Welcome to the city, Mayor. Have you been here before?
There is something incredibly appealing about building and running your own city, creating a sprawling metropolis and ensuring that all of the inhabitants think it is the best place to live in the world. In these current times, the king of the city simulators, EA’s SimCity, has fallen on hard times in part due to the limitations put on the size of the cities created by players. This has opened the door of opportunity for other city simulators, and Focus Home Interactive’s Cities XXL is now available and offering some impressively large maps for the player to fill with urban sprawl.
Seriously, the maps in Cities XXL are massive and allow for some epic cities to be built. Obviously, the player will begin with the most humble road, followed by zoning for residential, commercial or industrial buildings, which will gradually be built as the citizens come and need work. Over time, different types of citizen will be required, different industries will set up in your city and services, such as education, healthcare and security, will all have to be provided to ensure that little people will want to move into your growing city.
Players will have to keep an eye on things like pollution and the effect it has on the population, all the while keeping track of finances and ensuring that the city is making enough money to continue expanding. As traffic starts to become a problem, the bane of all cities, players will have to think about adding bus routes or a metro system, or even airports, in order to keep their population going to work and spending money. As the city grows, all of these aspects become more difficult to manage and new building types are unlocked to provide further options.
In these respects, Cities XXL is pretty standard in its city simulation. There are some tutorials for the newcomers to the series which will quickly teach the player how to get the most from their city without giving too much away. But anyone who has played a city simulator game before will likely quickly pick up the basics.
However, for those fans of the Cities games, in particular the previous Cities XL title, there may be a shock in store. It seems that the developers of Cities XXL may have taken some shortcuts in development, and the shiny new Cities XXL game is almost identical to the previous title.
Cities XXL has a new interface, but this seems to be an experiment that just hasn’t paid off as the new interface feels so rough around the edges that it can be considered as worse than the previous interface. There have been performance improvements, with performance issues being something that plagued the previous release terribly. Indeed, now players can build much larger cities before lag and stuttering starts creeping in. But still, performance issues do show up, and frequent crashing or freezing up suggest that Cities XXL still has problems in the background. There are some new buildings, but these are minimal and nothing to really warrant this brand new release. Even the visuals remain the same, and are looking slightly dated now. The big addition, something which the developers have made a song and dance about, is the integration of Steam Workshop, which promises additional, user made content. But even the appeal of this is limited.
What this all looks like really depends on the players cynicism. At best, Cities XXL is a misguided attempt to offer disgruntled players a city building experience that differs to SimCity, which has been rushed out to get the jump on the other alternative city building game, Cities: Skylines. At its worst, Cities XXL is a cash grab to separate players from their money in exchange for what could have been a patch to fix some of the issues with the previous game. Make your own mind up.
In reality, the negativity only applies to the fans of the game. For the newcomers, there is a fair amount to like here. The limitations applied by EA’s offering are not an issue here. There is a lot of game to play with and the chance to build truly massive cities is certainly an appeal. Sure, there are some performance issues that will have to be navigated, and regular saving is advised due to crashes. The interface is not exactly friendly, but everything that the player needs to know is there, somewhere. And despite the slightly dated looking visuals, cities still manage to look impressive, and zooming down to street level and watching the world go by in your city is truly a treat.
Were it only for the newcomers, Cities XXL would score quite well. It is not without its problems, but the game is engaging enough to entertain for many hours and scratch that city building itch. However, it is the way the fans seem to have been treated that really damages the game. These are the players who keep the franchise going, the ones who would be most excited for the new release and will likely buy the game at launch. For the fans, Cities XXL offers almost nothing new.
The outcry from the community has been loud, and the developers have obviously taken notice. In a recent post on the Steam forum, the developers have announced that the upcoming planned DLC will be offered for free, by way of an apology. This is a nice idea, and kudos to the developers for trying to make it right, but there are still plenty of gamers out there who feel cheated by Cities XXL.
For those who have never played Cities XL, the new Cities XXL is the best version so far, a competent and enjoyable, albeit buggy, city simulation game. For owners of the previous title, Cities XXL is the most minor of upgrades, and not really worth worrying about.