Cities: Skylines was, for me and I suspect a lot of players, a breath of fresh air in a time when new versions of SimCity failed us and fell by the wayside, and so much has been done with it since it launched. Cities: VR feels like going back to where it all began. Fast Travel Games built this virtual reality take of the popular metropolis planner from the ground up and while it feels a bit barebones and lackluster in some places, it still offers an immersive and relaxing approach to virtual urban development.
The whole point of Cities: VR, much like Cities: Skylines, is to take an untouched stretch of land and populate it with the residencies, industry, and commercial trade to turn it into a bustling and profitable urban sprawl. There are a number of various pre-made maps to choose from, but unfortunately no way to randomize map elements or choose custom options. That said, once you choose a map, you’re good to go. A short tutorial will play out to show you the ropes (you can also toggle it off if you know how to play) and then you’ll be off and on your way.
The controls for Cities: VR are much different from the Cities: Skylines experience. Here, you access everything on the Quest 2 Touch controllers. To build a road, zone a district, or erect special structures, it’s just a few thumbstick moves and button presses to access what you want. You can also check your stats and access special menus through these controls. I found it a little awkward at first and I was iffy on camera movement at times, but I do think Cities: VR guides players well enough and feels fairly newcomer-friendly. Once I got the hang of things, I was extending roads, painting districts for residential, commercial, and industrial use, and poisoning the citizens of my first new VR city with bad water in no time.
Yes, you heard me right. Funny enough, the incidental issues that can come up on the fly in Cities: Skylines are still here in the VR version. You can’t just plop down buildings all willy nilly. You still have to think about their effect. You see, I put my water pumps and drain pipes in the same gulf of water near my city. I thought I placed them far enough apart. I was wrong and quite a few days later, my whole city was getting sick because of polluted poo water being pumped through the supposed freshwater pipes. That’s the kind of funny stuff that happens if you’re not careful. You also have to look after your cities fire, police, health, and other needs. It’s a constant barrage of making folks happy and attracting more citizens, for which you unlock more stuff to cater to them. If you’re averse to the idea of your city failing, you could also turn on features like unlimited money to just play the way you want to play without worrying much about mistakes.
When it comes to visuals and content in Cities: VR, I will admit that both had to take a hit. As mentioned, there are only a few premade maps to choose from. This was true of the original too, but Cities: VR also looks like the visuals took a bit of a hit to be on the Quest 2. I saw textures like trees and rocks pop in and out a lot blatantly as I moved and none of it looked all that spectacular up close There’s also the fact that you can’t access mods or any of the extended Cities DLC content in this version. In that way, it’s like going back to the 1.0 of Cities: Skylines, but with even fewer features.
Even so, Cities: VR isn’t without its merits. The game is still relaxing and the controls are very easy-to-access. You can pause the game or speed it up at your leisure and I liked being able to do things like turn my controller to see how my budget was looking and how my citizens were feeling at a glance. There’s a lot Cities: Skylines has over this from years of DLC and modding, but Cities: VR feels like going back to basics and, in a lot of ways, it feels good for someone like me who has spent some time away from the game and for full-on newcomers that have never experienced what Cities has to offer.
I really like the VR view of the city too. You can press a button to go up high in the sky for a big glance or go down low and get close and glide through your city. I had more than one occasion where I just let my city run as I went from one side of it to the other, flying through my streets and watching residents, industry, and everyday urban life carry on. You can definitely move around your cities in Skylines, but not in quite as immersive a way as this. I think one of the few things I didn’t particularly like about the VR experience is more of a limitation of the Quest 2 itself. This game will eat battery life. Once I sit down to a Cities game, I can get lost playing for hours on end. The same could be said here, but it always felt too short when the headset would tell me it needed juice and I’d have to stop – a good problem for a game to have, I suppose.
The idea of going back to a sort of Version 1.0 experience of Cities is actually enticing to me. Fast Travel Games has already promised that Cities: VR is set to grow over time with content updates and more. As it is, it’s still a great jumping off point for the VR adaptation. I once again lost myself in its urban management often as long as my headset would allow me to play. The planning and reacting to various events around your town is still fun to handle and the VR controls are good for it. All-in-all, Cities: VR might be a little limited to those who want everything the PC version has come to offer in terms of features and visuals, but still, it might be one of the most relaxing VR titles around right now and feels like it’s bound to only get better from here.
This review is based on a Quest 2 digital copy supplied by the publisher. Cities: VR is available now on Meta Quest 2.