Have You Played… Cities: Skylines

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I was certain I was done with city building sims. In fact, I think I thought I was done with sims. Gone was the magic of the classic Sim City 2000, the perfect balance of cartoony mayhem and rude interruptions of graphs. It felt like play, not work, even connecting up the water pipes. The genre disappeared down a hole I wasn’t interested in descending, a terrifying underground world where graphs ruled. And then along came Cities: Skylines, and I was proven wrong.

It was SimCity: Society that finished my interest. Good lord that was a terrible game. PC Gamer had me review it, the bastards. Then of course there was the incredible debacle of SimCity 2013. So I can’t even remember why I tried it Skylines. The previous Cities games had been parp, but I guess I was pressured into it for writing an RPS Verdict. And by my bones, it was splendid! That fucking Twitter bird thing aside.

There it was again, the fun overruling the bar charts, the joy of unrealistically building a city remembering itself, rather than requiring an engineering degree and town planning MA.

It’s proper lovely fun.


  1. gbrading says:

    I still need to play it; I haven’t seen it at the right price for me. SimCity (2013) was so disappointing, it was really refreshing that someone managed to make a city-building game that SimCity got so badly wrong.

  2. FriendlyFire says:

    Much as the SimCity 2013 online only and city size debacle was bad… Did you actually play that game much, John? I don’t recall graphs ever showing up in that game. Hell, it’s actually the first game to integrate the various graphs older SimCity games had into the very game world, displaying them as color coded maps or bars showing up above houses and buildings. Skylines pretty obviously cloned that part because it was truly beautiful and well thought out.

    People keep harping on about how Skylines is the best thing ever, but I’ve been unfortunately disappointed by it. It’s a good game, but it lacks the charm and fun of the SimCity franchise. It’s too clinical, too empty, and also way too easy (if you discount the completely absurd death waves that can wreck your city for no reason). On top of that, it’s also got a bunch of simulation issues on par with SimCity 2013’s dumb agents.

  3. chromedbustop says:

    I’ve played it a fair amount, stopped for a few months, then started again just this week.

    It’s a fun game but it’s kind of lifeless. It’s great for designing a city if you just want to look at it. But there’s not a lot to actually do with it. I’d call it a city designer game, not a city management one. For all their flaws, the Simcity games at least let you actually play with your cities.

    I kind of think of it like the Legos movie. “Cities: Skylines” is for the dad. You get everything to look how you want and then you don’t touch it. Simcity is for the kid, where part of the appeal of the city is seeing what you can do with it.

    If Simcity had the design tools and size of “Cities:Skylines” it would be a superior game by far. But… It didn’t.

    • DanMan says:

      That’s how I felt about it as well when playing the free Steam weekend – kinda empty. Despite having lots of systems to play with. I don’t know why.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yeah. Within the space of that weekend I’d actually built up to being able to build top-tier structures.

        They managed to make a freaking space elevator dull. It’s just a glorified train station. It doesn’t even animate.

    • joe80x86 says:

      For some reason I have felt the same way, I can’t put my finger on it but it’s just not as fun as SC4. There just feels like there is something missing.

  4. walrus1 says:

    I really enjoyed it for a while. However, every city I would create would eventually become logged jammed with traffic. I tried everything from making larger roads, bypasses, mass transit and limiting commercial traffic but nothing ever worked. It’s almost like the AI will choose one road and prioritize that road over everything else including free mass transit. After awhile, it just got old.

    • sharkh20 says:

      Sounds like every real city when it gets bigger

      • walrus1 says:

        Except most people in large cities will avoid horrible traffic by taking alternate routes or mass transit.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      As far as I know, the traffic AI does not take into account other traffic. It just takes the shortest route, all else be damned, and I’m not even sure if it weighs larger roads higher.

      • walrus1 says:

        I think your right on the money there. I noticed drivers will just keeping one route no matter the alternatives or the congestion. This seems like something they could iron out pretty easily in a patch.

        I hoped for awhile that they would release a mass transit DLC that would add things like bike infrastructure, bus lanes, street cars, overhaul of traffic AI and congestion pricing as well as toll roads. But I don’t think we will ever see it.

        • rapchee says:

          cycle lanes/roads are already there
          actually, for me at least this is where i find the challenge in the game – designing the roads/transit system so that they don’t get clogged. it means using public transport as well btw, taking where ppl go mostly into consideration, tube and train lines can take loads of people off the roads
          and connecting parts with wider roads
          well you get it. it can be tweaked and i find it interesting and rewarding to tweak it just the right way

        • FriendlyFire says:

          I’m also pretty sure I read that they wouldn’t change their path once they calculated it, which they do when they start their journey (or exceptionally when the road layout changes), so they’ll never react to a traffic jam the way real drivers would.

          Nevertheless, a lot of the things you’re wishing for already exist in the form of mods. Bus routes, biking paths, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it all already.

        • LionsPhil says:

          I expect it might be a bit expensive to have every driver re-pathfind every junction. They seem to have been in that kind of mindest, so if there’s cases where drivers don’t, I suspect it’s a result of performance constraints.

