Our favorite city builder, Cities: Skylines, is now available on Xbox One. Does it capture the same kind of experience as its PC cousin, or does some of the magic get lost in translation. Here’s our review.
For the sake of this review, we will focus on everything that’s Xbox-specific. If you’re new to Cities: Skylines then our recent reviews of the original game and some of its DLC expansions are still available. If you want to be completely up to date on the PC version, then here is Snowfall and here is Natural Disasters. It’s worth pointing out that the Xbox One version doesn’t contain either Snowfall or Natural Disasters though – only the After Dark expansion is included, which focus on the different needs your city has after nightfall.
If you’re coming from the current PC version, this might be an issue for you – essentially, you’re taking a year and half step back in time and opting out of the extra features that Snowfall and Natural Disasters brought to the game. I’m not currently aware of plans to bring these expansions to Xbox One, let alone a matching timeline. Having played with the PC version extensively, it took me a while to shift back a gear and re-adjust myself. Before long, I realized the base game is still rock solid even without those two expansions.
What also took a while – but this was to be expected – was getting used to the Xbox One controls. Lacking mouse support (though I wonder how hard it would be for an Xbox One to support at least a wired mouse), all the intricacies of Cities: Skylines’ controls have been mapped onto the Xbox One controller. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the control scheme that has been developed works very well – and I actually enjoy moving the camera with the gamepad more than I enjoy it with a mouse on my PC.
On the Xbox controller, A selects and B cancels – whereas the X button pulls up your options to take down elements in the environment that you’ve previously built. The bulk of your options are under the Y button though – as that pulls up a magic circle of options ranging from road layout to various displays of relevant stats. Shoulder buttons mostly work like they do in the Xbox’s dashboard, allowing you to quickly navigate between menus and tabs. Sure, it won’t turn me (a long time PC player) into someone who is ready to leave his mouse and keyboard days behind him – but the fact that I was so comfortable with Skylines’ gamepad controls says a lot.
Console gamers might be surprised to learn how resource-hungry a game like Cities: Skylines really is. Despite not having explosive action scenes or large and detailed character models to control, your cities can grow to an immense size and eventually that takes its toll on your hardware. This is true as well on the PC version, even with up-to-date hardware – so it was always a question how the Xbox One version would perform.
The short but somewhat confusing answer to that question is that it performs just as well, only differently. What that means is that, in the conversion to Xbox One, the developers have used a number of clever tricks to make sure the performance hit never gets so severe that it hampers your enjoyment. Individual characters/cars don’t become visible until you zoom in more, and the resolution of structures dynamically seems to change while you move the camera around. Performance still takes a hit when you zoom in on a sprawling city, but that’s no different than it is on a PC.
Yes, the Xbox One version has a few restrictions, but mainly when you look at it from a PC perspective. Some are content-related and might be fixed with future DLC releases, while others are technical. The game can really use the extra processing power of the “S” version of the Xbox One and might benefit greatly from the upcoming Scorpio release of the console. In our tests, the performance difference between a regular Xbox One and an Xbox One S were marginal at best – with the game stretching both consoles to their limits.
Take away the PC perspective, and you’re quite simply looking at a wonderfully crafted city builder that’s been converted very well to Xbox One – now bring on the extra DLC.