Cities Skylines: Sunset Harbor - title

I was starting to wonder if maybe Colossal Order was done with Cities: Skylines, or they had moved on to development of a full sequel. After releasing two expansions per year since the game's launch in 2015, we've now gone almost a year between expansions. The last one was the Campus expansion last May. Now here we are with a new Sunset Harbor expansion.

The announcement for this expansion (a mere week before its release) got my hopes up in a similar fashion to the Snowfall expansion. I thought that Sunset Harbor would add a slew of features that I had been longing for in the game for a long time. Sadly, Sunset Harbor disappointed me in much the same way that Snowfall's lack of a seasonal cycle and poor implementation of ski resorts did. Sunset Harbor lacks almost all of the things that I had hoped for, and it continues a trend of Skylines expansions that add new mechanics or content without revising or enhancing existing mechanics or content to utilize the new ideas.

Much like past expansions, Sunset Harbor neglects a lot of seemingly-obvious content.

When I saw the title of the expansion, I thought for sure that this would be the expansion that would finally introduce public beaches! No such luck. There's no public beach area. Sunset Harbor (despite having "harbor" in its title) does not introduce modular passenger and freight harbor areas, or upgrade harbors into a leveled industry like Industries did with agriculture, forestry, ore, and oil. I still can't daisy-chain my harbors to send shipping routes up rivers or canals, despite the fact that the existing passenger ferries and the new fishing industry can. It similarly doesn't convert tourism and leisure into leveled industry or commercial areas.

As always seems to be the case with Skylines expansions, I'm torn between whether I should review the expansion from the perspective of what it actually brings to the table, or from the perspective of failing to meet my own hopes and desires for what the expansion should be.

One of the things that was missing from Industries

Sunset Harbor does, however, check off a couple items from my wishlist. At long last, it has provided a desert biome map! As someone who lives in the American Pacific Southwest, I've long been frustrated by the inability to create a city that looks more like the familiar landscape of my own back yard. Now I finally can. Sadly, it's only one map, but the asset editor that's always been included in the game will allow me to make more if I want to, without having to resort to downloading mods that might destabilize the game.

I've long hoped for a desert biome to be added to the game.

The big feature of this expansion is also a feature that I thought was missing from the Industries expansion. I complained that Industries only added new infrastructure that replaced the existing agriculture, forestry, ore, and oil industries that have always been in the game, and didn't bother to add any new industries. Parklife, by comparison, added a couple new types of parks that hadn't been in the game before, including nature preserves and an amusement park. Personally, I thought that the most obvious option for a new industry to add to Industries would have been a fishing or aquaculture industry. Well, now we have a whole expansion that has added that one idea.

The new fishing industry doesn't follow suit with the Industries expansion industry areas, or the Campus university areas. You don't paint aquaculture areas and then grow them and level them up. There's no complicated production line or logistic element. The different types of fish that you can catch also don't do anything different. There's no fancy factories that consume specific types of fish (like a pizza factory that consumes anchovies), or that combine your fish with other types of fish (like a fish stick factory), or with other industry products to create a more valuable luxury good (like combining fish and seaweed with crops to make sushi).

Aquaculture does not level up or have production lines like other industrial sectors.

Instead, there's a handful of fishing harbors that act as resource-extractors, and then there's exactly two buildings that process or consume them. Your fishing harbors can either sell their fish to a market to be sold directly to consumers, or the raw fish (regardless of type) can be shipped to a factory that processes the fish and distributes them as generic goods to send out to commercial zones. In lieu of either the market or the factory, the fish will be exported to other cities for a small amount of money.

That's it! That's everything that fishing has to offer!

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Cities: Skylines: Industries - title

Wow, Colossal Order is really popping out these Cities: Skylines expansions in rapid succession! I feel like this is the third or fourth expansion in the last year alone! ... Hold on, let me check ...

Expansion titleOriginal release
After Dark coverAfter Dark24 September 2015
Snowfall coverSnowfall18 February 2016
Match DayMatch Day*9 June 2016
Natural Disasters coverNatural Disasters29 November 2016
Mass Transit coverMass Transit18 May 2017
ConcertsConcerts*17 August 2017
Green CitiesGreen Cities19 October 2017
ParklifeParklife24 May 2018
IndustriesIndustries23 October 2018
* denotes a mini content pack, rather than full expansion.

... So, yeah; third full expansion in the last 12 months (give or take a few days). Fourth expansion in the last 14 months if you want to count the Concerts content pack. Colossal Order seems to have been following a pattern of two full expansions and a mini content pack each year since the game released. I guess that's one way to keep your game relevant. It has certainly kept me coming back every few months.

Never as robust as I would like

The problem is that the limited development time means that the content that is provided in these expansions rarely ever feels as robust or comprehensive as it should -- at least, not to me. As such, I feel like I'm getting diminishing returns from each new expansion. The amount of content that is already in the game means that each new expansion feels like relatively smaller drop of content into an already-large bucket. Each expansion feels like it gives us less to do, and has that much of a smaller impact on the overall gameplay experience.

Adding to the problem of diminishing returns: every single expansion has had some glaring omission or weakness that bothered me, and none of the later expansions have bothered to go back in and address the weaknesses and limitations of the previous expansion(s). After Dark failed to include zoneable public beaches and didn't really make the day/night cycle feel as meaningful as it should. Snowfall failed to include season cycles to go along with After Dark's day/night cycle, and completely dropped the ball with regard to mechanics like ski resorts. Natural Disasters probably felt like the most "complete" and well-rounded expansion (not to mention the most novel one), but still suffers from its content being random, and it neglected to introduce any winter-specific disasters to go along with Snowfall.

