Cities: Skylines – Review

 

Balance. Cities: Skylines has it. Whilst it is absolutely awesome to create the huge, truly 3D, Megalopolis that we’ve all yearned for since Sim City 4, city simulation games are actually a giant puzzle of balance. When you make a city, it isn’t just cool looking at the buildings? Isn’t it great to fly down the streets and notice the houses and cars zooming around? It’s one of the biggest things that gets you going in city builders, seeing your work breath life.  But trying to find that equilibrium of harmony so that you don’t grow out of proportion or decimate your resources whilst your population is swimming in filth, the deceased and can’t turn on a light to see that they’re drinking shit-flavoured water, is the biggest challenge. While much was lamented on SimCity’s size constraints, it really did teach you the lessons of good planning and staging your growth economically. It becomes something of a hangover when you come in to Cities: Skylines though.

Because you can just grow to enormous sizes there is a temptation to go absolutely crazy and just create your mega build. Which, if you’re in sandbox mode, you totally can and have the finances to easily manage the demands that present themselves. But in the normal game mode there are things you need to do in order to create the perfect, patient balance. The similarities to SimCity are very obvious in the games user interface and simplicity in its design and accessibility. This game has long been touted as “What SimCity should have been” and players of that game will see how familiar it is.

Firstly there is the big similarity that accessibility and traffic is king. Cities: Skylines is created from the mass transit simulator veterans Colossal Order (Cities in Motion). So it’s hardly surprising and makes sense to have traffic as a big part of your city planning. Getting people around is one thing. Making cool crazy roads is another. But beware as your services also rely on these roads and if they are too far away or hard to get to then your city will be swimming in garbage, dead bodies and burning down before you can scream “REDUCE THE GAME SPEED!!!” Education, much like SimCity, takes a very big presence as without it your city will have smaller buildings, more fires and less growth. It will surprise you, just like power, how much you truly need to build in order to sustain this even in the smaller cities of the early game stages.

Therein lies the puzzle of this balance as, at a moments notice, things can go from pleasantly docile to apocalyptically meltdown crazy. Which is something that Cities: Skylines does very well but it doesn’t go absolutely mad with obstructing your attempts to solve it. Unlike SimCity, the occupants of your efforts are mostly silent except for an initially novel Twitter-esque notification on the top of the screen – None of the screaming for superhero crime fighters or requesting for a church to be built, or demanding futuristic super fuels to increase trade options.

This is where you can divide your gaming audience however. Some people like the kind of quirky tongue in cheek nature that Maxis brings to games and SimCity had lots of it. Cities: Skylines has very little outside the quickly annoying top-of-screen birdy. Which means that outside of its technical gaming goodness, it can feel a bit cold. Given that a lot of your time you’re looking at a mass of green land slowly growing buildings, I personally sometimes yearned for that comedic touch. But the game doesn’t need that and many people will tell me to bugger off and play The Sims instead. So I’m very aware that for the purists and the serious gamers, this is in fact a positive.

Sometimes it can also be unclear what a problem actually is, and what the solution can be. Like SimCity, most of the time the solution is just patience, like waiting for fuel for power stations. Although there isn’t the same trading system that SimCity had so you can’t really see how industry and your specialist industries are doing without individually visiting them. Whilst the forestry and agricultural industries are great additions, I would have liked the opportunity for them to occupy more space. Like huge fields of land instead of the factory sized livestock pens, which have cows that by scale are mutant oversized bovine beasts.

I also find the need to put multiple power stations in your city so quickly slightly aggravating. Power demands are naturally high, but the fact that you can’t upgrade your buildings can leave you, in the early game, spreading multiple wind turbines and coal power stations across your map and barely scraping by. The lack of immediate leisure facilities and parks is a bit of a let down too, although there are some that unlock as you grow your city as “Unique Buildings”. It does limit some of the planning that you might want to do to encompass these but as with all creation, the ability to mercilessly destroy to create something better is a skill you need to possess.

Although your citizens very rarely complain about anything except education, it would be nice to have more options in making your city look prettier. Especially good would have been a brush tool for adding foliage that seems to be obvious UI option that’s missing. The game’s environments and maps are wonderful though, each presenting its own unique look and feel with resource management adding to the puzzle. And if you aren’t happy, you can create your own very easily or download one of the many available on the Steam Workshop.

