Cities XL 2011 Review (PC)

I felt sorry for Cities XL. It wasn't that it was a bad game, it's just that it lacked a soul. But technically it was very sound, and as city-building sims go it was probably one of the more in-depth to come along since Maxis stopped doing SimCity. The addition of an online mode as well was a valid attempt at taking the genre in new directions and tried to promote cooperation and give a sense of greater purpose to building your metropolis. My review reflected the imperfect nature of the game at launch, as well as the hope that the unimplemented features would make up for the games lack of personality.

Thankfully, the buses are way more efficient than any real-world bus system...
To hear then that not only did the games online mode shut down, but that the entire studio was forced to close barely 7 months after release was a real shame. Developer Monte Cristo had been around since 1995 and were responsible for some very niche yet popular titles, especially in the strategy genre. To see them go in such a manner was almost heart-breaking. As for the franchise, it was picked up by Focus Home Interactive, a small yet established firm that have been involved in everything from Blood Bowl, to TrackMania, to the original CityLife game that Monte Cristo made. Pushing forward with barely a second glance towards their fallen comrades, Focus has taken the core game, jigged it around a bit, and presented us with Cities XL 2011.

Now unsurprisingly, Cities XL 2011 is just like the previous game. Almost exactly like the previous game, in fact. This isn't exactly something we can begrudge them for, as several major sports franchises do similar things all the time. It does make this a difficult one to appraise though as it essentially still has most of the issues the previous game had, and it also means there's little 'new' to allow it to stand on its own merits. I suppose this is what happens when a company takes a failed game and try to turn things around, but they could have probably taken a little bit more time with it if they'd wanted just to add something truly unique into the game.

To be fair, there is some new content here. A tweaked public transport system that includes Metro lines and a Bus system, cultural textures so that you can further theme your city based on British, German, American or French architecture, some new maps (although mainly it's just the maps from the last game) and other tweaks like improved zoning and taxes. Probably the two most substantial changes to this game is the inclusion of new buildings - I haven't seen them all but there's supposed to be over 300 extra buildings, and the inclusion of features from the previous game's online mode.

Previously, you could only trade with Omnicorp in single player, and then only other players in the PlanetOffer online mode. Now, you can trade with Omnicorp plus other cities you create. Also, the Bus system was only available online, now it's available offline. There were other things such as online-exclusive maps and blueprints which you could work together in order to collect and create which have also been included, but that's about it.
New content includes being able to build structures on the water
Speaking of the online mode, I think most saddening thing is that it seems to have been completely abandoned. Due to low subscriptions, Cities XL's PlanetMode was eventually shut down just prior to Monte Cristo's demise but it seems Focus hasn't decided to try and revive that facet. It's a shame, because personally I believed that the 'Planet Offer', an MMO-esque mode that had people trading with each other and co-operating in order to further improve cities, was a decent attempt to modernise an ageing genre, and a step in the right direction.

But that's not all: Cities XL was going to be improved and expanded upon through a concept called 'GEM's' - de facto mini-games that you could build, and then go into and manage on a more individual level to help provide wider bonuses to your city. A Ski resort and a Beach area were showed off the most to expand on this concept, however the plans were never followed through and it looks like Focus isn't going to be dealing with those either.

By now you've probably noticed that I've spent more time talking around the game, than actually about the game. Well the reason for this is simply because Cities XL 2011 can be summed up in a paragraph. Unfortunately site editorial policy (the policy that I made, now that I think about it), is that reviews need to be at least 1000 words. You can usually write plenty on a game if you play it enough, so 1000 is no biggie. But in all honesty, apart from the specific exceptions that I've already laid out, if you want to know about Cities XL 2011, go read my review on Cities XL. They're pretty much the same game.
It'll take a lot of time, effort and planning to get a city looking like this

Granted, this is an improvement in most areas - less bugs, tweaked features, some new content... but the complete dropping of the online mode is in my mind a step backwards, and the game still lacks a soul. On those grounds the game gets the same score as the last one did. It's good that Focus offered a significant discount to anyone who had already bought Cities XL, as otherwise there would be little here to entice old players. New people to the franchise who've longed for a decent city-builder should definitely try this out though.

Top Game Moment: It has to be said, there is something satisfying in actually designing how your city will look...


By turboturd (SI Newbie) on Nov 18, 2010
Are some issues from Cities XL such as the performance issues from memory leaks and the game only using one cpu core beem sorted in this version?
By Jasca_Ducato (SI Core) on Nov 18, 2010
I liked XL, a lot; more so than I ever did the SimCity games. I was a bit miffed when I discovered that none of the GEM's had been released though :\, shame they'e not carrying on with that particular idea.
By Azsinistar (SI Veteran Newbie) on Nov 18, 2010
I didnt like XL as it just didnt have that "something" to keep me playing. With the improvements to this version I was hoping to finally get a good city builder again, but this review sadly shows that the soul or that "something" may still be missing.
By K3Spice (SI Core) on Nov 20, 2010
Its always sad to see the dev's of any game die.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 24, 2010
Hated the previous title. Memory leaks and bugs-aplenty that were never addressed by the Devs. I'll definitely pass on this one.