Cities Skylines Review: Traffic Pile-up on The Learning Curve

With Cities: Skylines, you have the chance to plan the city of your dreams, complete with a complex road sysem and economic infrastructure. However, the game's steep learning curve and vague status feedback might put-off a lot of would-be mayors. How well did our city fare? Our review.


There's something almost meditative about playing a city planning game like Cities: Skylines. It comes from the satisfaction of watching a well-planned city in action, with the constant thrum of traffic, and its residents doing daily routines like clockwork. However, getting there and becoming the perfect mayor requires know-how and strategy. Although Cities: Skylines gives you the tools you need to build the city of your dreams, it lacks instruction for properly utilizing them.

Building a Skyline

To start the game, you select a map that's full of empty space, then start constructing a town using limited resources. You have to plan out a road system and other infrastructure like water pipes and electricity. Unlike games like SimCity, you don't have to worry about weather conditions or natural disasters. It's always a sunny day, wherever you are, in Skylines. Your city will grow as you designate residential, commercial, and industrial areas. Meters on the bottom of the screen will show what's in demand so that you develop your city accordingly.

New buildings and features unlock as your population grows. Before you know it, your list of concerns will include education, emergency response, and pollution, among a host of other issues. It's your job to keep the city growing and evolving with high end residential and commercial districts, a low unemployment rate, and a road system that minimizes traffic problems while keeping the residents happy.

It soon becomes a lot to juggle, especially when trying to work in mass transit systems as they unlock, like a bus terminal and subway system. You also have to balance between the needs of the demands of the city to maintain a steady revenue. It's possible to have too many educated people in your city, which causes industrial worker numbers to plummet. Then there are a host of other issues your city might be prone to.

Communications Breakdown

The problem with all of this is that Cities: Skylines isn't very good with player feedback. There's a Twitter-like update system called Chirpy, but it's really silly. Messages about trash piling up or rolling blackouts are mixed in with silly messages like what a nice day it is, or someone reporting a lost wallet. There's no way to dismiss all the messages at once (you have to close them one at a time), so it becomes very easy to ignore the Chirpy feed altogether.

Players shouldn't have to rely on Chirpy for city alerts. There should be an advisor letting me know when my landfill is almost full, if power or water consumption is reaching peak capacity, or if my residents are largely over-educated. As it is, no new people will move into my city until I grow my industrial sector. But there's no point in adding more zones, because the existing ones are clearly failing. Meanwhile, building a highway system caused my commercial districts to crumble, when in real life, you would expect the exact opposite to happen.

As you can probably guess, the learning curve is quite high for Cities: Skylines, and it would probably be a good idea to get experience with a less hardcore city planning game before diving into this one. Object descriptions are sorely lacking, and it's often hard to figure out how to work with a building after you've placed it. For example, I placed a bus terminal and created a route. However, there's no intuitive way to delete the bus route and start over as my city evolves. The best I could do was move around the existing route, which can be a painfully annoying task.

I also purchased a train station by accident, even though the map I was playing on didn't have a supporting rail system. Still, having a train terminal that went nowhere seemed to make my residents happy, so I kept it. The game could really benefit from an undo button, especially when planning roads and other infrastructure. Unfortunately, you're limited to bulldozing over your mistakes and getting a small refund.

Stop and Go Motion

The most confusing and irritating aspect of Cities: Skylines is the one feature it's supposed to excel at: roads. Everything has to be attached to a main street (but not a highway). Buildings can only be placed on the tiles on the immediate sides of roads, which encourages grid box planning. Even subway entrances need to be placed next to a road. So, my plans of having a subway entrance come up in the heart of a office sector are dashed.

Skylines offers a host of options for alleviating traffic congestion, but they're often in the form of unwieldy roundabouts that don't fit well into gridded cities. Or they're come in the form of monstrous highway clovers that are almost impossible to place. Skylines could really use a sandbox mode, where players can try out all the city upgrades and learn to use them without worrying about a budget or city wants.

Once you get a feel for the game, Cities: Skylines can be quite satisfying and fun to play. But getting there can feel like trying to build a house without blueprints and only a vague idea of how to use each tool.

Managing Editor
Review for
Cities: Skylines
  • Highly detailed infrastructure system
  • Lots of options for city planning
  • Not enough player feedback
  • Chirpy system is annoying
  • High learning curve
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 2, 2015 12:30 PM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Cities Skylines Review: Traffic Pile-up on The Learning Curve

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      April 2, 2015 1:06 PM

      I disagree.

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      April 2, 2015 1:22 PM


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      April 2, 2015 1:24 PM

      Not even a single mention of the Workshop integration?

