Thursday 29 September 2016

Cities: Skylines review - 'Snowfall is a clever expansion and new features provide new challenges to an already detailed gaming experience'

Chris Griffin

Published 25/02/2016 | 13:42

Trams
Trams
Snow ploughs
Snow buildings
Road maintenance
Heating

Cities: Skylines has been nothing short of a phenomenon since its arrival almost 12 months ago and within that relatively short amount of time it has arguably earned the title of the best city building simulator available. It has a thriving community and the developer Colossal Order has actively encouraged this community to add to the game’s core base by creating new building assets, decorations and complex mods that enhance and change the gameplay.

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It is this community that helps to keep the game relevant and fresh but it does come with a cost. In the competitive space of games development, successfully building upon core products is essential in order to maximise revenues and provide a solid business foundation to allow for future projects. In an age where DLC and expansions are essential, how could Cities: Skylines reconcile its support for a creative community against the need to release its own paid content?

The answer lies in the way that Cities: Skylines is developed. Over the last year Colossal Order have made numerous updates to the game and provided these as part of the base price. The updates are not merely bug fixes but mostly enhancements to the game. For example, tunnels for roads and rail lines, new city themes that incorporate new building styles, a day/night cycle and various enhancements to their level and asset editors.

Recently the larger updates have coincided with the release of a paid expansion. Last September to coincide with the introduction of a free update that included a new day & night cycle, Colossal Order released their After Dark expansion. This expansion provided additional content that took advantage of the free features released to everyone. You now had the ability to zone areas that thrived at night, like leisure or tourism. This essentially allowed you to construct a city that behaved differently at night than during the day.

It’s an impressive business model with lots of advantages. It allows Colossal Order to maintain its unique relationship with its community, it allows the community to contribute to the enhancement of the game and it provides an unending source of creativity for Colossal Order to aid them in their ongoing development of the game.

The most recent expansion, Snowfall, was released last week and it demonstrates this model more than ever. Although Snowfall is a paid expansion, its release coincides with a number of free updates to the core game that everyone can enjoy. As before, Snowfall uses these free updates to provide an added experience for those who buy it.

The free upgrade introduces a new weather mechanic to the game. Your cities will now experience rain and fog and a new thermometer on the main UI will keep you informed of the current temperature of your city. The rain is pretty awesome and actually adds a wet look to everything in the game. There is a new UI for public transport, allowing you to view and modify all the various transport lines in your city from one screen.

Arguably the biggest free update is the inclusion of a Theme Editor. The theme editor will allow you to create custom textures, colours and weather conditions amongst others. It will allow you to alter the tone of the day or the darkness of the night. You can choose to have a moon made of cheese or the sun a mere dot in the sky. There is no limitation. These themes can also be downloaded from the Steam Workshop so you can enjoy the creations of others.

Then when creating or loading a new map you can choose to apply a theme. Your city will then take on all the characteristics of that theme and your quest for a high-end development next to a glistening purple lake will be complete!

At the heart of the new Snowfall expansion are three new maps. These maps have a new theme added to them that perpetuates an endless winter. There are no seasons so essentially these maps never get above freezing.  As a result everything is covered in snow and in some situations this can affect the smooth running of your city.

Snow ploughs
Snow ploughs

The snow coverage will be seen on all assets in the game, even those that you have imported from the Workshop, whether they have been designed with snow or not. The new maps add snow to everything in the game, buildings, parks, roads and even vehicles. Everything looks amazing.

When playing these three maps the thermometer starts to become important. Snowfall introduces the concept of heating. Due to the extreme cold weather conditions, your cities now demand sufficient heating to keep your citizens happy. Heating your city comes via two methods – using electricity or using a dedicated heating supply.

All buildings in the game, which are connected to the electricity supply, automatically receive heat. However, providing heat this way will require an addition supply of electricity to meet the demand and to make things more complicated, this demand fluctuates based on the current temperature of the city. The colder it is, the more electricity you will need. A high demand for electricity, especially in early game, can stifle city growth.

To combat this, Snowfall introduces some new features. There is now a new heating tab under the water section of the UI. On the winter maps this tab contains new heating pipes, a new Boiler Station and a new Geothermal Heating Plant. The boiler station and the heating plant produce hot water that will efficiently heat up your city. The heating pipes are used to transport the hot water around, much in the same way the regular water pipes supply cold water and remove sewage.  You can either lay these heating pipes directly or upgrade your normal pipes.

Snow buildings
Snow buildings

Once the snow starts to fall you will notice that it starts to accumulate on roads. Roads covered in snow affect the speed at which your traffic can operate. Left unchecked snow can cause huge traffic problems in the city. Luckily Snowfall provides a new Snow Dump building that sends out snow ploughs to clear the roads. The Snow Dump works in the same way as the Land Fill except they don’t fill up. The snow is brought back to the dump where it either melts or is used to provide snow to some of the new winter parks and buildings.

To enhance the winter theme there are a number of specialised buildings and parks that can be placed on the winter maps. These range from a Ski Lodge and Hockey stadium right up to Ski Slopes and Cross Country Skiing. Even the citizens come dressed in winter clothes.

The Snowfall expansion also adds new features that are not weather related. The main feature is the introduction of a new tram transport system. Now on all maps you will be able to build a tram depot, tram station and lines just like the existing bus system. The tram system also provides a few new road layouts that allow for both dedicated tram roads and shared roads. These roads look great and come with tram rails, electricity poles and specialised tunnels.

Another feature with Snowfall is the inclusion of a road maintenance service. A new Road Maintenance Depot is provided and that sends out maintenance trucks to keep the road network in top shape. Cities with this service will enjoy higher travel speeds on the roads for all vehicles ensuring reduced travel times for citizens. This is available on all maps.

A new Sauna building is also available. This is tagged as a medical facility and will increase the health of surrounding citizens, a lot like the effect of a medical clinic. The sauna is also available on all map types.

Road maintenance
Road maintenance

A number of new city policies are made available to better integrate the new features into the heart of city politics. You can push for extra insulation in homes, enforce snow tyres on vehicles or introduce studded shoes to prevent injuries and reduce medical costs. You can even force citizens to only use electricity for heating.

Snowfall is a clever expansion and the new features provide a new challenge to an already detailed gaming experience. The snow experience is limited to three maps but doesn’t seem to be an issue so far and with content available across all maps there is a lot on offer. The new theme editor is going to enable a lot of creative content and I doubt we’ve seen the last of the new weather system. Cities Skylines has a huge community and the Snowfall Expansion should keep them all busy for many a city to come.

Heating
Heating

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