          (Hm. You could probably have each vehicle time each road segment, and update the segment with a short-term rolling average of the travel time along it as it leaves. This is then the cost/weight for your pathfinding algorithm…and mirrors quite nicely to actual traffic reporting behaviour.)

          (You know, computers are so ridiculously fast I wouldn’t guarantee this isn’t feasible, especially if you can be smarter about not replanning the whole route every junction—for starters, only if the ETA from summing the costs of the planned paths is larger than some multiple of the originally planned path ETA. Then you can maybe get into localizatation optimizations if needed.)

          • FriendlyFire says:

            Cities is a particular scenario though, they actually have a well-defined graph onto which they can precalculate and share a ton of data. Moreover, something like A* (which is what I’m guessing they’re already using) doesn’t need a precise meaningful value, just a weight, so you could do something as simple as counting the number of vehicles passing every few seconds and randomly update some vehicles pathing through those segments. None of this needs to be particularly fast or uniform since that’s how real drivers work.

  5. Czrly says:

    Personally, I find it way too easy. Once you’ve optimised for traffic flow, that’s it. End of challenge. You can build bigger but there’s no point because you’re just building more of the same. Even the stupid Twitter Bird thing is just filled with the same messages saying how good the city is.

    I suppose you can start trying out mods – and that’s cool if you like mods – but for me, mods do not make a game good. Mods are a bonus but the game must stand on its own.

    • Zankman says:

      I don’t get what you’re saying.

      The game is good, but it lacks additional content. It lacks extra things to do and play with once you optimize your city.

      Mods are there, readily and easily available – and they can help or outright fix that problem.

      And you just say… “No”?

      What kind of sense does that make?

      • ludde says:

        He’s saying that the game is not challenging enough. Which it really isn’t.

      • Czrly says:

        I don’t see what’s hard to understand in my post. The game is too easy and the content runs out too fast – after that, you’re just building more of the same. Fixing it with mods means the community is good, not the game is good. The game is shallow and easy, with no failure chance at all if you don’t run out of money in the first ten minutes of play.

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          kfix says:

          A good game may not make a good community, but a bad game will kill it. Some developers recognize that they can’t do everything, especially in genres like this, so they make games easily modded and encourage that behavior. Saying that the game must stand on its own is a daft and arbitrary condition in an age when almost everyone can easily access mods.

  6. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I’m not sure I’ve played it, but I’ve certainly used it.

  7. Aztek says:

    For me, I personally enjoyed Simcity 2013 for longer, that was until I realised that traffic was impossible because of the AI which goes from the nearest commerical to the nearest industrial to the nearest residential, in whatever order. But everyone travels in the same direction.

    But I actually had more fun with it. It was colourful and just had more feeling.

    Skylines I ironically spent more time just restarting and watching youtubers. Saying that I’ve still clocked a lot of hours. It was the better game don’t get me wrong, but I just had more fun with simcity despite its obvious flaws.

  8. DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I played this for a little bit but lost interest once it became a traffic sim. I think my favourite part is placing the water/sewer pipes, that is some good quality zen right there.

  9. GenialityOfEvil says:

    The Cities XL series is a completely different franchise made by Monte Carlo studios (maybe not anymore). Cities Skylines is made by the studio that made those Cities in Motion games, which are transportation business sims.

  10. Neurotic says:

    I was loving it and playing it non-stop and modding the crap out of it, right up until Snowfall (?). When I discovered that the snow and central heating systems etc were confined to specific ‘snow maps’, it sort of shook my faith a little. I took a break then, and haven’t been back since. I will do one day though.

  11. kyd462 says:

    In SC2013, the sims don’t exist anymore. Everyday, Residential buildings spawn new random sims that go to random jobs, then random commercial buildings, then back home. Everyday, the workforce is reset, and the entire population fills in the available jobs from zero. In other words, it’s all just chaos masquerading as a simulation. That’s an immersion breaker for me, for one, but it ceases to even be interesting when it’s all just a shallow illusion. The simulation part IS the fun part, right? If the sims are just little random chaos machines we’re not supposed to pay much attention to, then the main objectives of the game shouldn’t revolve around their behavior right?

    Cities: Skylines uses static agents that are born, live, work, go out, grow old, and die. You can name them, track them, favorite them, follow them around on different adventures when they go out for leisure. They change jobs sometimes, but it’s not erratic, they still go to the same one for a long time. When families get bigger, some move out. I’ve even seen whole families move to new homes, usually closer to work. The game also solves all the things I mentioned above, and adds some attention to other details as well that make it the closest thing we’ve got to a 3d SimCity4 + better traffic tools and real-time region management with the district tool. The cities get HUGE!!!

    I totally get the appeal of a AAA Simcity game, but the reality is that Will Wright left the scene a long time ago, and everything that made those games great left with him. The people making Cities:Skylines definitely have a different personality, but the mechanics of their game are way beyond what EA/Maxis did with SC2013. It’s taking them a lot longer to polish and release new content, but they’re indie! We should support more indie developers. If this is what they do with a small team and a small budget, imagine what they could do with a little more. :)