Technically the game holds up very well. I was playing on a Mac, which isn’t the most stable of the OS’s pre-release, but it hasn’t caused me any problems. It’s available on Linux too as well PC, of course. But the system requirements you will need to get the experience you’ve probably seen in the trailers and watched YouTuber’s play is quite high. The game is perfectly playable on an i5 processor with a decent graphics card and enough RAM. But you have to sacrifice a lot of graphical detail in order to get anywhere near consistent frame rates. I mostly hit 30fps but I had to turn shadows off and textures down to medium. As my city grew, the lag did begin to increase, which I suppose you should expect given the amount that’s going on. But I’d recommend a big system if you’re going to create the mass of steel and concrete that the games can deliver.

The game’s blurb on Steam describes it as a modern take on the classic city simulation and for all intents and purposes it is exactly that. Apart from the moments of resource madness the game is very easy to manage. In fact its lack of adjustable difficulty might irk the most hardcore fans of the genre, although there is a hard mode. And whilst your imagination is fairly unlimited, you still have to imagine within some confines, which is a great puzzle that blurs lines between real life planning and gaming city planning. The support for expansion is brilliant with the Steam Workshop supporting customised buildings and maps for everyone to share with each other. If you’re ticking the boxes, especially against SimCity, this game has well and truly trumped it.

At the start though, I mentioned a hangover. On a personal critical reflection of the game the stigma of SimCity that’s around the genre, and especially the hype of this game, is at times unavoidably apparent. For all of the promise of the game being a better version of SimCity, that the fans actually wanted, this game completely nails it but at the expense of its own character. However this game wasn’t intended for that; it was intended for the dedicated and crazy people to build obnoxious, overwhelming metropolises and to create a supportive game and environment for the passionate modding community. With the seeming demise of Maxis and the buggy recycle that was Cities XXL, there may not be another time where PC gaming, nor any gaming due to console’s lack of strategy games, will have a studio which creates one of the founding staples of gaming so excellently. And if this is our last foreseeable option to modern city building then it is a damn fine one to have, if not the best we’ve had in nearly ten years. Balance is restored.

Summary

This is what not what SimCity should have been, but rather what SimCity could have been. The charm of Maxis is obviously missing but the gameplay, the mechanics and the scope of a good city building game is there. It’s an easy game to pick up and get in to and for the modding community it’s very well supported. Make sure you’ve got a good system though if you want the full experience.

Good Points

  • The game is suitably huge and expansive
  • Builds on SimCity’s easy to play UI and perfects it
  • Adds a few options that trump SimCity’s limited building

Bad Points

  • Lacks the charm of SimCity/Maxis
  • Can be a strain on recommend or lesser spec machines
  • A few building tools are missing that would have been nice

Why a 9?

This is quite simply the best City Building game available today and probably is the best since Sim City 4. In an era of freemium mobile gaming and the apparent downfall of Maxis, Colossal Order could be the heir apparent to the throne for a long time to come. There are a few tools missing and the game does miss some of the charm that its genre contemporaries provide but Cities: Skylines has reinvigorated a sadly sagging genre and is exactly what fans were looking for.

 

This review was based on the Mac version of the game.

Are too many games broken on release? Discuss!

brokengameft

Broken games aren’t anything new, although it does seem that we have had a glut of them in recent months. Assassin’s Creed Unity looks set to join the post-development woe befalling Halo’s Master Chief Collection and DriveClub. But has it always been this way for games to be released with problems?

In a word, yes. Sadly the game medium and the ease publishing downloadable updates to consoles have seen game publishers rigidly stick to their release dates in order to fill their quarterly reports, at the expense of bad press and consumer dissatisfaction. It feels all too apparent in recent times though. Here are a few reminders of the last 12-18 months of game release failures. [divider]

SimCity

brokengame1 Those who recall the long wait for a £60 pound persistent online game only to find that they were only persistently trying to connect to EA’s servers will lament this well. It was made even worse for Mac users who had to not only wait an age for their release but for the problems to be solved as well. Was the game broken? Well there were parts of it that were, and certainly still are. A new engine and new AI was being patched quite a lot in the end to stop itself from doing silly things but for the most part (apart from the always online design flaw and small development areas) the game was fine. But the release of the game turned into a complete farce for EA.

