Review: Cities: Skylines — Worthy city-building simulation on Xbox One

There are a few building simulators on Xbox One but none of them compare to the depth offered in Cities: Skylines. Tropico 5: Penultimate Edition focuses more on superficial management because the tasks presented before you—like pleasing the American delegation—take precedence over the rest. You also don’t have to think about the most efficient way to lay down sewers so that your populace is content with their living conditions. Industry Giant II is more about growing your business than actually planning out the intricacies of your properties. Cities: Skylines occupies a unique space on Xbox One because there isn’t anything like it on the console.

Cities: Skylines occupies a unique space on Xbox One

When it comes to city building games, the controls are the most important element. As with any top-down experience which requires careful selecting and placement, there are certain challenges because you’re limited to a controller. On PC this isn’t an issue because everyone has the precision of a mouse, but that doesn’t apply to consoles. Developers need to take this into account when porting their games to Xbox One.

Luckily, Tantalus Media managed to do this because Cities: Skylines is a joy to play even with a controller. Choosing units, laying roads, pipes and zones is simple as well as intuitive. In some cases it might be easier than using a mouse and keyboard because it’s faster to quickly build and demolish objects with the press of a button. While the default joystick settings may be a bit sensitive, you can easily change the sensitivity in the menus and lower it to increase accuracy.

Unlike games like Industry Giant II and Tropico 5, Cities: Skylines isn’t daunting for beginners. When you start off with a new plot of land, you’re given the option to choose settings like Unlimited Funds and Unlocking All Milestones. While this disables achievements, it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the mechanics. You aren’t penalized for your mistakes and have the luxury to learn at a rapid pace because there aren’t consequences like going over budget.

You aren’t penalized for your mistakes and have the luxury to learn

Cities: Skylines opens up for you slowly but steadily. You should start the game with Unlimited Funds but keeping the milestones intact. This gives you a great way to explore all mechanics because you’re guided through the basics like building roads, houses and then moving onto advanced services like fire stations and police. This is a strategy which can be used whenever you’re starting a new city because it ensures you don’t run out of funds.

Cities: Skylines’ menus are optimized for consoles because they’re large and easy to see. A great comparison demonstrating the difference is how Kerbal Space Program looks on Xbox One. Kerbal Space Program features walls of minuscule text and it’s daunting having to go up close to your television and read paragraphs of banal writing. Surely the developers could’ve made the fonts bigger instead of simply ignoring the needs of console gamers. Cities: Skylines takes all of these issues into account and it’s a thoughtful port.

There are some problems with Cities: Skylines on Xbox One though, and they pertain to the game’s performance and visuals. First of all, the title appears to be rather soft. The graphics aren’t as crisp as you would want in a city building simulator to see all the detail. However, it also appears that the texture filtering is quite low and objects pop in and out of existence depending on if you’re zoomed in or not. While it’s understandable that it’s hard to create sprawling cities on console, the developers could’ve still used other visual techniques to preserve performance. If you manage to grow your city to one which has hundreds of thousands of people, you’ll notice how the visuals are dynamically scaled to maintain performance. This results in a jarring experience and reminds you why building simulators are superior on PC.

Texture filtering is quite low and objects pop in and out of existence

Another example of the visuals limiting gameplay has to be how you can’t tell if there’s a traffic jam going on. Like any thorough city building game, you can manage traffic and have to adjust roads accordingly. Because you have to be zoomed in all the way to see traffic, you sometimes ignore problems for long periods of time when you’re planning other aspects of your metropolis. This hurts your city. On PC it’s easy to spot these problems but on console you constantly have to look at the information panel or zoom in around the city and examine every intersection yourself. Maybe incorporating alerts which popped up on certain sections of the road would’ve been the way to go here. There needs to be a way to overcome the limitations of the hardware by adding new systems to the game. It seems like the developers were focused on simplifying the game rather than developing ways to overcome its technical challenges on Xbox One through clever additions.

Despite these minor annoyances, Cities: Skylines on Xbox One remains an incredible game. You just have to play it in a slightly different way than you’re used to on PC. The experience is leagues ahead of games like Industry Giant II and Tropico 5 because of the fact that you have control over everything and can do whatever you want. You aren’t accountable to anyone and can let your creativity run amok. Tropico 5 approaches this sense of freedom on Xbox One but Cities: Skylines realizes that vision. If you enjoyed games like SimCity growing up, you owe it to yourself to play Cities: Skylines because it’s deep and addictive. It’s also one of the best games on the platform!