Cities XL Review
Monday, October 26, 2009 10:51 AM
The spiritual and physical successor to Sim City and City Life, XL takes that classic formula of city management and throws it into the MMO arena.
The big question on the lips of fans of the management genre is this; does it dethrone the reigning king, Sim City 4? Well in some ways yes, in others no. Where we have a somewhat lackluster and banal approach to the core gameplay, we are given fancy online features, sparkling graphics and hints of evolution within the genre.
Cities XL sets itself apart from all that has gone before because it offers both online and single player modes. The online feature, for myself and many others, is the major selling point of the game: it is the natural progression to the genre and a welcome change. However, the single-player seems rushed and tacked on; it pales in comparison to the online mode and seems to only serve purpose of catching the broadest audience possible.
As stated previously, the online aspect of this game, named Planet Mode, is far more attractive than the single-player experience. In Planet Mode you pick a plot of land in which you are going to develop your city and then you set about the task. The major difference between this and the single-player is that it feels more involved, strategic and in-depth. Trading, socializing and the ability to view others work is one that really adds to experience.
First of all let me say this, Cities XL is attractive looking when all the graphical enhancements are allowed and the settings turned up to 11. It's just that, when it's not, the game is rather ugly and dead, since streets are deserted and desolate. You feel like you've created a ghost town rather than a thriving metropolis.
So let's talk about the very essence of the game, city management. I struggle to fully commit my views to like or dislike Cities XL. The game is essentially one of spinning plates: create housing, counteract this with the building of places of employment, create facilities to keep up moral, counteract this with building housing. Wash, rinse and repeat.
It's all very simple and feels like a juggling act rather than city management. Initial impressions are one of simplicity and repetition; I can't help but feel that Sim City 4 achieved what Cities XL has six years ago.
This isn't to say that Cities XL isn't enjoyable. The first flourishes of your city's beginnings are beautifully addictive and creative. It's a genuine pleasure to play the omnipotent architect of the city of your imagination. Where XL lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in visual aspects and general satisfaction.
Monte Cristo has taken that important step of allowing the newcomer to enjoy the game and learn it rather than being chastised for lack of knowledge. Mistakes and misguided actions can be rectified easily before it all gets out of hand; if you fail to make money the game nudges you in the direction of the reason why. It is forgiving in a good way; it feels like the game wants you to enjoy it rather than battle against it.
As Cities XL is a Massively Multiplayer Online game, content and fixes will be forth coming, the game I am now discussing will be relatively unrecognizable in the following months. This is both the advantage and disadvantage of the online game, the only problem is that if the game isn't polished and varied enough at launch, this is enough to soil it's reputation for quite some time.
Like almost all MMO games Cities XL requires the payment of a monthly fee to enjoy the Planet Mode. Of course, this is a bone of contention for many gamers wanting to enjoy MMO games but it is a necessary truth of the genre. I find myself at odds with the system, but if a game such as World of Warcraft is constantly revised, updated and expanded upon on a monthly basis, then of course it is worth a small monthly sum. The problem with Monte Cristo's game is that, well, I can't see the need.
Cities XL offers the player the chance to play Planet Mode for a monthly fee of around £6. It doesn't sound a lot, but from my general feelings of the game and the many players I talked to who were playing, it seems somewhat of a cheap move. XL just doesn't really warrant the fee. The game doesn't seem to have the longevity to sustain a player for months.
Monte Cristo has promised that adopters of the pay-to-play model will receive monthly content packs, one that is said to be in the pipeline adds transport devices such as buses and trains. Am I the only one that feels this should have been in the game as it was published? If Sim City 4 managed it in 2003, surely Cities XL can?
I could ramble on about this issue but lets get back on topic. So let us imagine the scenario that you have actually subscribed to Cities XL, what bang do you get for you buck?
Planet Mode allows you to trade with the player made cities around your own. This is quite a simple but effective little feature. My small but growing city "Tinglesville" was nothing but a small slum of unqualified workers living for hard work at my heavy industrial factories. They were my Umpa Lumpa's and worked hard night and day. This meant that my city was creating enough Heavy Industry to warrant a surplus in requirement. This leaves you with a token that can be traded for cash or a multitude of different tokens, such as commercial, fuel or qualified workers.
This feature works very well and of course it's another element of juggling around micromanagement aspects, but it also brings more depth and involvement into the game.
Alas, however; as with most of Cities XL's perceived charms, it isn't without problem. The trade system, which works similarly to the World of Warcraft Auction House, is a little sluggish and unresponsive. A simple transaction of placing a token on the market can lead to frustration, as it simply doesn't respond for some time. Sure, this will be fixed, but it should have been ironed out during Beta testing phases.
The Planet Mode allows you to interact with others, mostly during trading and for the most part it's fun and progresses the genre. On the other hand, apart from trading, there's little communication and involvement with different players, your city is an instanced plot of land, another's actions will never affect you and for a game that includes multiplayer it can feel a little lonely.
To conclude, Cities XL is a game of flaws, failures and odd choices; it's also a game of enjoyment, addictiveness and satisfaction. It seems to strike an equal balance of brilliance and inanity. If you enjoy the genre then yes I would recommend the game, but state my allegiances to Sim City 4. If you are looking for an online city builder, it's good and it's satisfying, but it's also a bit of a scam and a money-spinner.