City: VR in the test – driven into the wall with your eyes open

Image: Fast / MIXED Travel Games

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Cities: VR could have become the city-building simulation for VR – after all, the big Cities: Skylines brand is behind it. Had, had, bicycle chain.

This is a very sad test for me. All this brings me down. Because while Townsmen VR is a grand appeal for VR, Cities: VR impressively shows how not to.

Not only that: it’s also corn for the meta-hater mill, because this game should never have been released for Quest 2. Every person who showed it didn’t understand virtual reality or just didn’t care what the outcome was.

VR and Quest 2 in particular suffered a serious setback with Cities: VR.

City: VR review in a nutshell

Cities: VR is extremely creepy to watch. Objects pop up everywhere, trees and cars constantly change their appearance, from reasonably detailed to completely unrecognizable. White areas or grids flicker like crazy, light and shadow move in the area, shadows look like saw blades. The coolest thing about Cities: VR is the night sky.

The menus are simple circular controller menus that I have to click with the analog stick. Operation is as intuitive as starting a motor vehicle with a crank, and is reminiscent of Bethesda’s laziness in creating decent VR menus for Skyrim and Fallout 4.

On the plus side, the entire Cities: Skylines base game has really been ported to VR. The operation of building roads, buildings and settlement areas also works quite well with the laser pointer.

In addition to the confusing graphics and the occasional tracking and display errors, there’s a far more important point that makes Cities: VR an authorized cucumber: there’s never a VR feeling. Even when I go down to street level, the whole environment remains eerily lifeless and static. It doesn’t feel like real virtual reality like it’s not real 3D. There is no plasticity. There is no wow effect.

For Cities: VR, Cities: Skylines was loaded into Quest 2, the graphics were beaten until they ran reasonably smoothly, and then cheap menus were put in. It’s not funny!

City: VR is right for me if …

  • I really want to play Cities: Skylines in a VR version,
  • have no problems with mud graphics
  • and compelling 3D and real plasticity are not important to me.

City: VR is not for me if …

  • I expect a proper VR implementation of Cities: Skylines with modern VR menus,
  • wants real plasticity and sharp 3D,
  • wants more than just the operation of the laser pointer e
  • expect VR game perfectly adapted to Quest 2.

Cities: Skylines – Base game entirely in VR

Cities: VR is the complete base game of Cities: Skylines on a 2 × 2 kilometer map, a so-called “Tile”. A tutorial shows how I move in VR. I use the left analog stick to move slowly forward or backward smoothly. I use the right analog stick to rotate or “snap” left and right. “Down” takes me almost to street level, “up” creates a better overview. The “A” button is reserved for quick teleportation, the “B” button takes me back to the previous menu.

The latter is an unfortunate assignment. Since the build menus, which are laid out like a circular menu on the left virtual controller, are quite deep, so I have to make multiple selections with the left analog stick until I have reached the desired build plane. This means that if I want to go back to a previous menu, I have to press the “B” button on the right controller. However, for me and my medium-sized hands, it’s not as easy to reach as it would be for this feature. It gets annoying quickly.

Functional game, cheap click-through menus

As mentioned, the menu is a circular menu and therefore not very intuitive. Townsmen VR solved this problem much better. There are real 3D models that I can easily grab or select with a pointer. Little Cities (Preview) is also based on an adapted 3D menu that supports motion control by selecting and deselecting via the hand / controller.

With the laser pointer on the right touch controller, I can build in Cities: VR: roads, buildings, urban areas, water pipes and power poles can be positioned easily and precisely. As my city grows, I unlock more and more buildings, such as police, fire department, parks, and more. I find overviews of individual areas such as electricity and water, public transport or finance in another menu.

The menus in Cities: VR are simple radial menus on the left VR controller. | Image: Fast / MIXED Travel Games

By the way, switching from construction menus to overview menus is the only process that is rudimentary adapted to modern VR menus: three flat menu symbols (!) (See screenshot) are positioned in front of me and I choose by moving the VR controller on the out menu icon.

Guaranteed eye pain

While the game works well on the inside, the graphics are atrocious. I can barely remember the last time I saw such muddy textures. Trees are hardly recognizable as such. If I turn my head slightly at some distance, they turn into completely unsightly texture blocks. The cars have an incredibly low-resolution base model, like little faded cardboard boxes – a slightly more detailed and textured model only suddenly pops up nearby. At a certain distance, this goes so far that a tractor model becomes an indefinable pile of pixels.