Given that the game was “always online” and there was no offline mode, it was the lack of servers that surprisingly foiled EA’s release. The back end infrastructure they had in place couldn’t handle the amount of people who were wanting to play, nor the data it was supposed to store, leading to a long process of issues, apologies and modifications. EA had to give away a free game, Maxis had a tail between their legs and had to release certain things for free that would have made good DLC and they had to implement an offline mode after the mod community showed how easy it was to implement. Never one to be bested by such setbacks, EA did exactly the same thing six months later…

 

Battlefield 4

brokengame2 The release of Battlefield 4 actually started a lawsuit against people who appeared to be raising the game’s praise to shareholders erroneously in order to generate satisfactory financial reports. But us gamers don’t care about all that suit nonsense, we care that once again, EA’s servers were not up to the task of online play. Bugs galore as people could run around with no health and kill you, the promise of big destructible landscapes and buildings were hard to find, lots of graphical glitches and all this was only an issue if you could even connect to a server in the first place to play the game.

Personally, I found Battlefield 4 quite uninspiring as a single player game although I enjoyed the online play as by the time I’d got to it, the multitude of patches and fixes had been implemented and the multiplayer game was playable. But around its launch, very public and very damning issues beset it. Exactly who is to blame here is tricky as there seems to be quite the administrative level fallout over this, but EA once again were at the centre of the storm and directly addressing it calling the situation “unacceptable”. Two bad online releases in a year is obviously the button pusher in the EA head offices. Speaking of fallout…

 

Fallout: New Vegas

brokengame3Ok, so this game goes further than the 18 months but still, it’s worth putting in here. This game was bugged from release. I know this, which is why it’s on my gaming rack still in its cellophane wrapping. As gamers, we tend to forgive Bethesda’s mistakes in game development because of all the things they get right in their games, but this game makes my little reminisce due to it being the most bugged of them all. Fallout 3 was not without its issues and PS3 Skyrim players will recall the game breaking memory issues and save deletions.

Fallout New Vegas also had the same issues and was prone to a multitude of crashes, textures not loading properly, framerate issues, characters running away, item and character clipping, characters heads doing strange things, incorrect gender character noises, to name but a few. There’s a big old list of all the bugs on the wikia page for the game and you could summise that this is why we’re waiting a long time for another Fallout game, or a proper Elder Scrolls successor. The engine definitely needs a lot of work to be up to the scrutiny of a new generation of consoles and maybe that’s why Bethesda are being quiet about it. But that hasn’t stopped them, oh no…

 

The Evil Within

brokengame4 Bethesda’s most recent release is a fine game. It looks excellent and has only the minimal of bugs, like the headless character bug pictured. It’s a survival horror treat that is worth the time and the day one patch. If you don’t have the day one patch however, the game is a completely different story. Digital Foundry did some snooping after a couple of reports of bad frame rates, but that was just the start of the horror. The out-of-the-box version of the game is a mess. The resolution of the game is a heavily upscaled resolution that is nowhere near the 1080p or 900p it’s supposed to be for the PS4 and Xbox One respectively and is stretched to fill the screen. It also suffers from massive framerate drops, the likes of which you’ve probably only seen on a heavily overworked Minecraft server.

The patch completely changes this to a playable game. But what gets me is that the developers had time to fix this for the release edition until the game’s release was brought forward a week (presumably to cash in before Alien Isolation came out). The patch, given how much it fixes, is a monumental effort by developer Tango Gameworks. It’s definitely worth checking out the videos that Digital Foundry put up as it really does highlight the issues the retail version of the game has. To release a game in that condition is simply just not cricket…

 

Ashes Cricket 2013

brokengame5 Yes these links are getting worse. But no worse than the only game in this piece that was actually removed from sale. It even made national news due to its failure. Ashes Cricket 2013 is probably the reason that you won’t see a cricket game for quite a long while. 505 apologised and issued refunds, Steam pulled the game from sale and the console versions didn’t even appear. Why? Because the AI was awful, the character models were missing key things (such as an animation for catching the ball) and the players ambled around in such a manner that Tecmo Bowl looked superior in playability.

