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Cities: Skylines hands-on preview: We built this city on rocks (and roll)

Hayden Dingman | Feb. 18, 2015
EA's 2013 SimCity reboot was a disaster. Cities XXL has received a similarly-disastrous backlash this month, albeit for different reasons. In the aftermath, all eyes turn towards Cities: Skylines, the upcoming city-builder from Cities in Motion developer Colossal Order.

Other observations: There are a lot of street types, which should come as no surprise to anyone who played Cities in Motion — a series primarily concerned with routing traffic. In my time with the game I played around with two-lane, four-lane, and six-lane streets, as well as highways. Also, there were variations of each category, such as one-way two-lane streets, etc.

It's a lot to take in, and I actually restarted the game multiple times just trying to figure out the optimal way to connect my fledgling metropolis to the highway — a necessity if you want people to move into town.

I unfortunately wasn't able to build up a large enough city during my demo to see how traffic works. Supposedly the same traffic mechanics honed in Cities in Motion are in play here also, but my tiny town wasn't exactly generating a ton of chokepoints.

One thing I don't like about Skylines: There's no grid. You can get streets to snap to whatever angle the game thinks is optimal, but the early game can be a huge pain in the butt as you try to get your city snapped to the same grid as the highway. In fact, I couldn't do it. I restarted my game three or four times and each city I made was slightly off-angle to the highway.

It was hugely frustrating, as someone who likes nice, even grids of streets. Yeah, I know they're not beautiful. They're efficient. Take your curvy suburban roads and go home. (Yes, you can totally make curved roads in Skylines if you want.)

Happiness

The game is pretty good at conveying the effectiveness of various utility buildings. Placing a police station and need to know where it'll do the most good? Or a hospital? The game uses red/green overlays to show effective range, which is a huge boon.

On the other hand, the game's a bit lackluster at surfacing how much of any given resource you need — does my tiny city really need four windmills, or am I crazy? (Turns out it's the latter.)

It's also not as good about showing the immediate effects of these buildings financially. Need to know how that new hospital or police station or school will affect the budget every year? That information's not as immediately apparent. I found myself going into the red pretty early out of naiveté.

Speaking of which...

Always pay your debts

Debt is bad. It's a concept that took me a long time to learn as a kid trying to play SimCity 2000 and it's a concept I've had to relearn for Cities: Skylines. I think every person in our demo spiraled into debt at one point or another, and I'd say most of them simply restarted their entire city. Getting out of debt once you've bunked your checkbook is pretty damn hard or even impossible, especially if you've wasted all the money on roads and forgotten to provide something important like power or water to your residents.

 

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