fact that it exists is likely to be enough. Cities: Skylines, for all of its faults, delivers a solid entry in a genre that rarely makes the jump to home consoles.
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