Cities XL Review

Written by Harry Butler

October 29, 2009 | 08:55

Tags: #city-builder #how-much #management #sim-city #subscription

Companies: #cities-xl #monte-cristo

Cities XL Review

Publisher: Monte Cristo Games
Platform: PC Exclusive
UK Price (as reviewed): £24.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $44.90 (ex Tax)

Straight lines. When it comes to city simulator games the straight line is king, be it the grid upon which you construct your comically named urban utopia (We called ours New Bazberg), the highways that deliver traffic, the flow of utilities beneath the streets or the construction of the buildings themselves. Straight lines rule when you’re building your own mini-metropolis. Cities XL then is a curve when it comes to city sims – and we don’t just mean the ability to build bendy roads either.

It’s been pretty quiet on the city sim front for far too long; Sim City 4, the defending champion of the genre, was released a mind melting six years ago and while it still benefits from an active community designing and building free mods and custom content, the game is getting a bit long in the tooth.

Cities XL Review
Click to Enlarge - When it says XL, it means XL

Cities XL is the new kid on the block then - the flashy young upstart finally here to dethrone the long standing alpha male, supposedly. A gorgeous 3D engine, gentler learning curve and a consistent online component offering features the genre has been crying out for all point towards good things, but could there be a few holes in Cities XL’s planning permission?

Anyone who played Sim City 4 will know that being thrown into the deep end of city management and design can be an intimidating prospect, so it’s great to see that Cities XL gets off on the right foot with a battery of quality tutorials aimed at gently introducing the player to the game’s core mechanics. The tutorials deal with every aspect of the game, from how to place roads to trading resources - and it’s all covered in detail, although there is some awkwardly pushy hinting towards the game’s online component. More on that later.

Cities XL Review
Click to Enlarge - Industrial areas produce pollution. This is bad

With the basics under your belt you’re encouraged to dabble in the single player experience, constructing your first city as you see fit. The key gameplay mechanics are much, much simpler than those of Sim City 4 (a change made to make the game more accessible) and there’s no need to worry about placing water pipes or electrical cables to supply your new upper class estates or lower class ghettos. All the game asks is that buildings have road access, nothing more. Even commuting distance isn’t seen as a problem, with citizens not thinking too much of travelling half way across the urban sprawl to clock in for work – just like the staff of bit-tech.

Buildings are then split between residential, industrial and commercial, with each category further split into sub-categories (residential housing is either for unqualified, qualified, executive or elite citizens for example) and the player charged with finding a balance between them to grow the city.

Unlike other city sims though, buildings will need manually upgrading to bigger versions which become unlocked as your city reaches population mile stones. This rather frustratingly means you’ll have to manually demolish all your low density, unqualified housing only to build medium density unqualified housing in the exact same spots – an unnecessary process that reeks of MMO-esque grinding and which frequently results in footprint overlaps on your once pristine boulevards when you misalign that upgraded housing footprint.
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