Cities: Skylines on Mac: Can you run it?
City building sims have been around almost as long as the Macintosh, and for most of that time, the genre was synonymous with SimCity. Over time, however, the quality of the franchise declined until the disastrous release of the rebooted SimCity left the door wide open for a new city building champion.
Then in 2015, developer Colossal Order walked through that door with Cities: Skylines and took up the mantle that SimCity unceremoniously dropped. Under continuous development since then, with loads DLC and community-created content, Cities: Skylines is the new champion of the city building sim and one of the finest strategy games for Mac.
If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, in short, you play the mayor of a town with responsibility for all aspects of your city. This includes zoning, taxes, infrastructure, emergency services, entertainment and more. It’s a non-stop balancing act, but when you succeed in creating a thriving city in your image, it can be surprisingly rewarding.
But what does it take to run the latest and greatest city-building simulation? Can any Mac owner participate, or does it take hardware with some oomph?
As always, we’re here to help you answer those questions, testing the game on several different Macs.
The developers have been continuously updating the base game, there has been a steady stream of official DLC, and the thriving user base includes plenty of content creators, everything from scenarios, to cities, to individual cars and buildings you can add into your creations.
The finest city builder in over a decade, Cities: Skylines's few flaws are so minor I only noticed them after hours of enjoyment.
To evaluate how well Cities: Skylines runs, we’ll test it on these models:
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Touch, Late 2017):
3.1 GHz Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, Intel Iris Graphics 650 (1.5GB)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016):
2.0 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel Iris Graphics 540 (1.5GB)
iMac (5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)
3.5 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, AMD Radeon R9 M290X (2GB)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2012)
2.5 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 4000 (0.5GB)
Be aware that Intel Integrated Graphics cards are not officially supported, but more on that below.
Why these machines? Our purpose is to help you understand how well this game runs on different setups. And hopefully, one of these setups will be similar enough to yours to give you a clear idea of what to expect. These are the setups we will be covering:
- Recent high-end Macs (the 2014 iMac).
- Recent entry-level Macs (the 2017 MacBook Pro and the 2016 MacBook Pro).
- Older Macs (the 2012 MacBook Pro).
These are the settings we used to test Cities: Skylines using our in-house FPS counter Count It for a fixed duration of 5 minutes:
- 1280x800 resolution
- Graphics Quality: Medium
- Vertical Sync: Off
- Anti-aliasing: Disabled
- Medium zoom level
Why these settings? Remember, we are testing vastly different machines. Some high-end, some not. 1280x800 and Medium settings won’t impress anyone, but they are acceptable and should meet the requirements of the average gamer.
Also, rather than start with a new city where there wouldn’t be much to strain our systems, we downloaded an user-created city that didn’t require specific DLC and already had 70,000 citizens; as a 17MB file, we figured this would be a good test.
But remember, this is a simulation, and it’s constantly simulating the behavior of all your citizens, even if you’re not looking at them up close. In this case, the actions of 70,000 citizens...
This is how we describe the different levels of performance:
- Below 20 FPS: Unplayable: Laggy gameplay, full of stutters and slowdowns.
- 20-30 FPS: Borderline: Can be Ok in slow paced games. Still, not optimal.
- 30-45 FPS: Playable: Acceptable for most (most gaming consoles do this).
- 45-60 FPS: Smooth: Fluid gameplay, with no perceivable stutters.
- 60+ FPS: Very Smooth: For hardcore and professional players, a luxury for most.
To summarize, while the iMac had no trouble running the game at 40 FPS, none of our other test machines hit the magic 30 FPS number, although the 2017 MBP came closest at 22.6 FPS.
Do you have a high-end Mac?
There’s no question that a high-end Mac that meets the minimum specs can play this game at our default settings. However, considering how well this iMac performed on games that would seem to require more horsepower, we were surprised at the limited frame rate: only 40 FPS.
We still decided to push our high-end iMac some more. We increased the settings on our high-end iMac half-way to the highest settings and still got a playable 25 FPS:
- Resolution: 2560x1440
- Graphics Quality: Medium
- V-Sync: On
- Anti-aliasing: Enabled
While that is technically below our threshold, most of the game elements ran smoothly, zooming in, out and around was easy and the game remained responsive.
Bumping the graphics and resolution all the way up led to an unplayable 6 FPS, however.
Take away: If you have a high-end Mac, you can expect to play this game at our default settings and maybe even higher. However, going in we certainly expected better results, leading us to wonder how well this game is optimized for the Mac.
Do you have a recent entry-level Mac?
This is when things start to get complicated. Today’s low-end Macs, even iMacs, come with Intel Integrated Graphics, which Cities: Skylines does not officially support.
However, you can tell from our results that there are Macs with integrated graphics that can run the game, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2017 got decent frame rates at our default settings: 22.6 FPS.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2016 was slightly behind, landing on unplayable territory with 17.4 FPS. That said, when pushing all settings to the lowest while keeping that same 1280x800 resolution, it managed to run at 22.5 FPS.
Take away: If you have a recent Mac with an integrated chipset you can expect borderline results at best.
But what if you have an older Mac?
Things get even trickier here. The basic requirements are a 3.0 GHz chip and a dedicated graphics card. People with a slower chip but a graphics card have reported being able to play the game, but much like those with a fast enough chip but integrated graphics, performance is borderline at best.
It seems that both processing power and graphics might are necessary for this game, so unless you have both, expect to be able to play this game at low settings if at all.
Take away: If you have an older Mac that meets the minimum specs (see below), you should be able to run this game. Anyone else would be taking a risk buying this game and expecting playable results.
There is one last method that can help you estimate how your Mac would run this game.
You can run the free Unigine Heaven Benchmark using the Basic Preset and compare your results with ours:
If your machine had a better/worst Heaven score, expect a higher/lower FPS score
The correlation between in-game performance and a standard benchmark is far from perfect, but it can still be a good comparison point.
You can also input your Heaven result into this form to estimate the FPS your Mac could score when running the game:
Keep in mind that this is an estimate and far from exact. If your estimated FPS are too close to 30 FPS, don't risk it.
Bottom line: Cities: Skylines is a great city building simulator, but that quality comes at a cost in performance. If you meet the specs you should be fine, if you’re close you may be able to make it playable. But it’s a demanding game that wants both chip speed and graphics firepower for the best experience.
These are the minimum system requirements:
- A 64-bit operating system
- OS: 10.9
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0Ghz Processor
- Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260, ATI Radeon HD 5670 or better. Video RAM of 512MB or better. Intel Integrated
- Graphics Cards not supported
- Memory: 4GB RAM
- Hard Drive: 4 GB of Hard Drive space
Note there have always been questions about how well Cities: Skylines is optimized for Macs. The game uses the Unity engine, and at times updates to that have led to performance issues.
Recently, High Sierra has also caused performance and playability issues for some users. The developer is aware of these issues and is said to be working on them. We’ll keep you informed.
If you meet the minimum specs you should be able to run it on moderately high graphics settings
Newer Macs with integrated graphics may be able to run it on low settings, but there are no guarantees
Older Macs that meet the minimum specs should be able to run it
Demand level: ⚠ Medium