Publisher: Paradox Interactive
When I first heard that Cities: Skylines was being ported to Xbox One, the first reaction to that was questioning how it was even possible to play a city building simulator game on a console. With the rise of Halo Wars, it seemed possible, but for a game such as Cities: Skylines, and its vast array of options and build styles, it seemed like it would be doomed from the start. As someone who has put in several hundred hours of gameplay on Cities: Skylines on Steam, I was ready to scrutinize the game on a console. However, it would seem from my initial thoughts, I was severely wrong.
Developer: Tantalus Media
Review platform: Xbox One
Release date: Apr 21, 2017
Cities: Skylines was initially built and released on Steam by one of my favorite game developers. When starting the game, everything seems quite normal, the title screen and map selection screen seem ordinary albeit a bit larger to make it easier to see on a large display. The game offers the prospective city builder a wide variety of options from the get-go, much like the Steam version. You can also make the game much easier by selecting either the "infinite money" or "unlock all buildings" options. However, I stayed clear of those since I prefer to take things slowly, unlocking new technologies as I progress.
When you start the game, it greets you with a simple message and starts running through the basics. All menu items have been relocated to the bottom of the screen, with the main items available to choose by using the D-pad on the controller. Selecting one of the options—namely Roads, Zoning and Electricity—will open up a smaller sub-menu to the top of the selection. This also can be navigated by your D-pad.
A radial menu can be opened by pressing and holding the Y button on your controller, where you can access things like the Budget and Economy screen and City Information. Beyond that, the Y menu is contextually-aware, changing whether or not you’re building something. For example, when you build a road, the Y menu changes to accommodate items where you can choose to build either a straight road or free-form. Little touches like this truly enhance the experience on Xbox One.
Navigation around the map is made possible by the two joysticks, and the trigger buttons—trigger buttons being relegated to zooming. Once you choose to build something, the joysticks change and allow you to plot down buildings and roads. I had a slight issue with the sensitivity of this and changed this from the start in the options menu because they were a bit too quick or inaccurate. I would highly recommend you change this too.
Now that I’ve explained the control scheme in general, how about the gameplay? Well, as someone who has experienced the city building simulator on Steam, it struck me as quite limited at first. Yes, the game does not feature all the small intricacies you would see on the Steam version, with building options being limited at first. The game also does not allow you to speed up time, making the title extremely slow initially. However, these limitations quickly pass as you progress, and the limitations become more palatable as your city grows and keeps you busy while certain aspects are being expanded.
The Xbox One version, however, is easier to navigate than the Steam version in my opinion mainly due to the fact that the controls are easily accessible. On Steam, the game relegates the navigation of the map to strange and often unusable keyboard and mouse configurations, causing you to rarely experience the tiny details of your city. Beyond that, I enjoyed building my city a lot more on this version being able to sit back on the bed and couch. If I had to complain, I would ask the developers to add the ability to speed up time, much like how you pause the progression. If the ability already exists, it's probably buried somewhere I couldn't find, which is a problem in itself.
Much like the Steam version, the game is divided up into milestones. When you first start off you’re saddled with a rather limited sum of money, and a limited selection of buildings to choose from. As your population grows, you hit specific milestones. However, I always recommend the player take things slowly at first, aiming to become profitable instead of trying to hit a specific milestone. Initially, I would also recommend gamers to lower the Budgets of specific services to their minimum and gradually increase this as the city grows. Do everything it takes to save money!
All in all, the game offers a comparable, mostly simplified experience to the main Steam game, but this plays to the title’s strengths instead of limiting the freedom of the player. The Xbox One version is great and definitely recommended in my book.
Graphically the game is similar to that of the PC version, depending on at which settings you would play. However, the game runs much better than on what you would expect from a similar PC experience. But I have noticed some things that have been somewhat jarring at first.
On the Xbox One version, the draw distance has been extremely shortened, to the point where you cannot see any of the sprites or their vehicles unless you’re zoomed in. Sometimes the trees would pop in and out of existence, and the detail in the road and buildings would be significantly deteriorated the further you go out. On top of that, the aliasing becomes an issue once the city grows to a significant size. I managed to grow my city to around 19,000, and at that point, the graphical fidelity was clearly being dynamically altered to accommodate the sheer size of the city. However, these issues were to be expected from a console iteration, since it takes quite a hefty system to render a city with populations closer to a million.
The game also threw me off kilter with how they display the traffic in the city. On Steam, I always had a massive traffic issue for most of my gaming experience. But on the console version, this wasn't apparent until you opened the City Information display, showing red all around. Zooming in quite close will show this backed up traffic, but I would hope that the game would increase this point-of-view with the increased horsepower of Project Scorpio, due later this year. Visual cues in the game itself are always helpful, instead of requiring the gamer to open different menus to gain access to that information.
Water physics in Cities: Skylines have always been a bit bonkers, and this hasn't changed on the Xbox One edition of the game. In my city, I have noticed the river flowing uphill in specific places, something that is quite funny at first. I haven’t tried to build another canal after creating a new lake in the middle of my city on Steam, so the physics might be even stranger.
As someone who has enjoyed the game on Steam, the Xbox One version of this game has surprised me by how brilliantly the developers have implemented it on the console. It was implemented so well that it has become my preferred way to play for the most part. Limitations of the console aside, the game elegantly scales to match the playstyle of most console gamers, without slowing down the system to the point where it becomes unplayable, opting to dynamically adjust the fidelity to ensure high performance.
Although the game does have some issues, mainly the inability to draw items in detail from further out, the gameplay experience and underlying systems have been tailor made for the controller. The control scheme was pretty easy to get into and before I knew it I was building like a seasoned player.
Cities: Skylines overall is one of, if not the best implementation of a Steam game on console, and Tantalus Media must be praised for their ingenuity overall. This might be the beginning of their move towards bringing bigger franchises to console in the future. My hope is for Tyranny.
Is the game for everyone? Well, that depends in the end, since the game does offer a challenge for each type of gamer while keeping it simple for the novice. It can use some adjustments, mainly in the time-lapse department as it can become quite slow off the bat. However, the game earns its stripes and is a must-have title on Xbox One this year.
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