Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cities: Skylines: City-builder nerds may be delivered from SimCity's clutches at last

Hello everyone, Dilly here, back from an extended absence to bring you the good word. Now, you may recall from my previous posts that I am an avid patron of the city-builder genre. If you don't, that's fine, because I never actually mentioned it in my previous posts. But this isn't about what I may or may not have said in the past. It's about how concerned you should be that Steam will most likely become the type of sentient AI that brought humanity to its knees in The Matrix.

"Dilly, you're all over the place, you're going mad," you say? Well you would be too, if Steam was refreshing your quick launch interface every few days to fill it with games you don't own, in the hopes you'll try them and get addicted to them. You would be too if Steam's 'recommended for you' list included titles related to games and software you own separate from Steam (is it scanning me???). You would be too if you put titles on your wishlist, only to find them coincidentally on sale the next day. You would be too if every time you started up Steam, it blasted you with the exact title it knows you will want to buy:



And I do want to buy it. I really, really do. And I'm going to tell you why. But if Cities: Skylines is the quiet, intelligent, rational younger sibling of the city simulation genre, then I feel like we should start by talking about his big, dumb, older brother for a moment. You see, once upon a time in 2013, a game was released called SimCity. This game was unequivocally and decidedly a large, steaming, pile of shit.

Wrought with issues from the get go, and when I politely use the word "issues," I mean "severe game-breaking problems that made the game LITERALLY unplayable," SimCity was for a long time scarcely even fit to be used as a doorstop, or that extra 1/4" you needed under one leg to right that wobbly table. I won't go into why this happened, suffice to say that what was described as an incredible cloud-based calculation program that was supposed to be the bees fuckin knees of modern gaming turned out (rather unsurprisingly) to be a thinly veiled DRM - and EA's servers couldn't handle the amount of traffic they received at launch.

Now, getting past the headaches and frustrations of the initial launch (oh god, the headaches! They're coming back to me) the game itself quickly revealed itself to be a mere shadow of its predecessors SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4, both of which still remain superior in nearly every way. The new multiplayer mode, which was supposed to change the city-sim genre as we know it, ended up being a total flop when it was playable at all, offering little feeling of being part of a community of other cities and other mayors. Gone were the realistic, rational sims that populated the cities of previous titles; actual characters you felt you had some semblance of responsibility for as they drove to their jobs every day and came home to their families at the same house every night. In SimCity 2013 they were replaced by mindless zombies that literally drove to the closest open workplace in the morning, and then drove to the closest available house at night.

SimCity 2013. Stink lines added for effect.


It seemed like EA hoped that as long as the graphics were nice and shiny, no one would notice the laughably small city dimensions and lack of a persistent and dynamic population of sims. This to me was its biggest, most disappointing failure. The essence of any city-sim is the satisfaction of carefully planning and implementing infrastructure for it to be used wisely and thoughtfully by your city's inhabitants. What's the point if the people in your city behave like irrational, brain-dead squatters?

Although it is true I could go on and on, I won't get into the stupidity of the Origin distribution platform, or the pandering apology issued by EA (along with a free game from a limited crappy selection) as a peace offering for subjecting decent people to such a turd sandwich as SimCity 2013, because I want to get into why I even sat down to write this in the first place: Cities: Skylines.

Cities: Skylines comes to us in March of this year from developer Colossal Order, a relatively indie team of around a dozen staff members, who brought us the Cities in Motion series (most recently Cities in Motion 2). CiM2 was one hell of a city-sim...okay...back up a second, it's not exactly a city-sim, since in the game you only manage the transportation system of a city, but it definitely feels like it could become one. And that's exactly what CO has done now. They claim to have always intended to make a true city-sim, and I can certainly say after spending many hours playing CiM2, that they've mastered the transportation side of things (a huge part of any city-sim's gameplay).

Featured in CiM2 is a range of transport options, from buses to subways to ferries, that you must carefully construct and schedule around your city to meet the demands of citizens commuting to work, shops, school, etc. These citizens have persistent jobs and residences; they work on the weekdays and shop and access leisure services on the weekends - and I'm very excited to see this aspect ported over to the new Skylines title.

Cities: Skyline will also take after its transportation-centered counterparts by offering plenty of space for you to build a grow your city (about 36 square km compared to SimCity's bewildering 2 km).

Of course, you'll also be able to do all the other things that come with the typical city-builder. You'll manage taxes, water and sewage, emergency services, and other such hum drum activities that in the strictness of reality are pretty dull but in the freedom of simulation can become interesting and gratifying. CO has noted that they will improve upon the UI from its transportation-builder series - and in this vein, I hope they improve upon the graph and chart system offered in CiM2 to detail the statistics of your city, as these graphs were often confusingly labeled, poorly visualized, and of little use.

The excitement doesn't end there. Players of Cities: Skylines can look forward to two more unique features that set it apart from the EA blowhard competition. One is the intense ability to micromanage several things, all the way down to renaming individual citizens in your town. The other is the promised mod support, which has the potential to be truly heroic. With support from the Steam Workshop and an in-game modding tool (YES!), users will be able to create vast variations of buildings, parks, vehicles - you name it - and share them with the gaming community. This means endless possibilities of dynamic cities of all shapes and sizes! Why don't you put that in your pipe and shove it up your ass, you money-grubbing EA fucks.

Build sprawling farmlands or a towering metropolis...or a quiet suburb.


I have no doubt that EA and Maxis will continue beating their dicks, occasionally ejaculating a discolored discharge that will be another DLC for SimCity 2013. But after that well runs dry they'll probably be hard at work coming up with the next SimCity title to once again corner the market. And until that day comes, let's hope that Cities: Skyline doesn't fall flat on its face too.




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