Much I tried to tease what other kinds of disasters were being added to Cities: Skylines out of the developers at Gamescom, they weren’t having any of it. The only disaster they would show at that time was the meteor impact.
As spectacular and cinematic as it is, there’s a lot more that can befall your preciously constructed metropolis, ranging from the equally cataclysmic to the amusingly humdrum. Perhaps my favourite is the tsunami that rolls in from the sea and washes over your city, looking quite a bit like something out of Thunderbirds as it picks up tiny cars and pushes them inland, leaving wreckage of all but the largest buildings behind it. Even once the bulk of the water has receded, the natural contours of the landscape can leave you with new lakes, and sports stadiums can sit there with their floodlit pitches shimmering underwater.
Sinkholes amuse, as buildings shudder and disappear into nothingness, leaving just a sharp drop into nothingness beneath them, earthquakes make the screen shake and shudder while leaving great fissures in the ground, while thunder storms look fantastic. Forest fires might start small, but can soon grow to turn swathes of the countryside into flaming charcoal, threatening to spread fire through your city, unless you’ve already burned it down with a building fire that grows to Great Fire of London proportions. I also like being able to simply trigger a building collapse.
But it wouldn’t be a Cities: Skylines expansion pack if this wasn’t tied to a new and refreshing layer of gameplay. After Dark added the night time economy and rises in burglary, Snowfall had you adjusting to higher energy costs and needing to grit roads, and now Natural Disasters adds disaster preparation and recovery to the list.
Disasters don’t just occur at your godlike whim – and incur your godlike wrath – but can both happen at random or via scripted moments. So you’re dropping early warning systems around your city, whether it’s a huge satellite dish to track space objects, buoys that’ll cry “Tsunami!” and even Firewatch towers that are then populated with guys called Henry who just need to get away from the troubles in their lives for a while.
You also want to lay the foundations for your recovery with shelters that people can head to when the warning sirens go off, and even special evacuation bus routes to help people out of walking distance get there. The emergency services can now be kitted out with helicopters to get to inaccessible areas quicker, put out forest fires with fire service choppers, and the new Disaster Response Unit will go and check each and every pile of rubble for survivors, marking them safe for rebuilding.
However, there’s still plenty that’s on your shoulders after a disaster strikes. Fixing the road network is a somewhat laborious affair, going through each stretch of road, repairing the lightly damaged and hooking up the dead ends once more – that said, I took great joy in simply building a bridge over a sinkhole and laying a road through the middle of a meteor crater. There’s also the task of hooking the electricity back up and checking the water network to make sure people can get fresh water (and get rid of the not-so-fresh).
It’s up to you whether you preserve the scars of these disasters, potentially diving into the landscaping tools to buff out the fissures, smooth out the crater edges and get your city looking a bit more normal again. Those scars add a little flavour, though, and you can commemorate the day that the meteor struck by placing a special park with a huge rock on it.
Of course, you might have recovered, but there could still be more disasters on the way. Really it depends on how vindictive you are, the random luck of the draw, or how cruel the scenario is that you’re playing.
Fiddling with the scenario editor, it seems simple enough to set up all manner of levels for people to play with. You pick a trigger, which could be anything from your population level and bank balance to the amount of industry in your city, and so much more. Hitting half a million dollars could be set as a win condition, while you need to keep your populace over 10,000 people in order to not lose.
Alternatively, you can tie a natural disaster to a certain trigger, and even have multi-stage triggers to create deeper and longer situations for people to deal with, or just bombard people with custom written Chirper messages…
At launch, Cities: Skylines was a city builder that got the fundamentals right. It let you construct huge cities with complex transport networks, districts, industry, and plenty more. When Natural Disasters arrives later this year, having those scenarios, those doomsday moments to deal with and the ability to deal with them, Cities: Skylines won’t just be building for the sake of building anymore.