Cities Skylines After Dark – Review

 

There is no secret here – we loved Cities Skylines. So what do you do when one of the best games of the year brings you an add-on that brings you more? Well, you rejoice, naturally as ‘After Dark’ is now here. Except that probably the biggest part of it is actually free. So what are you actually getting by parting with your hard earned money? Actually, quite a bit.

It’s something that SimCity did, and to be fair to Maxis inglorious city-building swansong, it actually did it quite well. Day and night cycles made a fairly middling game look absolutely stunning, especially with some of the futuristic buildings. If there is a criticism of Cities Skylines, it was that the passage of time didn’t really feel very much like a passage of time. Part of this was because there wasn’t a night cycle, but part of it was because the timer and the date function feels rather arbitrary.

Now with the addition of the day/night cycle, it does feel like there is a certain progression but only if you don’t pay much attention to the clock. The beauty of the mode isn’t the visuals though (which are indeed absolutely lovely and don’t tax your system that much more than your current operating requirements). It’s the ability to micromanage things that are happening in those cycles. For example, the game will naturally increase crime during the night because it’s dark and criminals often work under that cover. So you can adjust your budgeting to allow for a greater police presence in the night and less of a presence in the day to balance it out. It’s useful for other things too, including trash collection (by creating a time with less traffic to operate these services).

That visual aspect, along with the micro management side of of this expansion has been added for free to the base game. But there are little bits to make going that bit further a lot more worthwhile. There are two new specialisations that bring their own challenges as well. New to the game are the Leisure and Tourism specialities, which allow you to build new bars and entertainment strip areas along with making use of beaches and hotels. So thankfully, all of your map can be used to exploit its natural beauty and give yourself challenges. Fancy making Atlantic City? Go for it!

Also added is the new dedicated lanes for buses and public services. There’s also plenty of new buildings and services for you to unlock which has been helped by the stellar job the modding community has done. In no small part, things have been implemented in to the game because they are popular mods and there is obviously a demand for them. City services, special roads and new additions to existing buildings can make life a lot easier.

For example there’s now a bus/bike lane to help the flow of traffic or at least help your services survive it. There’s a metro station built in to the airport now. There’s better train access for cargo. Lots of things can make your life easier. But make no mistake about it, this is an add-on. Not a new game, not a change in the game’s parameters or a fantasy world, it is a new bunch of stuff to stick in to the already existing stuff and help address a few issues the original had.

It’s arguable whether or not it does that. Traffic is still traffic and will still be a big issue the bigger you are. The crime rates stay fairly similar and Chirpr still overly chirps. The main focus here is that the game is just getting some more stuff. If you want to go further in to the rabbit hole for £11 then you can, but the main focus of the add-on’s title and the benefits that it directly brings are available to you now, for free, in the updated game.

Does this then negate the add-on? Possibly, it depends how much you’re willing to spend and to be honest, the game isn’t expensive so you’ve probably not payed out anywhere near what SimCity asked of you. Plus you will get some extra goodies so that also counts for something, and everyone’s thought of making their own version of Magaluf’s notorious strip in a game before so you can exploit those tourists for all their alcohol money… Haven’t they? Just me? Bugger.

Summary

Cities Skylines After Dark adds some cool new things but that’s basically all it does – Add. It’s not a game changer, or breaker. And the biggest part of the content is included for free in the day/night cycle, which you can switch off from the main menu if your system is struggling. There’s not masses there but for a game that’s got so much mod community support, it needs very little except to start the spark. Which this does.

Good Points

  • New industry specialisation
  • The day/night cycle is visually awesome
  • The biggest part of the pack is a free update

Bad Points

  • The biggest part of the pack is a free update
  • Not a lot of content beyond the cosmetic
  • Hasn’t improved certain issues like traffic congestion

Why a 7.5?

A lot of the value of the add-on will depends upon what you’re actually looking to get. And as the game has added probably the biggest part of it already, and for free, it does question how much is in the paid additional content that you’d use. In that regard, it probably doesn’t add as much as you’d have hoped but is a nice support for the game none the less.

