Review – Cities VR
For as much as I like to criticise how Facebook (or Meta) is pushing the whole concept of a “metaverse” way too hard, almost making the act of enjoying the Quest 2’s library a secondary effort, I have to praise the quality of its ever-growing library. One such new addition to its collection of must-haves is yet another port of a tried and true PC staple of a genre, the city builder franchise, Cities. How would Cities: VR fare on a headset? How would its gameplay translate to this brand new perspective? Would it be better or worse than the console version of Cities: Skylines? The answer is simple: much better. In fact, I may actually prefer it over the PC version, believe it or not.
It all boils down to a handful of factors. The first one is the gameplay. We usually focus on the Quest 2’s controller’s ability to translate the feel of a normal controller onto VR. This is something the PSVR failed to do in comparison, but rarely do we talk about how well those controllers work as virtual mouses. That’s why Cities: VR works so well in a headset. Use the analog sticks to move around the map and rotate the camera, but use the controllers’ motion capabilities to “draw” where you want your roads and zones to be placed on. Every other command is perfectly allocated onto a button, or a combination of buttons. It feels surprisingly intuitive, to a point I certainly wasn’t expecting.
A second factor is immersion. Some people like to call city builders “god simulators”, don’t they? Well, you will feel like a god creating his own civilization in Cities: VR. Even though I have one or two qualms with how slowly the game’s camera moves around, even in its faster settings, the fact you can basically drop the camera right down to earth and explore your city in a quasi-lifelike scale makes the feeling of seeing it grow even more rewarding. You are exploring the place you have built. It sounds silly, but that’s one of the beauties of VR gaming: immersing yourself into the game in a degree that fools your brain altogether.
The third factor is comfort. That is still a touchy subject when it comes to VR games, especially some recent Quest titles, where developers are finally attempting to come up with faster-paced gameplay experiences that might not be suited to virtual reality newcomers. Cities: VR does not suffer from that issue, as I have never felt sick while playing it. Unless you decide to fly around your city like a lunatic, you will rarely, if ever, feel any modicum of nausea. You will be looking at your city from above, dragging and dropping buildings and roads without even noticing there’s a heavy screen attached to your face. In fact, this is the first Quest 2 game I’ve played until the headset had literally run out of juice. I legit kept playing it for hours at a time.
Cities: VR has issues, however, but none of them felt like complete deal-breakers. Aside from the aforementioned occasional camera issues, I’d say its biggest issue is its presentation, although I completely understand the setbacks taken in order to make the game as smoothly as possible in somewhat limited hardware. Houses and buildings look decent, and the field of view is quite surprising, without ever suffering from framerate issues. Other assets, on the other hand, such as trees, water, and terrain, look dated, borderline simplistic.
There’s also the fact that the music just isn’t that exciting, but that’s a problem shared among pretty much every single Cities game ever released. The tunes in Cities: VR get the job done, don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t memorable. They aren’t Sim City 3000 levels of timeless, get it? This was mitigated by taking advantage of a cumbersome, but useful life hack. I proceeded to play the game on mute, while listening to a podcast with headphones. That requires an unnecessary amount of setup time, but hey, it worked.
I was looking forward to Cities: VR hoping it would, at the very least, be a decent and trouble-free recreation of the PC city builder in VR. I wasn’t expecting to like it more in VR than with a mouse and keyboard. I don’t remember the last time I’ve played a game with a headset attached to my face for such long periods of time without even realising. Thanks to its intuitive controls, excellent new UI, and the overall addictive nature of the city-building genre, Cities: VR is now one of my favorite titles available on the Quest, possibly in VR in general, and another great example as how to translate a tried and true formula, once thought to work solely on computers, to a brand new system.
It has suffered setbacks in order to run smoothly on the Quest 2, but it looks quite decent. The only assets which look horrendous onscreen are the trees.
A superb recreation of Cities‘ PC gameplay on the Quest 2’s controllers. The controls and menus are stupidly intuitive. I may actually prefer this interface over the PC one, to be perfectly honest.
The soundtrack gets the job done with some Sims-esque tunes, but they weren’t exactly memorable.
Fun Factor: 10
I don’t remember the last time I’ve had this much fun with a city building simulator. Virtual reality is a godsend for a game like this.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Cities: VR is available now on Oculus/Meta Quest 2.
Reviewed on Oculus/Meta Quest 2.
A copy of Cities: VR was provided by the publisher.