Cities: Skylines – Mass Transit

Cities: Skylines is a charming game, by which I mean it will politely walk over, chat you up and lift your wallet out your back pocket and take the watch off your wrist. It steals some of your money and all of your time. Its latest expansion, Mass Transit, is both the simplest and the most welcome expansion yet, heaping on a plethora of delicious new public transport options like thick double cream on a slice of fine chocolate cake. If you haven’t already fallen for Cities then you don’t understand what a big deal that is so let me give you the rundown.

In 2015 Colossal Order released a game who’s pitch could only be “The SimCity sequel you always wanted but never got” and delivered on that pitch spectacularly. The base game of Cities was relatively basic and had, and to an extent still has, a relatively small pool of visual assets, a fact that extensive mod support and intuitive creator tools has worked to address. Perhaps not all that impressive on a cursory glance, though enormous depth can be found in the simulation and analysis tools, Cities was still recognisably a spiritual successor to the games Maxis made way back when SimCity 4 released at the turn of 2003 – for reference.

The most notable difference Cities has is a move away from a rigid grid to build on to a grid formed out of free-drawn roads, though most of my cities end up as right-angled grids anyway for efficiency. Of course there are myriad small design differences that I won’t bore you by listing in detail but instead, I’m going to point out a big difference in the feel rather than the mechanics. SimCity was a difficult, mean game that demanded a planned and sensible approach to planning. Cities is really, really easy.

By default, the game locks pretty much everything behind population milestones, which come with a huge influx of cash when hit, at the start to encourage you to grow your city more organically and pace yourself. With little more than a touch of patience, you can reach insane incomes and happiness levels without ever tweaking options in the budget panel or compromising on your grand designs. Cities is almost a meditative exercise, gently growing out a village into a town into a city into a metropolis.

That is until you start to play with public transport. Then you realise that the several million monies the game so generously gave you need to be spent bulldozing everything to make room for the intracity-express train and all those beautiful tree-lined avenues are clogged up with endless gridlocked traffic because you were a little too liberal with buses and that roundabouts are always the answer. You see, Colossal Order, before stepping into the SimCity void, made the Cities in Motion games and they brought that history into Cities: Skylines.

In Cities: Skylines one does not simply build a metro station in Mordor (I called my toxic, sewage-spewing, smoke-belching industrial wasteland Mordor because why not?), one has to build the underground tunnels to connect it to the network and then designate which lines stop at that station. All public transport, be it buses, trains or whatever requires the player to designate the lines. It’s a trap, I swear, somehow I always ruin everything by being overzealous with the bus stops (they aren’t buildings, they just replace parking spaces on the side of the road, you can put them everywhere). Cities simulates every resident, meaning it knows where they live and work and shop and spend their free time and it knows how they get there. The answer is slowly on your rubbish bus network.

And now you should be getting an idea of why I love Mass Transit. First, it adds four new methods of public transport of varying degrees of sanity: ferries, monorails, cable cars, and blimps. I didn’t know all I ever wanted was to build a city split over two mountain tops and connect them only via zeppelin. Now I do and Cities made that dream real for me (or at least it will once I’ve finished writing this) and the number of times I have bulldozed a school and all the high-rise apartment blocks around it because the goddamn road was one tile too narrow for a monorail station should make me feel a lot worse than it does.

Mass Transit also introduces new road types, including motorways of two and four lane varieties, and transport hubs, huge complexes that house multiple types of public transport station in one building. And whilst a monorail station combined with a multi-platform bus hub might seem excessive it’s easy to run out of those stops (and if you’re me grind Arnold Avenue into a 5-mile stationary traffic jam whilst you’re at it). Perhaps most important of all these hubs is the multi-platform train station, something I’ve been wanting since I first played Cities. It is huge and cumbersome and I love it, it even has a mid-line and terminal version.

I would be remiss not to mention the patch whilst I’m here. Whilst Cities is developed by Colossal Order it is published by Paradox Interactive and has taken a lead from the Paradox playbook of expansion design, which is to say that half the expansion comes in the form of a free patch. Patch 1.7.0 might be the best thing and upon starting my first new city it was the patch improvements I felt most keenly, immediately and consistently. Many of the improvements made are based on UI and feature mods, a highlight being the new road building UI which makes constructing more intricate and elaborate networks much easier.

I wholeheartedly recommend Cities: Skylines and Mass Transit in particular which, unlike the first three expansions, simply builds upon already existing systems within the game rather than bolting on new ones (Natural Disasters, the third expansion, being an obvious and self-explanatory example). If you aren’t convinced stick it on a watch list, the base game regularly goes on sale at a hefty discount and it’s well worth a try. Now if you’ll excuse me I have more schools to demolish.

Cities: Skylines – Mass Transit is available on Steam and from Paradox’s website

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