Cities: Skylines - Xbox One Edition Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Microsoft Xbox One
If you were to go back a few years, SimCity dominated the city building genre. Each iteration brought new dynamics and an ever-increasing set of tools by which you could mould your growing city. However, the most recent release of the franchise in 2013 saw significant backlash from fans and just two years later, seeing an opportunity, publisher Paradox Interactive released Cities: Skylines. With very positive reviews following its launch and strong sales on PC, Tantalus Media has brought it to the Xbox One. The question is, is it any good?
Perhaps the first thing that needs to be noted is that there aren't many games of this type already on the console. In fact, along with Cities Skylines, we can only think of Tropico 5 and Civilization Revolution but they are all very different games. In Tropico's case, it brings in things like trade and factions which makes it an entirely different beast. It is possible that one reason these games lack traction on console is down to the interface. With a mouse there is lots more you can do and drawing out cities is much more natural. In addition they can get rather boring after a while, especially if your city is hamstrung by a lack of money.
At the beginning of Cities Skylines, you have an entirely blank canvas, roads to build, zones to plan and people to please. After a while, however, you will find that there's less and less to do. Thankfully there is a speed up function so you can quickly save the money you require for that high school you need. Oh no, wait, hang on, this edition of Cities: Skylines has omitted this critical ability. While we are sure there are reasons for this it stunted our enjoyment. If it were not for the fact we had a party chat going on while we played, things would have gotten far duller than they did. Sure the game is pretty, and there is a lot to look at with citizens going about their business, traffic going to and fro and emergency vehicles attending incidents, but honestly they do not provide enough entertainment to negate the ability not to speed things up. We suspect that the power, or lack thereof, of the Xbox One, is the issue here and while this is understandable it does not make it any less painful.
Thankfully, one area Tantalus has excelled in is that of the controls. Having played the PC variant, we were worried as to how things would fare on a pad. While some abilities have been pared back or omitted entirely, most features are still present and building your city is pretty straightforward. The left stick controls movement direction when building roads, and A allows you to place items. The right stick predictably controls the camera while the left and right triggers allow you to zoom in and out as you please. On certain tools, Y brings up other abilities such as fill, paint individual squares or area with the zoning tool. Otherwise, it acts as your main menu giving you access to top level items like budgets and policies. If you make a mistake and have forgotten to press B to cancel, X will bring up the bulldozing tool. Rather than letting you loose and demolishing things willy-nilly, it will highlight the section to be removed and means accidental removals are unlikely or at least less dramatic. The right and left bumpers in conjunction with the d-pad allow you to navigate the menus and while it all looks rather bare bones, it is very functional.
Building a city is never easy. There are many things to consider, and it is easy to get lost and confused. Saviour comes in the form of many tooltips and handy hints as you come across things for the first time. While they are a bit wordy, the information contained within is invaluable. Cities Skylines also limits your access to advanced products, much like SimCity, by tying them to milestones. Once your city has reached a certain population size, you will unlock things like buses or wider roads. It is this gradual progression that allows you to take the time and learn the intricacies of what is at your disposal. By the time you reach your next milestone, you should have a good grasp of what you can do and how things interconnect, and as such are more ready for the next level of complication the new abilities bring with them.
Thanks to the overall intuitiveness of the controls and how the tutorials mesh seamlessly with gameplay, we were able to build a fairly reasonable settlement in no time. Unfortunately, it was coming back after an intense building session that we discovered that Cities Skylines does not autosave by default. You can turn it on in the options, but nowhere does it mention that it is disabled when you start. Why Cities Skylines opts not to have this feature enabled by default is baffling, and we would wager we will not be alone in losing build time.
Cities Skylines is a rather lovely game to look at. While we would trade some fidelity for the ability to speed things up, we certainly did enjoy watching our city go through its day/night cycle thanks to the inclusion of the "After Dark" DLC. Zooming in and out showed no real slowdown when our city was small but as things grow it does start to chug a little. We also noticed occasional tearing when panning quickly around our city and some odd situations where the engine tries to compensate for terrain resulting in one of our roads having a rather steep incline, causing some traffic to disappear. These are not game-ruining problems by themselves. However, they do suggest that performance hangups could get worse as your city size increases.
In the end, Cities Skylines is a very laudable effort to bring the city building genre to console. While limited by the power of the Xbox One resulting in some unfortunate omissions you can easily lose yourself for several hours here. All the necessary city building features are present and correct, and anything related to that, that has not made the transition should not be worried about. Moving around and creating your city is a breeze thanks to a well thought out control scheme and while it can seem a little confusing, you will be creating a vast metropolis in no time. It is unlikely Cities Skylines will find mass appeal due to its nature but those of us on console who want to scratch our megalomaniacal itch there is lots to like here. Now excuse us while we go and explain why we need to place that power plant next to the local school...