 

 

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Dying Light – The Following – Preview

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It’s over two years since Techland went solo from their Dead Island franchise and found a new home with publisher Warner Bros. The result was last years release, Dying Light, which was a very familiar game if you’d played any of their former franchise. But with a focus on movement and parkour that freed up the constraints in the open world city of Harran, the game was different and enjoyable enough to earn the top spot in January 2015 for sales and became the highest selling debut survival horror franchise ever.

Now, the story continues as you take Kyle Crane to a new area of the world. Gone are the sprawling decaying concrete blocks, discoloured by the eastern Mediterranean sun, as you enter a new, vast farmland area, filled with brooks, small alcoves, interesting groves with people to find and farms and industrial buildings galore. The world is apparently four times the size of Harran. It is very sparse compared to the built up Turkish town and its not the worse for it. It allows for many different approaches to an area or a situation, which I’ll come on to later. But what you will find is that the shadows have given way to the glorious rays of sun that now dominate the skies and the view, really making some lovely use of the Chrome Engine and further solidifying why the last generation of consoles would have had no chance of running these games.

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The plot sees you trying to track down a cult called The Following. Presumably to eliminate them, although I must stress that the preview we played gave us no spoilers for the plot so we have no idea what we’re looking for or who we’re killing. But kill we shall because we are given weapons and the overwhelming urge to use them. In our preview, we climbed our way around a big mountain and dived from an impossible height down to a pool of water. As we climbed out, we saw our first hint of The Following in decorated rocks, much like those you’d see of native tribes around the world. Our journey then led us up to an abandoned house where the poor unfortunate souls before us left a gun and, most importantly, a crossbow.

Then we traversed our way across the farmland that was awash with zombies. Lots of zombies. Basically, don’t traverse the field if you can help it. It’s fun to start killing things with a crossbow, hitting people in the head, as we practiced at the house by clearing the garden. But as soon as you are outside and everyone is on you, forget it. Run. Where were we running to? An old water tower by a small farm building. There were a few ways there of course, either through the throng in whatever zig zag you’d like, up the path where the throng was less or up over the pipes that went across the field. I chose the pipes and ran my way to the high vantage point.

At the top of this vantage point, we saw our prize. A car, or to be more precise a buggy. After clearing the area of militia by using our crossbows at a sniping vantage point, we zip-wired down to the ground, mopped up the remaining guys hiding inside the surrounding buildings and jumped in to the waiting buggies. We, it must be said, was me and my co-op partner and what followed was a race and a slight moment of control adjustment to work out how the buggy went forward and reversed. The race culminated, after mowing down various zombies in the road, in a massive jump and an explosion that signalled the end of our play.

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What I managed to take away from this is that it isn’t a big leap from Dying Light, which is good. We also have a large, new area to explore and traverse. Also good. We have new interesting buildings like docks, processing plants, small villages and the like. Again, good. Then there’s the rather unknown story of this cult, The Following, and the presence of militia and zombies. It certainly gives you some intriguing propositions.

The fact it isn’t a big leap also allows you to jump back in to the game very easily. I haven’t played Dying Light since November last year (before the release) and I picked up the controls like I’d never left them. Simple, natural and the buggy was pretty good once you got your head around how twitchy it is. The weapons are fun and the options you have in approaching an area are also pretty fun. But you sense that, despite a huge world that’s been promised, a lot of it is empty and just populated with aimless zombies for you to mow down. I always find that fast transportation does allow to kind of get away with vast unpopulated areas. I might be wrong, but I’d need to play and explore more.

All in all though, the expansion is solid, the lighting and art direction is great, as it was in Dying Light, and it’s really more of the same. Normally, these things end up being just missions and a few new buildings but a whole new area is a great thing from Techland and a new storyline, regardless of your thoughts on the original’s plot, is entirely welcome. If you’ve already got the season pass then you can expect it for free (I know, right? A season pass that actually includes the add-on DLC!) or if you haven’t then it’ll be $14.99. No news on a UK/EU price yet but I’m sure you can guess one.

