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Cities: Skylines sets a new standard for city builders, once set by the likes of the Sim City Franchise. At first Skylines can be a little opaque. Starting a new game gives you, the prospective mayor of an empty plot of land, access to a limited variety of buildings and zones to construct. Demand for things like police and sanitation come with time and It's good that it doesn't throw you in at the deep end. Unfortunately even the shallows can be tough too.
Far too often I have an established town and large sections of it will be covered by vague icons indicating some kind of problem. The game isn't very good at telling you what they mean. For instance there is a little picture of a man that hovers above industry/commerce buildings (it actually means "lack of workers"), and whilst you might figure out that the green face with the thermometer means that the residents aren't too healthy, you'll be damned trying to figure out what is causing it. There are a multitude of reasons, but over-lays and common sense can only give you a hint. On one hand, it is great that the game takes the time to simulate things like what would happen if you direct your city's tap water supply straight from the sewage outflow, but on the other it leads to some baffling, counter-intuitive situations. You might want to make a dense zone of skyscrapers and big roads, only to see the locals drop like flies because sound and air pollution causes near instantaneous death. The railway track or major road by your house might not be doing you any favours in real life, but as far as the game is concerned, you are a dead man walking.
The game comes into its stride when you reach a substantial city size and you have to start caring about roads. Oh my gosh, the roads! They are so much fun to carve and tinker with, creating lovely looping causeways or spaghetti junction madness. Skylines will quickly turn you into this tremendously boring person who is fascinated by all the types of road intersections, or who justifies displacing hundreds of residents just to level their houses and build a slightly more shapely road in their place. The entirety of Cities:Skylines could have been just the road design, and it would still be a strong enough mechanic to sell the game.
One issue I have with Skylines, and of city builders in general, is the bias towards developed, Westernised cities. Besides Tropico, city builders will outright ignore the existence of cities in developing countries. It's a shame because, beyond the aesthetic variety offered, when simulating a Jakarta or a Bengaluru you've got things like corruption, slums, ghetto-isation and other "unclean", but interesting mechanical challenges that don't exist in the sanitised likes of Skylines.
Otherwise, Skylines is a fun diversion marred only by the lack of a more detailed tutorial. I fully recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in city building games.
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