Everything about this game was poor although the development was just as sketcky, moving to the Unity engine and then back again, being delayed twice and only released to try and cash in with its titular sporting series in Australia back in November 2013. All in all the story of this game is quite tragic really and just a cacophony of errors that will probably see Cricket languish in video game development hell, much like Rugby has for the most part in the past decade.

[divider]

The thing is that all games release with bugs and as console gamers, we probably feel a bit precious about it given that we expect for our £50-60 outlay a satisfactory and, above all else, a ready product. And releasing games into a retail environment (that includes all the digital stores too) that are effectively broken or heavily bugged, just to make the demands of agreed times and publisher’s quarterly estimates, is quite abhorrent. That maybe a slightly cynical viewpoint though as PC gamers of all ages will know that games can be and are regularly patched to combat these problems. They always have been and they always will be. But the fact that we’ve had quite a few big name problems within the space of a week is quite damming.

brokengame6 Of course Microsoft have always had this date due to the nature of its anniversary package for Halo and the game in all honesty is intended to be a much needed unit shifter for the Xbox One. In fairness to them, the single player element of the game is fine there are just a lot of teething issues for quite a vast and probably the largest options of a multiplayer experience to date. Assassin’s Creed Unity is suffering from a number of graphical glitches in character models as well as world clipping issues. The game has already irked some due to its drop from 1080p to 900p in what is perceived to be cross platform parity. But the game has quite the demanding and technically difficult task of simultaneously processing 10,000 AI controller non-playable characters so that the experience of the crowd is more real and genuine. It’s no small matter given the processing power needed for that and what the consoles can achieve at present with how new the technology is for developers. DriveClub’s issues just seem to be poor choices that have been made at a management level to the game’s infrastructure and, if we’re honest, just a complete shambles from pre-launch to now, which is a shame for Evolution Studios.

While these bugs are certainly taking away from the game experience, and do invalidate our confidence in a publisher to develop a complete package for our hard earned electronic wealth numbers, do they constitute such a breach of trust between the consumer (us) and the developer/publisher (them) that we should be up in arms, or should we just back off a bit? After all this is all new ground for everyone, right?

Please feel free to leave comments, post on Facebook or tweet @TheGameJar and let’s talk about this.

[author]

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.

Gaming Cubed: Trapped in a Box of Jealousy.

Cube World has arrived.

This annoys me.

Why? Well for one, I can’t play it yet as I’m a Mac user (DAMMMMMMNNNNN YOUUUUUUU!!!!). But two, and possibly the more important issue, my friends are playing it without me. To do so, they have left the other cube behind that we’ve recently started, that of Minecraft. This means I am missing out on a huge amount of fun… Or so I thought.

I’ve been watching videos online of course, especially BdoubleO100 on YouTube, to find out what exactly I’m missing. I’ve also witnessed my friends play (although the heat of a small room with two PC’s really isn’t worth it). So far all I can gleam from it is that I will get very bored of this very quickly. Why? Because it’s a cube version of World of Warcraft, et al. Now, I’m currently playing a few games, am desperate for Maxis to hurry up with the Mac release of SimCity, and have very little money. So affording an MMO fee right now is out of the question. But my friends, who are currently playing the low res, independent and customisable MMORPG Cube World, don’t play MMO’s.

I’ve been a WoW and EVE subscriber a few times. My friends don’t have time to play those, or don’t care. I personally get very bored being the anti-social lone ranger I am when I have no friends to play with. So I eventually leave. Now I’m left out of this new indie gaming revolution and by the time I get round to it, they’ll totally be bored of it. So I’m incredibly jealous because I’ll be missing out on all the fun.

Right now, I want to play F1 2012  online with someone, I need to work my way through the Assassin’s Creed series which I ashamedly haven’t had any time for AND want to do more Minecraft online with friends/curse EA for the inventible continuing SimCity Mac delays.

So you can take your “very good for an alpha release game with the small team behind it” and SHOVE IT! *Cries like being the last boy picked for the school sports teams*