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The Rising Cost of Add-Ons and DLC

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Somewhere along the line, we lost faith as gamers that we were getting all that we paid for. Downloadable Content (DLC) has become a sticking point for many consumers who believe part of the game they paid for has been held back so the publisher/developer can milk some more heard earned coin from your digital pocket. This is regardless of the price, although this in itself has become more of a sticking point since the Next Generation consoles and game development costs have pushed the price of games up significantly in the past 24 months.

It also seems the higher costs appear to be based around publishers Activision and EA over most other publishers. How do I get that? Well I could have done some very deep research but the truth is that I didn’t have to. Here’s a list of Season Passes on the PS3 Playstation Store… Yes, there’s a dedicated section for them:

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  • Call of Duty Ghosts – £34.99
  • Alien Isolation – £24.99
  • Defiance – £24.99 (It is worth noting that Defiance is now a free-to-play game)
  • Sniper Elite 3 – £24.99
  • Destiny – £34.99
  • Battlefield 4 Premium – £39.99
  • GRID Autosport – £24.99
  • Assassins Creed 3 – £25.99
  • Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag – £15.99
  • Little Big Planet 2 DC Comics – £19.99
  • Borderlands 2 – £19.99

 

I’ve only selected some here. There are a lot that are free or that have dropped in price like The Last of Us. But it is easy to see why people are beginning to get angry when they are paying arguably the cost of a new game (based on internet retail prices) for DLC. This is a new area for retail where the availability of internet speed has basically made the retail space redundant for them to sell this extra content and they can price it as accordingly as they want.

Why do I mention the retail space? Because before DLC was the done thing, it was Add-Ons. In some cases they are still called that but the distinction for me in the current gaming industry vernacular would suggest that Add-Ons are physical copies of this extra content. This is something that has been in gaming for many, many years. Sonic and Knuckles was one of the first physical game add-ons although this was also a game in itself. Westwood had several different releases for the Command & Conquer series. Heroes of Might and Magic, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, Half-Life… The list can go on and on.

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The biggest cash cow for this is undoubtedly the one that completely changed the market. It didn’t give the game much extra other than things to use in the game, and some extra spaces but that didn’t stop its rise to being one of the most profitable franchises in gaming history. The Sims had seven expansion packs which roughly retailed around $24.99/£19.99 from what I remember (I am looking for confirmation on prices and will update the article if they come). The Sims 2 had eight expansion packs and ten extra content packs. Although these all did add things to the games, if you had them all you would have spent well over $300 on getting them all. It’s hardly EA’s fault really. They had a product that people were willing to throw monumental amounts of money at and they said “fair enough”, and provided them with ways to do that. Regardless of your thoughts on EA, it was good business. And if the cost of their packages had an effect on the industry and kept prices stable then it would have been great. I suppose you could argue that historically, additional content for a game in the form of an expansion pack, or more common nowadays a season pass, has roughly been around half or 2/3 of the original game’s retail price.

That is possibly the problem though. There doesn’t seem to be any industry standard as to what a recommend retail price for add-ons or DLC should be. Partially because the content can vary so much as to what you get and partially because the publishers have to decide on the offset of profit versus development cost recovery. That’s sadly just business, any business. Regardless if us as gamers want to hear it, we should know that behind the art we love is a business that needs to survive under the insurmountable pressure of rising costs and international market difficulties. Don’t worry, I’m not looking for an argument or defending any one company here, but it needs to be said that there is a business behind us being provided with this entertainment.

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The problem with that business is that the regulation on it appears to be quite sketchy. PS Store, Wii Store, Xbox Live are all digital retail spaces. Physical retail stores (supermarkets, specialist retailers, etc) will also sell this content by code card. So there must be some portion of this that has to be compliant with fair pricing across the board. But the consumer does seem to get a bum deal out of all of this. When you buy Battlefield and Call of Duty (the latter arguably having the possibility to have the best selling game of the year, as it always does), you are paying around $44.99/£38.99 on average for the retail game and now with the next generation, that’s more like $64.99/£59.99. You expect to pay some money for some extra content but the amount of content that these games are providing, with mostly extra maps and gameplay modes (which the game must be ready to support at launch otherwise it’d be a major code rewrite), can cost a massive amount of money to the consumer in total. That’s not to say that you don’t get a lot of extra stuff though. In the case of Call of Duty Ghosts from Activision, the Onslaught, Devastation, Invasion and Nemesis packs (the Dynasty map is pictured), gives you 16 extra maps and some extra weapons along with episodic content for the Extinction series. In the case of Battlefield 4 from EA there are five extra packs, China Rising, Second Assault, Naval Strike, Dragon’s Teeth and Final Stand, making an additional 20 maps, three new game types and a load of extra weapons.

