New developer, Andy Sztark, reconceptualizes the city-builder genre with Citystate. This title finds its roots in familiar genre heavy-hitters such as Sim City and Cities: Skylines, infuses it with socioeconomic mechanics, and serves up a unique dish that tastes like a Nation-Builder more than a city-builder.
As Planning Peeps is a community of practicing urban planners and in most cases, public sector planners working in local government, we thought it would be interesting to review the game in three categories: Concept, Authenticity, and Content.
The game is intended to allow the player to build a city (or a bunch of interconnected urban areas) from scratch. It uses the same formula of the earlier Sim City games (residential, commercial, industrial zoning) along with land valuation and density mechanics. At the beginning of the game, the player gets to design a flag and answer some questions about what type of nation is being established. Throughout the game, new legislative questions pop up that have ramifications on national approval ratings, economic output, and overall growth of your nation. Unlike Urban Empire which requires that players take all decisions to the City Council for approval, legislative decisions are just a click of a mouse on one of four options, each corresponding to a conservative-liberal slant of varying degrees. Over time, your decisions will change the type of government you have, may result in riots, shanty towns, etc. In a nutshell, the game allows you to create a nation to allows you to view your legislative decisions in real time. The concept is pretty simple to understand and it does deliver on that. From a comparison standpoint, the closest game that I could think of that is not just a city-builder but also a nation-builder with city-level mechanics is Urban Empire. If you like to be asked to address societal issues like a dictator (with threat of revolt, protest) and see how it would impact the city you created, then you should try Citystate. If you're looking the same thing but have a sick desire to twist the arms of politicians that make those decisions, check out Urban Empire (read our review). 3.5/5
From a public sector planning standpoint, the only thing that might be authentic is that the decisions you make will have the same reasonable impacts as they would have in real life. Also, the game requires economic diversity as in, you need to zone for agriculture, you need to prospect for minerals before building certain industries (steel mills, etc.), and you need to have an educated workforce to support more complex, higher-waged businesses and industries.
The game allows the player to zone land without street access which will in turn develop without access. This is a throwback to Sim City 2000 and 3000 which made for weird looking cities. The game also doesn't allow the player to build two lane streets and only allows four to eight-lane roads. Again, if the end goal is to force the player to maximize the land and do everything they can to be hyper-urban, then that makes a little more sense. However it doesn't allow the player to create cities in the usual form that they typically grow. Unfortunately, Citystate doesn't allow the player to create authentic looking cities, only mega-cities. Instead, it allows the player to create a nation of urban areas that all abide by the same legislative decisions of the player. That's pretty authentic from a basic urban policy perspective. 4/5
Citystate continually adds new updates and content, so that's a plus. Out of the box, however, the game has a lot of build embargoes of things like universities and government buildings until a certain population is reached, and a high population at that. This compels the player to just build, zone, build, zone and then fast forward until the population grows. Visuals of the game are okay if you're used to the older games. It is nowhere near as pretty as Cities Skylines, but that's okay too. It is essentially a basic 3D version of the text based nation builder MMORPGs. Where it lacks in visuals, it makes up in other areas. Being able to zone for seaports adjacent to industrial zoning is pretty cool, though. The game has a lot of potential, either through ongoing updates, Steam Workshop mods, or sequels. 3.5/5
Citystate provides a new take on an established and difficult to enter genre. Players can build beautiful, sprawling cities, but it isn't done in a vacuum. Real issues arise that can make or break your nation. Citystate is the political compass test of city-builders, it is the player behind the scenes planning the cities of Capitalism II (only real gamers will get this reference). It is the type of game that someone obsessed with cities would make, and then refine, and refine, upon receiving constructive feedback from its fans. Citystate is a good game, I'm convinced that Citystate II* will blow all others out of the water.
Urban Empire was released by Andy Sztark on 2/22/18. The game retails for $14.99 on Steam.
*Citystate II is not in the works, just a fantasy :)