STAFF REVIEW of Cities: Skylines - Xbox One Edition (Xbox One)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Cities: Skylines - Xbox One Edition Box art When you think city building games, and how they began, you’ll most likely think of Sim City right away, depending on your age and gaming history. It’s no secret that after the debacle of Sim City 4’s launch, the brand hasn’t been what it once used to be, and in those shadows has emerged a new, and arguably more feature rich, city builder over the years. I’m of course talking about the Cities games.

Released back in 2015 for PC, Cities: Skylines made a big impact on the city simulation genre. It was robust and offered some fantastic gameplay, and now just a couple of short years later we finally have a console edition for Xbox One. Fear not, as there are no online requirements, other any other arbitrary barriers, to block you from playing, but how well can a very in-depth city builder translate to console when going from keyboard and mouse to a controller? Turns out developer Tantalus Media has somehow figured out the very solution, making Skylines a wonderful console experience for those of us longing to build our dream cities.

Skylines not only is just a port of the PC title, but it also includes the popular After Dark expansion, adding more content and a complete day and night cycle for those that want to experience it. Simply building a few roads and buildings won’t cut it though, as there’s so much depth here that you’ll need to play for a while to learn all of its intricacies and how to best solve your populations ever changing needs and problems.

As you begin your first city building adventure, you’ll be able to choose your backdrop. Some areas have more watered space than others, and each has different amounts of resources. While there’s not really a hard or easy mode, there is the fantastic decision to include an option for “infinite money” and “unlock all buildings”. I would suggest building a city or two with these options on until you learn how to set up the basics for your city, like energy grids, water ways, traffic flow and more. Take note though, playing with these options enabled does disable any achievements, so those wanting to add to their Gamerscore are going to have to earn them the legitimate way.

You're taught the basics at first, like how to lay down some roads, building an energy source, connecting powerlines and creating waterways for sewage and fresh water. While the hints are helpful, they could have been a little more in-depth, as it took me some time to figure out how to setup my pipelines properly, not knowing I had to connect them all to the same system for it to flow correctly. This is just one of a handful of things you’ll need to figure out yourself before becoming a great city builder in Skylines, which is why I suggest playing with the unlimited money option the first few times.

All of your menu options are located along the bottom of the screen in different categories. Once you select one of the categories, more options open up to you, so if you want to build a road, you open the road menu and that will give you a bunch of more options, like one way streets, highways, etc, depending on what you’ve unlocked up to that point. Navigating these menus is very simple with the D-Pad, and while a little more information would have been helpful, you’ll eventually figure it all out with some simple trial and error.

If you’re not playing with unlimited money, you’re going to want to start out small, simply building a road or two and setting up all your infrastructure before you slowly start to expand. Expand too quickly and your expenses will outweigh your income, and it takes time for your city to grow in population. Slow and steady is how you want to progress. Seeing your city evolve and expand is a lot of fun, especially once you hit thousands of citizens and witness how busy your creation is becoming.

Once you get the hang of how to generally build and expand, there’s more depth hidden underneath for those that want even more flexibility and customization. There’s a whole menu dealing with your economy and loans, zoning areas to specialize in certain traits, and a whole bunch of graphs and charts for those that truly want to deep-dive into the inner workings of their city. Even after dozens of hours playing, I’m still learning how to efficiently run my city as best as I can, as there’s a lot here to learn if you want to even balance budgets for nearly everything.

You’re given the option to pause time if you wish, allowing you to plan and build without anything distracting you or your metrics changing, but unfortunately one feature that has been left out of the console version is the ability to fast forward time. Sometimes you have everything built just how you want and you'll need to simply wait as your city populates even more, as there are certain milestones to reach that unlock a bunch of features and buildings. Sadly, you’re unable to speed up time, so you’ll need to leave the game running if you’re simply biding time for whatever reason. This isn’t a major drawback, but defiantly something that is lacking when you become proficient at constructing your city.

The first city or two is actually a little overwhelming, even with infinite money enabled, as there’s simply so much to do and learn. Planning roads is one thing, but adding a bus system is a whole other ballgame, as you need to create lines, routes, stops and more. The same goes for taxis and trains. You’ll begin with a single squared area, but can eventually expand up to nine of these squares should you wish to create a massive metropolis.

Eventually you’ll need to focus on meeting all of your citizen’s needs and desires as you expand. You’ll need to make sure there’s enough schools and educated people, a police force, hospitals, parks, and a whole lot more. You can create specific laws for certain areas should you wish, like pet bans, smoking bans, no noise allowed after certain times and more. These policies allow you to create a truly unique city with different suburbs and districts, allowing for more freedom of creation.

The biggest win that Skylines has on console is how fluid and natural the controls feel and work. It’s incredibly simple to create what you want, how you want, without any effort required. Essentially everything you need is only a button press or two away, even if you want to switch from straight roads to curved or free-form. Holding the ‘Y’ button allows for context sensitive options and information to be displayed or chosen, something that you’ll need to learn on your own, as it’s not really taught to you.

Also simplified is the ability to snap roads, pipes, powerlines and more together. While the snapping will do most of the work for you, sometimes you’ll need to zoom in with the triggers if you want a very precise placement, as doing things zoomed out can be a little trickier if you want something placed perfectly. There are times where I’ll be placing a road or powerlines through another road or other obstacle, and it’s not smart enough to know to move over the blocked object a hair so I can place it. Something like this forces you to demolish the object and build what you wanted in the first place, making for an extra step, something that could have been a simple solution with a confirmation instead.

While Skylines doesn’t have all of the up to date expansions and DLC found on PC, After Dark is included, which is highly praised for its day-night cycle and additions of new policies, zones, transportation (taxis!) and more. I was hoping for mod inclusion, but alas, we’ll have to do without for this first time console release.

There’s obviously some give and take needed to bring Skylines to console, as the draw distance is nowhere near what it is compared to PC, especially with the traffic. You can see individual cars and people, but only when you’re zoomed in quite close, the same goes for foliage and other small details. The larger your city grows the more that’s going on underneath the hood, and it seems this is where sacrifices had to be made. There’s the odd framerate hiccup, but nothing major or deal breaking.

I was truly impressed with how Cities: Skylines port to console performed, not just in its implementation, but its obvious that a conscious effort has been made to make this version feel natural on console. It’s great to see your humble town evolve into a massive metropolis, becoming more and more expansive and intricate as your population grows.

Kudos to Tantalus Media for streamlining the menu system into an easy to use and understand layout. This is a fantastic step in the right direction and proves that city building games, previously thought of as PC-only, can work well on console if done with the right amount of effort and care. Being able to relax on the couch and slowly grow one's city as mayor is fantastic, and even with its few limitations and sacrifices, Cities: Skylines is clearly the go-to for city simulation/building game on console.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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