Cities: Skylines Mac Review: Can you run it?

by | May 22, 2020 | Simulation

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.

In 2015, developer Colossal Order saw the opportunity and released Cities: Skylines. Under continuous development since then, with loads DLC and community-created content, Cities: Skylines is one of the finest simulation games for Mac and the new champion of the city building genre.

Worried about updating to macOS Catalina? Cities: Skylines is now updated to 64-bit and supports Catalina!

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 new king of city-building games, Cities: Skylines managed to surpass SimCity in every imaginable way.

Our score: ★★★★☆

$29.99┊Humble Bundle

First things first, is the game any good?

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.

Since day 1, Skylines has been an outstanding game with the right balance between complexity and accessibility. This game is exactly what the new SimCity was supposed to be. We were disappointed to see SimCity fumble as it did but luckily Skylines appeared just in time to save the day.

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.

Cities Skylines Mac reviews

And this love shows up in the reviews. The game has an 85/100 Metascore, which is pretty fantastic, and 91% positive reviews on Steam from almost 42,000 users. The Escapist said it well:

The finest city builder in over a decade, Cities: Skylines’s few flaws are so minor I only noticed them after hours of enjoyment.

All in all, if you’re remotely interested in simulation games, and more particularly, city-builders, Cities: Skylines is the best there is. It not only surpasses the latest SimCity, but it is also, hands down, a great simulation game.

Cities: Skylines Mac requirements

Before diving into our Mac performance tests, let’s take a look at the game’s official requirements. And by the way, we may test games on unsupported machines, but you definitely shouldn’t.

These are the official Mac 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

The release of MacOS High Sierra caused performance and playability issues for some users. But based on our tests, those have been largely resolved since.

Into Simulation games? These are our favorites:

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Release date201520142016




Our rating★★★★★
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The Test: Can you run Cities: Skylines on Mac?

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.

Cities Skyline Mac

What Mac do you have?

It would be impossible for us to test Skylines on every Mac model available so we did the next best thing we could: test it on representative models.

Even if your exact Mac model wasn’t tested today, either our high-end iMac, our average 2016 MBP or our old 2013 MBP should have somewhat similar specs to yours.

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:

  • 1280×800 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. 1280×800 and Medium settings won’t impress anyone, but they are acceptable and should meet the requirements of the average gamer.

Cities Skylines official benchmark settings

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.

The Results: A surprisingly demanding game…

You might have thought that as a more casual game, Cities: Skylines wouldn’t put much strain on our systems.

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…

Cities: Skylines Mac Review: Can you run it? 1

As a reminder, 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.

Can my Mac run Cities: Skylines?

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: 2560×1440
  • 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.

Can you play Cities: Skylines on a MacBook Pro?

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 1280×800 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.

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.

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.

PS: These are our favorite accessories for playing/testing games on Mac!

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Why we love it?The G502 is Logitech's most accurate gaming mouse yet. Plus, it has a plethora of buttons and a killer design.The official PS4 controller just works on Mac. It's wireless, it's precise, it has an excellent grip and it's durable.The Razer Core X turns your MacBook or Mac Mini into a killer gaming machine by adding external graphics support.
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Download Cities: Skylines for Mac

Cities: Skylines is available for download from all the major digital stores including Steam and Humble Bundle:

The new king of city-building games, Cities: Skylines managed to surpass SimCity in every imaginable way.

Our score: ★★★★☆

$29.99┊Humble Bundle

Cities: Skylines Mac Review

In a surprising turn of events, Cities: Skylines dethroned the legendary SimCity as the best city simulator out there. But it does require a powerful Mac to run well. Recent Macs with integrated graphics may be able to run it on low settings, but that will be a challenge.

Operating System: macOS 10.11 and up

Editor's Rating:

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission (this is how we pay the bills). This commission comes at no additional cost to you

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  1. astrid

    i have a mac mini 2014 with i5 processor , 8 gb Ram, and intel iris 1536, and it runs fine with resolution high and graphics low, and all the other things off. i have read that the filters are very demanding so i set them to disabled
    the only worry i have is that the fans of my mac make a lot of noice and that it gets a little bit warm.

    • Ric Molina

      Thanks for sharing your gameplay experience. It can always be useful to other readers with that same machine. I wouldn’t worry about noise and heat, though. Macs have safety systems that prevent it from ruining the computer because of heat. If it ever gets so hot it’s dangerous for the machine, it will automatically turn off.

  2. Death_bard

    Cities: Skylines is available from the developer for only $10.

  3. ken

    For those who found this excellent article and are hoping their MacBook Air will play this game: the answer is yes, it will. Other websites around the web report that the game may not run or that integrated graphics won’t work, but the game runs just fine and I have seen no visual glitches or crashes. Make sure your Mac is plugged in so that it doesn’t slow down for the purpose of saving energy, set the in-game detail settings to low or lowish-medium, and turn off weather and day/night cycles. The game otherwise plays well enough (10FPS) even with very large cities (population 100,000) and a few hundred mods & assets. Read up on Steam Workshop for a list of “FPS-killers” (mods) to avoid and use the built in Content Manager to avoid high-poly custom assets. For a slow-motion simulator game like this 10FPS is totally playable and enjoyable; the game is still fun and even though the cities don’t look as beautiful as the ones you see on YouTube, there is still a lot of fun to be had with detailing, modding, and gameplay. [ Early 2011 MacBook Air, i7, 8GB RAM ]

  4. herman grant

    Hey guys. I am new to the city simulation genre and I wish to buy the Cities: Skylines game for my MacBook Air 2017 model (1.8 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3, and Intel HD Graphics 6000 1536 MB). Does anyone with the same MBA specs have issues with glitch and crashes? Thanks in advance. 🙂

  5. Joe

    Mr. Marx,

    Why does it take up to 45 minutes to load a saved game on Cities – I am on a Mac with OS system

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