Not A Complete Disaster

The new "Natural Disasters" DLC for "Cities Skylines" provides limited apocolyptic BANG for the cataclysmically starved BUCK of fans
Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 1:00am
We will not even discuss the BLATANT lack of gigantic, brainless, super-powered, skyscraper-scale fighting lizards within the DLC: they are entirely absent.

Any fan of "Cities Skylines" will tell you that the game's central qualities lie in the ways in which makes super complicated aspects of civil engineering and civic planning seem (on the surface) impossibly simple. In almost every way, "Cities Skylines" makes it incredibly easy, intuitive, and graphically enjoyable to design, build, and manage large-scale communities and their suburbs: from ultra-fine-grain control of the public transportation systems (busses, light rail, etc.), to simple aspects of residential zoning and municipal recreation areas, the game makes it seem impossibly easy to point and click your merry way through what is ultimately an incredibly nuanced, unbelievably well-designed simulation of metropolitan complexity.
For gamers of a certain age (to read: "wicked fucking pathetically old"), the comparison between "Cities Skylines" and the original "Sim City," is impossible to avoid. Sure, SC is from a now-seemingly Neolithic era of computing technology, but that handicap is offset by the fact that gamers have now spent over 20 years worth of hard-earned (or begged for from parents) money buying the endlessly devolving spin-offs and sequels in the "Sim" franchise each title subtly dancing around the painful fact that - in terms of actual simulations of anything, and especially in regards to simulations of cities - it has had little to offer anyone since Windows 95 was still king of the OS jungle.
"Cities Skylines" has (since its inception) absolutely annihilated the "Sim" universe in basically every single way: CS is easier to control, easier to plan, more complex and realistic in its execution, more nuanced in the types of challenges and situations it creates, and uses a better overall simulation model for its conceptual underpinnings of what makes a city actually run. Oh, and (of course) visually, there is no comparison between the two titles as CS is in a different fucking universe of 3D wizardry (ever see a kid in a wheelchair get hit by a taxi cab)...
However, there has been one single category in which we, the decrepit gamers of the universe, have long been forced to grudgingly secede to "Sim City" in terms of true superiority: cataclysmic natural disasters.
I am sure that I speak for all gamers everywhere on the planet when I say that I have spent many, many hours hopelessly searching for a "Spawn Godzilla" button within the user interface of Skylines, only to find myself disappointed time and again; I stare blankly at the gorgeous and expansive vistas of my beautiful mega-tropo-sprawl-suburban-opolis as the burgeoning traffic from the evening commute dissipates into the beautifully cosmic pinprick illuminations of skyscrapers blinking in and out to the secret music of 3 AM, somehow sensing a painful dread growing within me as the garish dawn creeps closer, encroaching patiently on a perfectly beautiful, anal-retentive monstrosity of a fantastic city... A city as yet unmarred by the horrific scars of total apocalyptic annihilation - the one (AND ONLY) thing my creation now needs.
Well, earlier this week, gamers got to experience full-double-barrel-to-your-face flavored disappointment as Colossal Order (Skyline's developers) released "Cities Skylines: Natural Disasters," a downloadable content pack (Steam Store priced at $14.99) which succeeds only in devastating the long-simmering destructive dreams and desires of loyal fans of CS. Before we talk about what's wrong with the DLC, let's talk about what went right:
The natural disasters that "Natural Disasters" allows you to spawn affect your city in very realistic ways. This is particularly noticeable in terms of traffic congestion on the freeways, the state of your power grid, and the general breakdown of civil order in terms of your fire departments, police, and other basic services.
That's pretty much the extent of the good stuff. The bad stuff is... a much longer list.
First of all, forgetting that this DLC ostensibly provides functionality that any fan of CS with half a brain has longed for since first purchasing the game in its original release several years ago, it fails to even actually give players the powers it purports to impart, and fails to do so at the cost of $14.99.
Perhaps I am in the minority when I say that, when I pay for a DLC that adds gameplay elements that (basically) have been noticeably absent from a title from the date of its release, I expect to be able to do whatever the hell I want once those abilities are finally granted to me.
To whit: I want sliders and scales and other tweaks for the magnitude, radius, and types of damage caused by every type of disaster. I want to be able to spawn seventeen of them immediately (if I so choose) in my city. I want to bring giant monsters from Monster Island to my humble municipality and see them wreak a mile-wide disaster trail of total destruction whose path can only be determined by their reptilian, irradiated, football-sized brains. Failing that, I expect to be able to (at the very least) spawn whatever type of disaster I choose as many efffing times as I decide to spawn it: no cool-down, no intervention on the game's behalf... I SPENT YEARS BUILDING THIS CITY, and have now spent FIFTEEN BUCKS for the right TO SEE IT BURN TO THE FUCKING GROUND.
Alas, these earnest and simple prayers are discounted entirely by SCND, almost insultingly so:
There are cool-downs for most types of disasters. There is no configurability in terms of the damage and magnitude of the disaster. There is no way to blow up your entire city in any quick, satisfying, or efficacious manner. The best way to really cause the game's equivalent of "total devastation" (which is a simply and milquetoast and mediocre and utterly dissatisfying and essentially infuriating substitute on par with chalk instead of cheese) is to try to spawn as many meteor strikes as you can on your major transit hubs and freeway interchanges... Yes. I know. Jesus wept for there was nowhere near as much total leveling and burning and horrific destruction of the city as was promised for $14.99, and what little there is, is essentially school-marmed into being "reasonable" levels of destruction.
Finally - and in all fairness - it should be noted that the DLC does add many ways in which to trigger disaster scenarios (that play out with predictably bland, non-apocalyptic implications, somewhat similar to fire drills or "Duck and Cover" exercises), and that the disasters themselves (while not cosmetically impressive in any way) do force mayors to approach their possible occurrences in realistically pragmatic ways... which is French for saying "totally boring and absolutely unfun and hundred percent not worth $14.99."
We will not even discuss the BLATANT lack of gigantic, brainless, super-powered, skyscraper-scale fighting lizards within the DLC: they are entirely absent.
It's really kind of sad to see the best available, most beautiful, hitherto-dynamic, completely addictive, super-challenging, and incredibly fun game in the city simulation game devolve into an endless series of overpriced, underpowered, intentionally neutered DLC's seemingly designed to rape the game's biggest fans of whatever money can be strip-mined from them, while delivering as little as possible in terms of real functionality - possibly to provide it in the form of yet another over-priced DLC. My advice is this: buy "Cities Skylines." Avoid (like biblical catastrophe) the "Natural Disasters" DLC. If these features had been offered for free to everyone who already owned the game, my bet is that even they would be disappointed.

-Seth "Fingers" Flynn Barkan is the author of "Blue Wizard Is About To Die," and is the host of the Best Linux Games Podcast, a weekly audio podcast covering only the best games available for the GNU/Linux Operating System. Which will own you, SUCKAH! (he can be contacted via twitter @Vegaswriter or by sending a message directly through Steam to "skookiesprite")