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      April 2, 2015 1:27 PM


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        April 2, 2015 1:28 PM


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          April 2, 2015 1:34 PM

          This "review" really feels phoned in. I didn't want to shit on it, but it's really short and totally vague about everything.

          "You can build some stuff and traffic is hard" is about all I got out of it. :(

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            April 2, 2015 2:51 PM

            Yeah, Shack reviews are pretty weak. The writing is just average, and it's very difficult (at least to me) to understand the points made. I mean, look at as another example.

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              April 2, 2015 3:47 PM

              My major problem is that none of the writers have a distinct voice. Maybe Ozzie and Asif, but with the others I need the by-line to find out who barfed some platitudes onto the page. I don't like to be this harsh, but most reviews have really weak arguments. It hurts their purpose and gives them an advertorial feeling.

              I miss someone unique like Alice. :(

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            April 2, 2015 5:23 PM

            I suspect it's more to do with the person reviewing the game not being interested in simulations. I phoned in a review long ago on GA-Source when I was made to review Dark Reign 2 and I had no interest in RTS games, so the review was pretty basic and showed my lack of experience in that genre. On one hand the review gave the perspective of someone inexperienced with a RTS game, but on the other the more hardcore into that genre got nothing out of it.

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          April 2, 2015 1:38 PM


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      April 2, 2015 1:32 PM

      + Mod Community

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      April 2, 2015 1:40 PM

      High learning curve?? Really? Have you played a city building game before? It's basically SimCity lite with more traffic problems. It's really hard to lose money in this game.

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        April 2, 2015 1:44 PM

        The more times I read this review, the more I am disappointed that it got published on this website. It's like Steven played it for about an hour, had no previous knowledge of what a city-building game is, and didn't try to learn from his mistakes the first time on a second playthrough.

        In Cities, your first map will fail most likely, but then you learn and go crush the second map...

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      April 2, 2015 1:43 PM


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      April 2, 2015 2:01 PM

      I realize that a lot of people love this game because of nostalgia, but a 7? Come on! I'd give it a solid 9. Hell, knock a point off for the nostalgia factor and give it an 8.

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        April 2, 2015 2:06 PM

        It is in contention for my GOTY.

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          April 2, 2015 2:18 PM

          Mine too! That's why I would personally give it a 9. Def a GotY contender.

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          April 2, 2015 10:47 PM

          It's managed to keep me up nights. Takes a lot for a game to do that these days. Also, thud is totally right!

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        April 2, 2015 2:08 PM

        Nostalgia? What is nostalgic about it? Its like saying people like the new COD because its an fps and they loved doom growing up so they were feeling nostalgic.

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          April 2, 2015 2:09 PM


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          April 2, 2015 2:21 PM

          I started with Simcity 2000. I played with friends because I didn't have a PC that could run it. It was a major component of my PC gaming experience, hence I look on city building games of it's type with a great deal of fondness and nostalgic feelings.

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          April 2, 2015 2:49 PM


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      April 2, 2015 2:12 PM

      It has a Sandbox mode, just enable the unlimited money and unlock all mods.

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      April 2, 2015 6:03 PM

      I don't think I'd agree that the learning curve on this game is high at all. It was pretty easy to jump in and just play. Within the first couple of hours I started playing my city was making a pretty solid steady income, and I've never gone into the red since then. If anything, one of my only complaints about the game is that it's a little TOO easy.

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      April 2, 2015 6:12 PM

      Did Steven even play the game?

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      April 2, 2015 8:18 PM

      Steep learning curve?? Terrible review.

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      April 2, 2015 9:56 PM

      I did not enjoy this review, nor did I find it representative of my time spent with the game.

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      April 2, 2015 10:53 PM


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      April 3, 2015 5:57 AM

      Gotta say I disagree with the words of this review. I think the score is okay (Assuming we're thinking of it as a real scale of 1 to 10 and not a metacritic scale of 99% of games fitting between 70 and 100) and a fairly accurate representation. The game is very very fun, with some frustrations and limitations. 7/10 seems fair.

      But man a steep learning curve? I felt like the first five minutes could have been better, maybe include a breif tutorial. But after that I picked up everything easily without even having to look stuff up.

      Also a lot of the problems you mention are totally already fixed with mods. Don't like Chirpy? Disable it, or better yet use the mod that filters out the flavour tweets and only puts the status updates ones in. Roundabouts too big? Download some of the awesome roundabouts pre-created in the workshop.

      The game comes pre-loaded with a mod which lets you do the sandbox mode you described, all you have to do is turn it on.

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      April 3, 2015 5:59 AM

      7/10 is like 3.5/5 which is low IMO, its easily 8+

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