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

Trade Embargo

The problems arise when your city falls short on a particular resource, or simply doesn’t have the geographical good fortune to be near ground water or an oil field, forcing you to start trading for your resources. In the single player component you’re only able to trade with a 3rd party “Omnicorp,” who merrily fleece you to the value of 4:1 – four of your over-produced resources such as heavy industry for one in return.

It makes an unbalanced city (as almost all the more difficult scenarios are) almost impossible to manage once it reaches critical mass. Have you built multiple single player cities and want to trade between them? Nope, sorry, only Omnicorp allowed.

The answer, as the game so often points out in the tutorials, is to head to the game’s paid-for online component, Planet Mode. For a pricey £6.95 monthly subscription (£4/PCM if you pay quarterly) you’re given five spots on a planet covered in user-created cities on which to build your new metropolis, with trade agreements possible between any of the hundreds of other players on the planet.

It’s a great idea in theory; your water-rich city trading for oil or electricity from another player and everyone hitting a fair and even balance and sharing resources for the benefit of all. Yeah, right.

Cities XL Review Trade Embargo
Click to Enlarge - Trade is an important part of the game that's badly implemented

Sadly, that doesn’t sound like any bunch of gamers we know and as there are no guarantees on trade agreements. Having secured your supply of holidays (yes, holidays are a resource, produced by hotels) the other player can immediately cancel the agreement, shafting your late-game economy until you can thrash out another deal. It’s a bit of an insult really considering Sim City 4 was able to manage resources and even support population trading between cities six years ago.

What’s worse though is the highly cynical nature of the single player game caused by the imbalance the unfair trade system offers. If you don’t want to pay for the planet mode then you’re stuck getting shafted by Omnicorp should your resources fall short, which on the more challenging scenarios, they inevitably will.

Cities XL Review Trade Embargo
Click to Enlarge - Planet mode lets you tour other players cities -handy for impressive screenshots

Alongside the ability to build cities on trading planets the online portion of the game also allows you view other players' cities, although this is limited to an entirely visual experience – you can’t view another player’s environmental overlays to check his pollution rates or his traffic status to learn better traffic management. It’s essentially being shown what others have done without ever learning how to emulate it yourself, and so soon becomes a bit pointless other than lusting after what the very best city sculptors have created.

What really grinds our gears though is that, paying for Planet Mode doesn’t even get you all of the downloadable content Monte Cristo plans to offer for the game. The Ski resort and Beach resort mini-management games (called GEMs) planned for future release promise to add an extra degree of management to certain areas of your city, and paying Planet Mode users will receive just 35 percent off their price.

Add to this the fact that the standalone retail game doesn’t even include the city sim staple of mass public transport systems like buses and trains (planned for a future update for, you guessed it, Planet Mode users only) and Cities XL begins to border on the exploitative. Subscription, micro-transactions and a high retail price too – in this regard Cities XL really does have it all.
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