So much is available that the season passes seems to be the obvious way to get it all for a cheaper price. In the case of those two games (you can see the prices above on the Playstation Store list for the most recent releases) the season passes are nearly the price of another game. These are all for extra maps which you have no idea if you’d enjoy and in a way are forced to buy in order to continue your full enjoyment of the game. Why? Because someone WILL buy them and so will many others and if that stops your online enjoyment with everyone playing the new stuff you haven’t got then you either buy it or ditch the game. In the case of Xbox and Call of Duty, and Playstation with Destiny, these expansions are mostly exclusive to that console and the expansions are the selling point. Which when you think about it is a completely ridiculous concept when you just want to buy a game and could arguably be damaging to the industry. But again that is just business. Look at how television handles exclusivity of certain shows/licences to get subscribers to their packages or advertisers to their viewers, and how that’s damaged the public broadcasting sector.

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The price of those season passes you could argue is roughly in line with the price idea I made earlier and that the model is still fairly accurate; Half or 2/3’s of the original game’s retail price. But in the case of these games, like Destiny, we have no idea what we are getting for these season passes and if they quantify the amount of money we’re spending on them for the entertainment value we receive, regardless of work being put in. The two Destiny add-ons that are coming don’t appear to give us new planets or places to visit, but additional missions and story in the existing worlds. In fact we know so little about them that our cynicism is being unintentionally qualified. Watch_Dogs was another example of not knowing what the game will give us. We have a few extra modes for the in-game mini-games and now a new single player story add-on. But how much content is there that takes the developer more money than was already spent on the game at launch? How much money are these companies looking to make from the post-launch additional content? And how justified is it to market your game or your console’s exclusivity based on these maps/modes/skins/extras? Our cynicism is based around a game already having the additional content spaces ready and that the content we buy is merely assets for it, updates for it or just a patch that unlocks it. Before when this content was physically brought, we were kind of assured that there must be more than we had before otherwise what would be the point in having a new disk for it?

The rising cost of Add-Ons and DLC can partially be paired to the rising cost of games in general. But as the internet and journalism has begun to open the debate on this, and the gaming consumer becomes like any other consumer in a tricky economic climate, that being incredibly savvy and questioning, the conversation is only just beginning. Also with certain games being re-released with everything included some 12-18 months later for the same price as the original game, or with updated graphics for the new generation as well, this will add more focus on what makes good sense to a consumer. With the Christmas period around the corner and the publishers needs to release games on a yearly basis to maximise profit, we’ll see how this new generation handles the consumer when we feel that we are not getting enough for what we’re shelling out. I predict that some games will be guilty of doing less with their content in this regard and we can probably make predictions as to who will be more guilty than others. But in the next 12 months we’ll see how people will react to paying nearly 75% of the cost of the game for extra in that game, and I’m sure we’ll find out how much of that could have been included at launch.

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SimCity: Cities of Tomorrow Add-On Review

I’ll be honest here, which is the least you can expect from a game reviewer. I’m still playing this add-on as I write the review. In fact I’ve started a new city and I’m at 1,400 residents. Not only have I played it myself but I’ve watched others online and I feel I’m now at a stage to review this add-on to the most recent SimCity iteration with as little hypocritical finger pointing to be directed at myself.

Why hypocritical? Because I actually really like SimCity and without spoiling other articles like the fantastic games of the year feature, I am a big fan of the game in itself. However, I feel has been sadly overshadowed by the almost comically poor approach to launch and consumer satisfaction management from EA, that seems to be a problem not just exclusive to SimCity (Battlefield 4 anyone?).

