City Sims are some of the most intricate titles in the video game medium. They require the player to think ahead, plan accordingly, and please the simulated people living in their city. These games aren’t for everyone, and for the most part they’ve kept to themselves on the PC, where the mouse and keyboard controls really complement the gameplay. But every once in a while a title comes along and tries to break through to the other side and succeed on consoles. Originally a strong PC title, Cities: Skylines - Xbox One Edition is the debut entry of the series on consoles, and with it comes some growing pains.
Don’t get me wrong, as far as city sims go, it’s hard to find a title as consistently fun as Cities: Skylines. Released in 2015 by Paradox interactive, Cities Skylines picked up the torch that Sim City dropped a few years back, working as almost a spiritual successor to that franchise—even if it isn’t quite dead. Players choose from different landscapes that have different terrains and varying amounts of natural resources. From there, they lay out the roads to their cities, create districts, and supply those districts with amenities like power and water. Users can also control things like taxes, offering even more depth. It’s all about balance, as players must keep in mind what the city needs as well as what the people desire. Fortunately, prospective mayors won’t have to guess what the citizens want because they have a habit of passive-aggressively tweeting about how horrible you are until you build a windmill or something. If citizens are unhappy, it will affect the city. Buildings will be abandoned, revenue goes down and you’ll get constant tweets about how much the city sucks (no, I’m not over the tweets!). Aside from that, there’s actually a lot of infrastructure to lay out from emergency services to decorations and even public transportation. It can seem overwhelming at first, but after a few hours, Cities: Skylines goes from an intimidating simulation to a deep but manageable experience.
But the game is two years old, so this isn’t really news to anyone. Cities: Skylines - Xbox One Edition brings this experience to the living room, swapping the monitor for a TV screen, a mouse and keyboard for a controller and a desk for a nice couch. Packed in this edition is the “After Dark” expansion, which allows players to see their cities come to life at night—a really a nice touch, even if it’s mostly visual. The controller support works rather well with the right stick controlling the cursor and the left stick controlling the camera. Triggers allow players to zoom in and out, while the face buttons all serve different purposes, from receiving information to building and demolition. But while the controller works, it’s hard to say if it’s better than the original controls. Call me old fashioned, but a mouse and keyboard really is the best way to experience this genre, and I felt things as simple as building a straight road or even going to the other end of my town took a little longer in this version. With that being said, tasks, like elevating roads or creating tunnels, are a little more streamlined with the D-Pad. It’s a mixed bag it seems. How well the controller gameplay works could be up to the individual player.
Thankfully, that’s not a serious complaint, and for the most part, the rest of the game still looks and feels like Cities: Skylines. Retaining its less than realistic aesthetic, Cities: Skylines - Xbox One Edition looks just as good on consoles as it does on PC. This version looks more like a port than a completely new experience. The soundtrack is also back, with its calming, Sims-like inspiration, and it always fades into the background perfectly. Even the environmental sounds are great when players zoom in close to the city streets to observe their progress. This is very true to the original experience, now brought to home consoles for those who may have never had the chance to try it out.
If you’re one of those people, there isn’t a better example of a city sim on consoles. It’s a faithful port of one of the best titles in its class with a new control scheme and one of the more interesting expansions packed in. It’s just unfortunate that the genre itself feels like an awkward teenager on this platform. It sort of knows what it wants to be; it just doesn’t quite know how to go about doing it.