Industries follows a long-standing trend with Skylines expansions neglecting seemingly-obvious features.

Mass Transit brought the long-overdue ferry transit option, but neglected to revise cargo harbors to make cargo ship routes more practical, and didn't have any water-based city services (like a coast guard, for example) that would allow a true island economy to function without a network of bridges for freight and emergency services. Green Cities was maybe the laziest expansion, and it focused on pollution-management, but didn't bother to actually make pollution any more relevant or challenging to begin with. Lastly, Parklife granted a lot of player expression, but failed to incorporate the legacy parks into the new modular park feature and doesn't allow the camera to zoom in close enough to get a good look at your pretty decorations.

This isn't to say that all these expansions are "bad". I've liked them all (except maybe for Snowfall and Green Cities), but none of them have really wow-ed me with their content (except maybe for Natural Disasters). And the modular nature of each expansion means that it has limited-to-no impact on the core game systems, and limited-to-no interaction with the previous expansions.

The latest expansion, Industries follows suit. It promises to re-invent the way that your cities' industry functions, but kind of does it in an almost half-assed way. Much like the expansion before it, Parklife, Industries doesn't really incorporate the old legacy industry zones into the new industry mechanics. The new "Industry Area" paintbrush is virtually the same mechanic as the Park Area paintbrush from the last expansion. It isn't a replacement for the original industrial district specialization, so if feels like it's pretty much duplicating that content rather than re-inventing it.

You paint an area as an "Industrial Park", just like the parks in Parklife.

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A friend of mine introduced me to the social game SimCity Buildit, currently available for mobile devices and tablets. Since I currently lack a strong mainstream entry in the SimCity franchise, I thought I'd see if this social game does anything to fill my long-neglected need for spline-reticulation or if it presented any new features that could be worth pursuing in a full PC version of the game. I don't generally play social games. I dabbled a bit with CivWorld and Sims Social, but that's about it. So I lack a lot of reference for judging SimCity Buildit in terms of other social games.

SimCity Buildit

Most of the fundamental SimCity elements are here: you set housing, commercial, and industrial zones, link them with roads, and build service buildings in order to satisfy various citizen needs within a certain radius. None of the deeper simulation elements of newer city-builder games are there. Individual citizens don't exist; there's just an abstract population, and happiness levels are set for each residential building. It's understandable for the limitations of the platform, and it provides a retro quality that reminds me of the good ol' days of SimCity 4.

But since this is a social game, the design has to put up numerous barriers to restrict the player's freedom to construct the city that they want. You have to "level up" your city by building new buildings. The number of residences that you can build, as well as the availability of industry and shops are also limited by your level or by the city population.

You also don't really have an economy to manage - at least not in the traditional sense. Citizens don't work at factories and shops. Instead, these buildings create certain building materials that are used to "upgrade" your residences into higher-density buildings that generate more tax revenue. This provides the core challenge of the game: you have to build the necessary materials in order to upgrade your buildings. Each of these materials take different amounts of real time to construct in your factories and shops (or you can buy the materials you need through real-money micro-transactions). As you level up, you'll unlock new materials, which residences will suddenly demand in order to upgrade their buildings.

SimCity Buildit - city
You don't have to manage employment, tax rates, or city ordinances; only resources and service coverage.

The ability to upgrade a building seems to be limited by its happiness level. Only happy residences can be upgraded, so you also need to provide city services such as power, water, waste disposal, emergency services, entertainment, and so on. But these services are very frustrating because they are tied to your city level. New services or entertainments become unlocked when you level up. That's fine. But once those services are unlocked, your entire city starts demanding them, and happiness plummets (as well as tax income, which is tied to happiness) because you don't already have the infrastructure ...

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Tropico 5

Without a decent, new iteration of SimCity for me to play, I've been looking high and low for new city simulator games in order to scratch that particular itch. I spent a large chunk of time a few years ago playing Cities XL, but never got around to reviewing it (maybe I'll post aretro-review in the future). Cities XL has so far been the best of the bunch and has a very wide scope, but it's developer has folded, and the game has never truly felt complete.

So I've started looking at more niche titles. I gave Children of the Nile and Caesar IV a go a few years ago, and both were pretty good, but just didn't hold me over for very long. So when Tropico 5 went on sale on Steam, I picked it up and put it on the shelf till I took a break from Civ. The game has also been released on XBox 360, and it has also been announced for a PS4 release sometime in 2015, but I've been playing the PC version.

The primary gimmick of the Tropico series is that the player isn't a mayor (as most city simulators claim); instead, you play as a dictator who is granted governorship of a small Caribean island-nation by a European power. It's basically a Cuba-simulator. At the start of a game, you must create a dictator avatar, and that character can have children and heirs in order to maintain your dynasty. From a meta standpoint, this gives much greater justification for the breadth of power that the player has over the development of the city. But this dictatorial theme isn't just a gimmick; the game actually does use it for gameplay purposes.

Tropico 5 - war
Poor management of relations with internal factions and external nations
can lead to revolts and open warfare on your streets.

In addition to balancing workers versus jobs and various citizen satisfaction metrics, the player also has to worry about maintaining your position of power and dealing on the international stage. Much like the Democracy games, the player actually has to win elections in order to avoid losing the game, and so you must balance the favor of various competing factions. It's nowhere near as deep as Democracy, since there's only about four factions (which change depending on the current era), but it does add an extra challenge that a game like SimCity lacks. After all, your mayor-hood in SimCity is indisputable.

It can be hard to manage the favor of these various factions and their members, since it's hard sometimes to tell exactly what is making them happy or unhappy...

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