With all the performance limitations understandable: at the latest, at this point, Meta, Paradox Interactive and Fast Travel Games should have questioned the usefulness of a 1-to-1 direct port of Cities: Skylines. Wouldn’t it have been better to create a native concept for Quest 2 based on a possible Cities: Skylines 2? Or just create a PC VR version that works via Cable Link or Air Link?

“We don’t care what it will be like in the end”

The building’s white grid flickers extremely at night, as do the texture boxes on the houses masquerading as lighted windows. While in the PC game I still have a reasonably working illusion of lighted windows even when zooming in on houses due to the limited distance and size, that doesn’t translate well in VR at all: here every workaround, every faint texture, every the mess clearly comes to the fore and cannot be hidden.

The fact that the people doing the work apparently didn’t care at all breaks Cities: VR’s neck with a running jerk.

City-to-City View: VR with a park without trees in the background

The objects are simply hidden from a certain distance, for example all the trees in the park.

It doesn’t stop there. From a distance all the details are hidden: lanterns, trees, air conditioning on the buildings and many other details. In the case of electricity pylons, the crossbars are removed after a few meters – what remains is a residual structure that will hardly withstand the next cool breeze.

The robust fade out mechanism ensures that assets are constantly entering and exiting the image everywhere. I have never played such an unstable VR game. This is especially noticeable in parks: all the trees suddenly appear, only the ground plan and the paths can be seen – the shadows of the trees remain there for a while.

Stamp edges shadows galore

The shadows themselves look like saw blades. The bold spikes on the edges of the shadow honor a black market for stamps, but are out of the question for any kind of game in this form. Games with 16-bit pixels get more convincing shadows!

Furthermore, the progression of light and therefore of shadow does not move smoothly, but moves every second. This isn’t as noticeable on the PC monitor in the original game, but in VR it feels like you’re experiencing a presentation at full game speed.

Shadows in the cities VR

Shadows have sharp teeth in Cities: VR. | Image: Fast / MIXED Travel Games

Incidentally, cars and street lamps hardly emit any light at night. I don’t know if this is a bug or if it’s meant to stabilize performance, but it fits the big picture.

Despite the poor graphics, the performance isn’t quite clean. City: VR can occasionally stutter when constantly moving around the city using the analog stick. Also, the Guardian grid appeared multiple times in the middle, even though I was sitting quietly in the middle of my play area. A few times the image went black in the middle and I got a very short and unreadable error message, probably related to a tracking error. I can rule out that it is due to the environment or the brightness.

Cities: VR Review Conclusion – Forget this game again

Cities: VR is a story full of (intentional?) Misunderstandings:

  • Cities: VR should never have been developed for Quest 2, except in a native version. It was supposed to be developed for PC VR and then be playable on Quest 2 with Link or Air Link cable.
  • City: VR was supposed to work with real native 3D assets with good detail and textures. Buildings don’t look 3D at all, not like virtual reality. I look in vain for any plasticity – it just doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel real.
  • City: VR would need well-thought-out, modern VR menusno toggle menus with the Skyrim VR and Fallout 4 branding. It’s not a feature, it’s pure laziness.

I am disappointed, but also with myself, because not only with the previous video trailers I could have imagined that nothing useful would come of it. Cities: Skylines is too complex to bring into Quest 2 with good graphics. Little Cities shows how it can be done better: its crisp and clear assets and intuitive 3D menus.

Instead, the Fast Travel Games studio simply took Cities: Skylines as it is and only made the most necessary tweaks to the VR controls. The severe graphics downgrade ensures mostly decent performance, but at what price? Wherever problems occur, slightly improved objects or textures are displayed. The following video gives you an idea.

Virtual reality doesn’t deserve it. Even Quest 2, which runs really beautiful VR games, didn’t deserve this. Only then do you have to invest work and adapt a game to the platform. Cities: Skylines was the wrong choice as a cheap port and does more harm to VR than good. Simply throwing the game ending as a camera in a PC game that has been cut out for VR isn’t enough.

We should quickly forget that there has been this attempt and Meta is expected to make significantly higher demands on the truly exceptional mission platform in the future.

a notification: The screenshots and videos in this article were created using Quest 2’s recording feature.

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