Which is why I’m ultimately left feeling utterly disappointed. I’m from a generation where an add-on pack costs £15. It gives you new levels, it improves upon features that the main game had just got a bit wrong. It basically extended the playing life of that game. SimCity – Cities of Tomorrow tries to do that. It really does try. But I feel it ultimately does not succeed. Here’s why:

Firstly, it doesn’t really bring you anything new to the game. This is partly because additions have already come to the game. They’ve been trickled out slowly and have sweetened a deal that was originally seen as a bit sour. The additional maps and potential buildings that would make this a proper package have already been released. So while there is an excuse for how little this add-on has, it does raise a question of a justifiable price for it.

To explain these additions a little more, the game has gone all high tech. Now there is an additional element in the game you can make called “Omega.” This can lead you down two roads: filthy industrial development and mega income, or a clean high-rise educational utopian vision. There are a few things that have been “futurised” as well. You get to build new Megatowers which are constructed in blocks of different game areas (commercial, residential, industrial, educational, etc) and these correspond to whichever path you decide to go down. Other new buildings include water pumps, cleaner energy/waste disposal and a neat high altitude road for connecting the “Megatowers” you construct in whichever vision you choose.

Which is where I come on to a second point. Visually, the game has always been very good. The Megatowers look stunning. The High wealth academy towers look like beautiful futuristic havens of success, almost like they are right out of the movie Elysium. But personally, I feel they pale in comparison to the dirty, high industrial Omega franchises, which have a air of Blade Runner about them. Dark, dingy buildings splattered with neon and look incredibly imposing and dystopian once put together. Visually the futurised areas also change. New house, industry and commercial building models appear, the roads have a texture that you could use to play Blockbusters on and it all looks rather swell. Even the low wealth houses with laser fences that look like dinosaur pens from Jurassic Park.

The problem though is that this is where the fun ends. Not enough of the game has changed for these really to make a difference to the overall gameplay, or to reinvigorate the gameplay sufficiently. After nearly a year playing the game that has been heavily criticised for its limited scope in building and creating the vast metropolis’s it’s famed for, all this add-on really does is give a slightly fresh lick of paint and another few buildings to try and squeeze in to an already busy and tricky economical system. Cities of Tomorrow integrates in to the existing framework so you start the game, region, road layout, city planning and everything else just like you already would. You then do the slow process of waiting to grow, timing your expansion and how to substitute the wealth factor of your residents. Overall there is zero difference between how you play the game in either the add-on or basic game. At least not enough in the early stages to warrant it being a useful part of the game and even then, it just solves some problems later on at a cost of potential building space.

Which leads me to my final gripe and it’s a gripe for anyone who’s ever heard the name Dr.Vu… You STILL can’t turn it off. Of all the additions that have been released, there is no option to deselect them from your gameplay, this included. Once you’ve installed it, you won’t be able to go back. Of course you can just not select anything from the add on, but the bubbles will pop up, your GUI will be changed and you’ll forever be clicking “No Thanks” while screaming “I DON’T GIVE A FLYING MONKEY’S MATURING INVESTMENT PORTFOLIO ABOUT DOCTOR SODDING VU!”

I’m now at 2,300 residents. The game has also made me demolish a whole row of abandoned houses, which doesn’t seem to be repopulating. My residents are unhappy, sick and I can’t get enough money because the Omega is costing too much in imported materials to produce. I’m stuck in a rather boring looking grid system town with a few trees, a couple of parks and some flat looking shopping areas… I might as well have just visited Milton Keynes.

Summary

An outrageously overpriced add-on pack (unless it’s on sale) that adds very little to the game except a lick of paint and a new resource challenge. Completely devalued by the constant release of additional content for free, although it does look rather cool.

Good Points

– Make your own Blade Runner city

– Rather satisfying clean energy and a few fresh building models.

Bad Points

– Very little change to the game

– Makes other game strategies a bit redundant

– Can’t turn it off

– Too much money.

Why a 5?

Because even though I love the game a lot, even I can’t justify the price for the lack of content and small gameplay life extension it gives.