Since its release last year, Cities: Skylines has become the definitive metropolis building simulator for modern gaming. Despite a few niggling bugs, a handful of missing features and a limited number of basic modes in scenario editor, it was a definite hit. Through it, Colossal Order nailed the careful balance of complexity, direct control and scale SimCity had sadly forgotten, save for one particular aspect: The Godzilla effect. Cities could fail, fall and even crumble, but there was no definite option to simply Michael Bay the living hell out of your creation. Well, that has most definitely been rectified with this latest expansion.
Natural Disasters goes the full mile when it comes to finding new and creative ways to blow up your city. Blizzards, tornados, tsunamis, freak storms and rampant wildfires all make an appearance alongside the old favourites like giant meteorites. Each is unique in the kind of damage it can inflict, with some offering lingering negative effects while others are merely content to level hundreds of buildings and then move on. The game goes the extra mile to make it clear that these aren’t simply minor inconveniences, these are titans, each with their own effects and capable of ruining your day.
The sheer scale of these attacks, both in terms of visual impact and their devastation, leaves a constant sense of danger as you progress. The fact these can strike at almost any time means players will have to advance far more cautiously. While it doesn’t require players to unlearn all that they have practiced, it forces them to adapt and adjust to this game-changing element. While this could have proven infuriating, the effect manages to be satisfyingly engaging, as you’re left wondering how best to progress with your designs.
It would be a poor expansion however, if the developer simply threw in a dozen of mother nature’s wrecking balls without offering the player’s a few new toys. While you cannot half a natural disaster, there are a variety of new buildings and units to help limit the damage. The most obvious - and generally useful - of these is the presence of helicopters, which can be granted to each of the three main emergency services. While costly, the depots help ease up the congestion on the streets and allows for more immediate responses to outlying areas of the city; a nice touch to be sure as it proves to be universally useful no matter what is taking place.
The more direct responses to threats come in the form of early warning systems and shelters, but each is hardly perfect. They do not completely nullify the threat and have noted limitations, with warning systems only able to detect general threats an indeterminate period of time before they emerge, and shelters can only cover so much of the city. As such, there’s still a great deal of reward for skilled players who plan and prepare carefully, and those who fund the emergency rescue services. They might not be able to stop the storms, but the fact they set up prefabricated shelters and limit the death toll allows you to bounce back faster, and do more than just bulldoze away demolished buildings.
The only notable limitations here stem more from a lack of fine tuning more than anything else. For example, the scenario editor does not retain the option to build a city from the start, instead requiring you to build a city up outside the editor, and then load in a new file; something which proved to be frustratingly time consuming when you just wanted to test out a few key ideas. Furthermore, many of the statistics are hidden away in the pause menu, meaning you’re often clicking back and forth to see something which would have been on the main screen. The core scenarios bundled into the game are surprisingly few, with only five on offer. Well developed and challenging as they are, you’ll soon burn through them and be left wishing the developers had included a few more.
Overall however, despite a few minor interface issues, Natural Disasters is nevertheless a must-buy for fans. Between After Dark, Snowfall and now this reworking of the game’s core threats, Cities: Skylines has proven itself a worthy successor to SimCity. If you’re after game which is equal parts painstakingly careful creation and rampant annihilation, look no further than this one.
CITIES: SKYLINES – NATURAL DISASTERS / DEVELOPER: COLOSSAL ORDER / PUBLISHER: PARADOX INTERACTIVE / PLATFORMS: MICROSOFT WINDOWS, OSX / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW