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The RPS Verdict - Cities: Skylines

We Built This City

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A floating speech bubble appears over Videogame City, signalling that the citizens are demanding something. Clicking on it reveals the source of problem: “Not enough good city builders.” It seems all that have been built so far are poorly connected to the (road) network, too small to cater to the growing population, and otherwise stocked too poorly with what people want.

Best construct Cities: Skylines [official site]. It has huge cities, mod support and works offline, but is it doing more than simply filling a hole created by its peers? John, Alec, Adam, Pip and Graham gathered to discuss why it’s the RPS’ Game of the Month for April.


Alec: We built this city on the grave of Maxis.

Graham: It fertilised the soil well, which is why Cities: Skylines is our first Game of the Month. I have lost whole weekends to it but I am prone to falling for city management games. Just to check: you all like it too, right? Dissent is welcome.

John: I like it too.

Graham: I like u too.

Alec: I fall a few pips short of love, but am firmly entrenched within like. Which may just be the story of my life.

Pip: I like it, although I haven’t been persuaded to spend much time in it

Adam: I am full of the love pips.

Which sounds weird now that I notice Pip just spoke. I meant Alec’s missing pips.

John: My like was expressed primarily in a lack of dislike, which is how I’ve met all city builders since SimCity 2000.

Alec: For years scientists have pondered what love is. We now know that it is exactly 12.5 Pips. RPS needs hire only 11.5 more of them in order to achieve transcendence.

I tell you what though, I am convinced that like will become love thanks to the mods. I think it’s difficult to overstate how much a citybuilder needed something like the Steam workshop. This may well be Skylines’ greatest triumph, as it was for Skyrim.

Graham: I love it in the same way that I loved Maxis’s city builders, in that the simulation seems to endlessly supply things which need tidying or fixing and so I can never stop playing it for finding something new to tinker with. It’s a timesink. And I think Skylines is maybe a less sophisticated or polished timesink than SimCity 4, but makes up for that because of, as Alec says, the mods.

Pip: I like it because it feels like there’s a neat solution to the idea of “city” out there and to find it you just need to work up to it and understand how everything fits together. But on the way, like Graham said, I get attached to bits of it and suddenly the idea of a messy city that works around those bits is what I want. The idea of a solution is always there but it’s frequently shifting. You end up with goals you want to achieve but they shift about as you play and it’s nice when that’s not a problem.

Alec: I think it’s much more of a fiddling/tweaking game, whereas Sim City is much more of a Pathological Pursuit Of Wealth game. And I really like that about Skylines, it’s this ambient toy rather than than this stern spreadsheet

Adam: It manages to be sedate and challenging, which is quite astonishing really.

Graham: I always ended up tinkering similarly in older SimCities, but that may be because I play as often with Infinite Money cheats on as off. As Adam says, the challenge remains. For me, it’s in fixing traffic problems without bulldozing districts.

Adam: I can sit tinkering and tweaking while I’m listening to a podcast or half-watching the telly, and then something in the balance tips and I’m fully engaged.

Alec: You have to really mess up to now have plenty o’cash here. But I’m sure there’ll be hardcore public spending mods too.

John: I mostly care about laying water pipes. I have missed laying water pipes.

Alec: And yeah, the challenge focus has shifted to road layouts. These are Moebius loop logistical puzzles I really struggle with, but I get very excited when I finally figure out how to fix a traffic jam

Adam: Did anyone else play Cities In Motion 1 or 2? The previous, transport-focussed Colossal Order games?

Graham: I played Cities in Motion for a few hours and 20 minutes of the sequel. On that evidence, I did not suspect that they had this game in them. I found CiM fiddly and with a terrible interface and everything seemed more like a chore than drawing lovely new sliproads in Skylines.

Adam: Nor I. They were far too fiddly for my liking and I worried that Skylines would multiply that fiddliness by applying the same approach to every aspect of the city. Instead, in zooming out, they’ve become less finicky.

John: And electricity lines! You get to put down electricity lines!

Adam: The traffic modelling in Skylines is stripped back from the Cities In Motion sim but my main worry was the interface. I really struggled with Cities in Motion 2 and when I started playing Skylines I thought it might have some of the same problems – struggling to make John’s pipes and lines snap into place – but it all works really efficiently.
That’s the thing that pleases me most – I never feel like I’m fighting against the game

Alec: It’s wonderful thing to say ‘yeah, just get water and power near a zone and we’ll do the rest for you’. I guess some people would love to draw every little line under and over every little street, but I really appreciate Skylines ‘we got this, you go get on with designing’ ethos

Adam: I love that I can have a residential zone with one little commercial blob in it for a cornershop.

Alec: And you can name that shop. Corners R Us. World of Corners. Adam’s Corners Emporium.

Graham: The thing I’ve noticed is that the simulation is simpler in lots of ways when compared to the last SimCity. Does anyone care that it’s not accurately modelling moment to moment poo locations? Or that water pumps can all be jammed down a single location, etc.?

Adam: No. I thought I would but I’d rather the game worked. And that’s not a jab at SimCity at all! What I mean is that the compromises in the simulation exist to make it work.

John: Fun > Sim.

Alec: I don’t. This is the thing, whatever the truth of all those cloud processing claims about SimCity, its eyes were on the wrong prize. I think Skylines proves you can achieve the appearance of moment-to-moment simulation without having to actually do it, and thus it’s an easier game to make.

Alec: But even then it still tracks every person’s home, which SC didn’t. I don’t think that it’s a marvel so much as it just went into things with a profoundly more practical mindset.

Adam: One thing that it cheats with is people going to work. If they can’t find their way to their job – and they do TRY to get there – they just sort of accept that and eventually return home.

Somebody has already modded that so that they HAVE to go to work. They won’t give up. Or if they do, I think they lose their jobs. There are consequences, basically, on an individual level, for bad road networks.

Alec: ‘Ian Skyline’s 480 Hour Commute’

Adam: In theory, that sounds great. Practically, it’s something that Colossal Order had working themselves and removed because it wasn’t enjoyable. That word ‘fiddly’ again. The simulation HAS to be compromised because it’s never going to resemble reality. It just has to be a credible representation of the numbers and physical movements.

John: However, unfortunately we can’t give the game Game Of The Month, because of the miserable, motherhating faux Twitter bird shitface arsebucket.

On page two: Chirpy, the tutorial, Pillars of Eternity, and Skylines’ faults.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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