Zoning out in Cities: Skylines

Why yes, I do have Call of Duty: Warzone’s 100-player Battle Royale… thing… downloaded on my PS4; I have some challenges ready to be mopped up in Doom Eternal; my PES 2020 Master League team needs some work to become the world-beater I know it can be.

There’s plenty I can be True Gaming with, playing the pure and right games that will make people know I am serious about the very serious business of playing computer games in my ever-more-fleeting free time. I’ve spent most of the weekend (at the time of writing, at least) planning bus routes.

And train routes, and subway routes, and trying to re-route traffic so it didn’t snarl up when people came into my metropolis off the freeway. Oh, and accidentally flooding another part of that same freeway when building a hydropower dam in a place it really shouldn’t have gone.

Yep, it’s Cities: Skylines – Colossal Order’s fantastic SimCity-alike that grabbed the baton from Maxis’ once-great series and ran like hell with it. This is another one of those situations where, were I to don my reviewer’s beret, I would be sneering cynically at elements of the game.

For one, I’m playing it on Switch, which regularly chugs worse than that aforementioned freeway choke point. But it’s bearable, just about. For another, you’re just sort of playing it, without any real goals beyond expansion in mind. It’s fun to adopt the mentality of the British Empire at times, sure, but with no real breakdown of goals beyond that endless stretching, it does feel a bit aimless after a while.

Yeeeeeah, planning bus routes. Bliss.

But the beret of True Opinion is in its protective case; this is just me, playing a game, because the world’s gone a bit wonky and I want to exercise some control over things.

I still didn’t expect that need for control to manifest itself in the form of bus routes, though. The complexity of Skylines’ simulation isn’t so much that it’s hard to play in any way, but there is depth to things beyond what you might initially expect – more so if you really want to run an efficient ship. City. Whatever.

Public transport is required to get your people around the mini world you’ve created, and bus (and train, tram, etc) routes have to be plotted out to get commuters from home to work and back again. It’s not hard to do. It’s hard to get right. I still haven’t got it right.

But the relaxation felt through the simple act of floating through a city of my own creation – one that’s organically grown into districts before my very eyes, one that I almost ruined by turning the entire downtown financial sector into a theatre district – and plotting out a route for number 34 is just lovely.

Admittedly, it’s backed up by some serious frustration about how bad I am at planning roads, intersections, and placement of freeway off-ramps. But what can you do?

You could also try…

Mobile, PC

A city builder that was so good on mobile it bagged itself a port to PC. It’s no Cities: Skylines, but it’s great fun in its own right – and well-suited to mobile.


More survival than city builder, RimWorld nonetheless bags a place in this list of recommended-alikes in one part because it’s brilliant, and another part to remind me to give it a proper entry in the mag’s Now playing pages.

SimCity 2000
PC, SNES, others

Yeah well, a SimCity has to be included, so why not the one that isn’t necessarily the best, but has the fondest memories attached to it? It’s limited by modern standards, but still great fun.

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