Cities XL PC DVD
Published by: Monte Cristo
Developed by: Monte Cristo
Cities XL is both a single and a multiplayer city building experience. Whilst that might seem like a big thing however, the multiplayer experience isn't as impressive as you might think. Developed by Monte Cristo, creators of the City Life games, Cities XL is a good city building game without ever being exceptional. Its intent to mix online play into the experience is an admirable one but at present it doesn't feel as though the monthly subscription you'll have to pay is worthwhile. However, whilst the game lacks the originality of the City Life titles, it's still a worthy single player experience for fans of the genre.
It's fair to say that Cities XL, as a single-player experience, is a fairly robust city building game that should satisfy fans of the genre. A lot of what the game offers is exactly what you've seen before in previous games in the genre but it adds more depth to the genre's various concepts. You'll lay down residential, industrial and commercial zones and watch the buildings develop before your very eyes pretty much the same as you would in a SimCity game. You do have the option of also placing specific buildings in your city (as you would in Caesar 3 (or Pharaoh or Zeus etc.) when using the Advanced Placement Mode. You'll have a greater degree over the flow of traffic in your city and can change streets to being one-way only. Streets and zones can be placed in any shape you wish so your city no longer has to look like an elaborate grid of construction. This allows you to create a city that looks more like Paris rather than New York (or one of the other major US cities) for example.
You'll have a choice of 25 different maps (5 each of Mountains, Valleys, Canyons, Green Plains and Coasts) on which to build your new city. Unlike in SimCity 4 however the various locations aren't connected to each other so you can't trade goods between them which gives you less of a reason to develop multiple cities. This is a shame because the game has an interesting trading model in which a city's surplus resources are classified as tokens and it would have been great to have been able to trade these between your individual cities. Instead you'll have to put up with trading with the unscrupulous AI known only as Omnicorp who charges the earth for his surplus resources whilst paying peanuts for yours.
In City Life you had the concept of subcultures of which there were six (Elites, Radical Chics, Suits, Fringes, Blue Collars and Have Nots) and you had to allow for these six different social groups with just about every decision you made. This really spiced up the classic SimCity formula and gave the player a lot more to think about. You won't find these subcultures in Cities XL however and that's a shame. In their place you have four groups (Unqualified and Qualified Workers, Executives and Elites). These groups are far more tolerable of each other than the subcultures were and all you have to do is satisfy the needs of each group (easier said than done of course). In some respects this is a little disappointing as the conflicts the subcultures had really added some spice to the tried and tested city building formula that just isn't here in Cities XL.
For the online multiplayer experience, called Planet mode, you're given a seven day trial, that disappointingly, begins from the moment you first install the game and not from when you first play online. Should you want to continue after that you're going to have to pay a monthly subscription to play online (€7.99 for a single month although it works out to be less expensive if you pay for two or three months at a time). After you've selected your chosen language, you'll select one of the available planets and then you'll get to select one of the available locations to create your city on (you can control up to five cities in Planet mode). There's a large variety of locations to choose from, more so than in the single-player game, but you're dealing with the same terrain types and resources etc. The main difference between single and multiplayer experiences is that you get to trade with other real players rather than the rip-off Omnicorp. You can visit another player's city if you want but it hardly seems worth the effort.
Cities XL is a solid city building game but I do have some gripes with it. The game should have provided an assortment of AI characters with which to trade instead of just Omnicorp, who are so expensive to purchase from (and who pay you so little), so that there is occasionally a chance of acquiring some better deals in the single-player game. Should you not want to participate in the online Planet mode, you may be a little annoyed to learn that the game does its level best to make you feel bad about it. When you first load the game after your seven day trial has expired you have to click through several screens worth of text highlighting why you should really be playing the Planet mode and what you're missing out on because you aren't playing. Probably the biggest gripe with the game is that what you're getting for your monthly subscription isn't worth it. Whilst you don't need the CD in the drive to play the game, you do need to be able to log in which means you'll need to have Internet access. During my time with the game the servers have been down several times and during these times, it's not been possible to play even the single-player game. The subscription does entitle you to a nice discount on the future Game-play Extension Modules (or GEMs as they are known) but whether that represents good value remains to be seen.
Visually the game is OK but it's certainly not an improvement on previous city building games. The interface feels a little cumbersome with some actions taking more mouse clicks than they should. The text on the thumbnails, that pop out when selecting which type of building or zone to place, is far too small and barely readable. At least the game's graphics look quite good and the frame rate holds up fairly well, even when your cities are quite large. Larger cities can look quite impressive, particularly with the day and night cycles enabled. The amount of traffic you'll see on the streets is unrealistically low but that's hardly a complaint as having thousands of vehicles driving around would surely take its toll on the frame rate.
Cities XL is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. All of the tutorial messages are in text and the tutorials are actually fairly useful (although the well written game manual is still worth a read, even if it doesn't answer all of the questions you may have). All of the important information in the game is conveyed through text, numbers and colour-coded icons. In fact, the game makes exceptional use of icons that let you know at a glance if there are problems in your city. I don't think I've ever played a city building game where I've ever been alerted to the problem areas of my city so efficiently. Whilst playing online games in the Planet mode, communications are made using text.
Those who want to get their hands on a city building game will certainly enjoy what Cities XL has to offer in the game's single-player mode. The developers deserve praise for incorporating a multiplayer game here too but presently it doesn't seem to be worth the asking price. Of course the future release of the GEMs and modifications to the online game might make the Planet mode (and indeed the game as a whole) all the more appealing but we can only give an opinion on the game as it stands and presently it's a solid single-player experience that's worth the asking price if you've had enough of SimCity 4 or the City Life games. However, those looking for an engaging multiplayer experience won't find one in Cities XL at the time of writing.