Review

Cities XL Review (PC)

You could argue that the hardcore simulation genre has been in decline in recent years. The iconic series like SimCity and Caesar have faded away or been replaced, and apart from the odd niche game here and there, there hasn’t been a decent city-builder in a few years. Entre Cities XL, the offering from France-based Monte Cristo. This is an economically driven city simulation that, whilst familiar to SimCity enthusiasts, is a game that tries to set its own image.

This title initially plays out like any other game of its type. You start off small, building up residential and industrial areas, whilst keeping your citizens happy with services, and expanding your economy though commercial buildings and trade. Citizens come in four different types, and as more options are unlocked, the more jobs you can offer towards the higher tired citizens. You keep the denizens happy with utilities and city services, whilst simultaneously expanding your economy.


Say what you want though, Cities is one beautiful looking game.
One of the most touted GEM concepts is the ski resort.

The prevalent theme in Cities is money. If you look closely, you could argue that this theme is so strong that this game is more of an economic management game than a city management, with maximising profits the order of the day. If you look at Monte Cristos’ history, you will see that they’ve a few economically themed games, so this is of no surprise.

The economy of your city is a delicate balance, much like a real-life ecosystem. Heavy industry helps supply the Manufacturing industry, which in turn supplies the High tech industry, which then feeds off heavy industry. Through in offices as well, which use up a mixture of services depending on the density, then you have a cycle that you need to maintain in order for your businesses to remain profitable. Alternatively, you can use the global trade market to sell off excess ‘units’ of any particular area, including workforces and resources, and import any deficits you may face. This can be handy in the later stages of the game where you’re running out of room to expand your industry. Also, importing certain resources sometimes proves cheaper then producing them yourself.

Whilst there is a single player mode, the game’s true potential isn’t really unlocked until you go online, which is where this game differs from the rest of the genre. In the ‘Planet mode’, as it is called, players choose a spot on the global map in which to create their city along with other players online. Those players then cohabitate the planet and help each other expand their cities through trade. Given the aforementioned variety of the maps, trading with actually players has its benefits, as it’s theoretically cheaper to trade with them over the in-game AI faction. Unfortunately this mode doesn’t seem as great as the developers would like you to believe. Whilst it does beat playing in Solo mode, there lacks a certain competitive quality that online gaming needs. Sure, getting the highest score may work for Microsoft’s achievement system, but that involves playing many different games. Here, there’s only one game you can play.


The other is the beach; expect these to be amongst the first GEMs released.
The level of zoom is impressive, if slightly superfluous.

And sadly, for all its charm, Cities XL seems to lack a certain quality that could really give it personality. In SimCity 2000, your fledging utopia could be struck by fires, floods or riots at any given moment, and if you got bored you could simply summon down an alien or a tidal wave to stir things up. In Cities, there’s no such option. The worst thing that can happen to you in an average game of Cities is that you lose money, and people start moving out. This lack of a ‘fun-factor’ isn’t as noticeable in the early stages of a city, but as you progress further and further, and thus have to wait longer to unlock the higher tier options, you can’t help but find your mind wonders.

Even the name seems to be a bit of a misnomer. Instead of ‘Cities XL’ this game should really be called ‘Cities Lite’ as many of the micromanagement elements you could find in the SimCity series simply aren’t present. There’s no laying of water or power lines, for example, although those two resources do play a part in your city’s development. Arguably this is could be explained away as an attempt to make the game, and even the genre more accessible to new and more casual players, but end results just leaves things feeling a bit dull at times.


The more citizens that come to your city, the higher the buildings will need to get.
Concepts like ‘Freight’ are important for inter-city trading.

One element of the game that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the GEM’s, or Gameplay Extension Modules. Simply put these GEM’s act as mini games that the player can participate in. GEM’s take the form of additions to your city, such as a Ski resort; however the player can choose to ‘manage’ the resort much like they would a city. Manage the GEM successfully, and some benefits should be transferred to your city as a whole. (The City is ‘paused’ whilst you play a GEM, to stop problems building up whilst your attention is elsewhere.) This feature would be a good way to extend gameplay, however the only problem is that these GEM’s are essentially pay to play DLC, and on top of the subscription fee, you would have to shell out extra for these add-ons.


It’s difficult to give a definitive word on Cities. On the one hand, it’s a fun, addictive little game that’s a good homage to a classic genre. On the other hand, as of publication there are still quite a few bugs and entire features that just haven’t been implemented yet. Coupled with the lack of a truly competitive element this game will probably only entertain hardcore fans of the genre. At the moment, it’s just hard to justify the subscription price, and just buying the game won’t work either, as non-subscribers get limited post-release support, and no new content. However, once this game has gotten on its feet, then perhaps it will be worth the monthly fee.

Top Game Moment: Keeping your shizzle together as your city gets bigger is rather gratifying.

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Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Oct 15, 2009
herodotus
Lack of random natural disasters is a poor gameplay decision IMO. This sounds like it's more about bean counting than city building/ destruction/ re-building.
By Dompa (I just got here) on Oct 24, 2009
Dompa
I played beta and at first it was almost impossible to make city, but after several patches the game is gettin more interested... before the game was released last patch was very good, and i think it's worth to buy it....

only what i don't know do I will play for online, cause i heard something it will be monthly fee...