City simulator games have fascinated me since my early days watching my dad play Simcity on his Commodore Amiga 2000. I wondered what the allure was of building a city where there was no action, no coins to collect, but you must expand your city into a thriving, accessible metropolis. But then I saw a tornado blow through and realized it’s a fragile ecosystem, and I have been mystified ever since. That was also almost 20 years ago, and while some things stay the same, the world of city simulators has become more sophisticated as shown in Cities: Skylines 2, and I’m happy to provide my review.
Past the Tutorial is an Oasis of Growth Potential
When I started up the game, I opted into the tutorial because it’s been a while since I played any city simulator. Since I wanted to test its feel both on PC and on console, I tried learning on the tutorial while getting familiar with the keyboard and mouse, as well as the gamepad for the UI. But there’s no escaping it: the tutorial can be overwhelming for a lot of players because there’s a lot it needs to cover.
When you begin your city-building adventure, I still recommend this as you’ll learn the intricacies of the game. You’ll be able to quickly pick up the basics of zoning for residence, commerce, etc., while also learning about electricity, water, waste management, and the various services of the game. But past the tutorial is an oasis of growth potential, and once you complete it, maybe starting a fresh city, you’ll feel quickly at home. I learned the mechanics within one session, and then the finer points set in organically as I played more sessions, and one hour quickly turned into ten.
Learn to Live With and Even Laugh at Your Mistakes
Simulation games can often be a focused affair where you have to learn a complicated set of mechanics to succeed. But too often, they’re too realistic for their good, and messing up is often more frustrating without feeling like as much of a learning mistake. But with advisors at your disposal in the game, you’ll quickly learn what you did wrong and can fix it quickly.
Cities: Skylines 2 has a Twitter analogue (Chirping, because Elon can’t take it away entirely) that lets you see people’s social media posts commenting on a crisis unfolding. Oftentimes it’s your fault, but sometimes it can be matters out of your hands; the important thing to remember is what you can do to fix it.
I learned this when I built an industrial district in the woods, and then put a groundwater pumping station in the middle. Why do this? Because they needed a water supply and my current one wasn’t sufficient. But then, all too suddenly, the nearby residents were getting sick from the tapwater; it was getting polluted by the nearby industrial work, then distributed to the citizens. I bulldozed the station and built one elsewhere that also had clean water.
But this wasn’t my only mistake. I had built a coal power plant, and then built a medium-volume residential district downwind of it, and surprise, air pollution! There was also an instance where I built a train station, but had it completely boxed in by commerce and the edge of city limits, so no tracks could go anywhere. Once again, we live and learn.
My most hilarious instance was when I built a stretch of homes right next to a river, and to my shock, the nearby homes flooded, so I desperately terraformed a hideous abomination sticking out of the ground to shield the nearby houses from future floods. While it was ugly upon a glance, I quickly embraced my newly-dubbed Satan’s Pincer, and guess what: it’s prime real estate. Through this, you can learn to live with and even laugh at your mistakes.
The Voiceover is Funny but Repetitive
Voiceover for strategy and sim games can often be taken for granted, but in a bid to make the games fun, Cities: Skylines 2 has some amusing fictionalized radio personalities. They immerse you into the game more fully by providing an organic commentary on what’s going on. Your city might be undergoing rolling blackouts due to a changeup in your power grid, or you might have a water shortage, and they’ll comment.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this feature, but when you have especially long sessions, you realize that you recognize the same lines coming from different voices. The whole “save water, shower with a friend” joke is fun but gets old even after hearing it twice in one session. The voiceover is funny but repetitive, yet this issue is pretty forgivable in the grand scheme of things; at least it’s not spamming about constructing additional pylons.
The Biggest Issue is Easily Performance
I’ll happily play a game with performance issues if its mechanics are still fun. I’ll begrudgingly continue playing if those issues are slow to fix but there are still things to discover. I’ll quietly abandon a game if there’s no sign of a fix. In the case of Cities: Skylines 2, the developers at Colossal Order have already made players aware that the PC version wasn’t delayed, but will roll out updates beyond the initial launch period.
For me, while playing the game and getting past things like learning how to snap pipes and electricity lines onto each other, the biggest issue is easily performance. As you grow your city, it makes the game more taxing on your rig, with the game slowing considerably. At Nighttime I’d feel the sting, and even though it’s still a moderate framerate drop (not the level of Korok Forest, for instance) you’ll feel it as you build your city, at least for now. With the console release not coming until 2024, this issue can hopefully be resolved soon, as it can take the fun out of building your city to greater heights.
Cities: Skylines 2 is entertaining and intelligent, with plenty of varieties in the environments you can build upon to create different types of communities. You can channel the natural wind power of your region or build hydroelectric grids. You can build a thriving transportation system, fight fires, care for the sick, and bury the dead while welcoming new residents.
In many ways, Cities: Skylines 2 is addictive, but the word ‘addictive’ should be taken subjectively. The game has good addictive potential, like the runner’s high after intense exercise or a delicious cup of coffee. But it also has bad addictive potential, like a narcotic, as you grind through the performance issues because you know it’ll get good again soon, and you know your rig can totally handle it, as you promise to your friends.