“The new SimCity is everything you’d expect it to be and mo… Hey, wait a second!”
A few years ago, SimCity Societies was released to end the drought of city building games. Fans of the SimCity franchise rejoiced as the game was released, but once it was in the hands of the public, everyone came to a horrible realization. This wasn’t SimCity anymore. Just as The Sims had been dumbed down and Spore failed to impress anyone beyond casual gamers, SimCity had now become a watered down version of it’s former self that lacked depth and soul. Gone were the days of epic city building experiences, replaced by a basic and shallow gameplay experience that literally let players make whatever kind of city they wished without any consequences.
As a SimCity fanatic, I was pretty let down when Societies was released. I still play it sometimes even to this day, but the thrill isn’t there and I never look forward to making vast cities in it. I figured that Societies probably drove a stake in the city building simulation genre, and it seemed like it did just that for a while. Things were eerily quiet for fans of city building sims for a while until a low profile developer known as Monte Cristo decided to take on the genre with Cities Unlimited, which later became Cities XL and, finally, Cities XL 2011. The version I am about to review is Cities XL 2011, which will be the final version of the product considering Monte Cristo is now bankrupt and defunct.
First off, Cities XL 2011 is good. Really good. The game takes the city building formula popularized by SimCity and creates an experience that would be far more deserving of the SimCity title than Societies ever was. The core gameplay is nothing new at all. Build a powerplant to power the city, construct industries so that your people can work, make sure the roads are sufficient for increasing volumes of traffic, and so forth. As I said, it’s what we have all seen before and have done over and over in SimCity titles. Cities XL does give the player more freedom and control when placing things, however. For starters, players have complete control over roads. You can lay them in any direction or shape that you desire. The result is fantastic, allowing cities in the game to look far more natural and less grid-like than what we’re used to in the SimCity series. Building placement is pixel perfect, replacing the grid-style placement system from SimCity. You can be so precise with where you want to set your buildings in Cities XL that it really is fantastic. Having so much control over building and road placement really helps give the city an organic feel, which is just the thing that city building sims needed.
The core “RCI” gameplay is of course present and plays center stage. For those who do not know what RCI is, it stands for residential, commercial, and industrial. Residential is housing for your populace, commercial serves as retail outlets and lesiure locations, and industrial is obviously where your citizens go to work. Balancing the three is as pivotal as it was in SimCity, but Cities XL makes things a little more complicated by throwing several different social classes at players. Your population is divided into four parts: unskilled labourers, skilled labourers, executives, and elites. Each class requires different employment and housing needs, so you really have to keep your eye on all of them at once. Your executives may require more jobs, so you’ll want to set down some office buildings… But then the executives might be stealing jobs from the lesser educated skilled labourers, thus creating the need for more jobs. It’s not too difficult once you realize that each group of working class people require different industries to work in. While executives will typically fill management and office jobs, your unskilled labourer population will mostly have to find work in stingy factories and warehouses. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of once the ball gets rolling.
The only thing that really lets me down about the gameplay is that the game feels too easy. Perhaps it is because I’ve just played too many city building games, but I just don’t find Cities XL to be challenging once you realize what each class of people needs from you. You just have to balance industrial and residential so that all of your workplaces are full and that there is no unemployment while, at the same time, making sure that there are schools, police stations, and other vital buildings present where there is demand for them.
Still, the gameplay is very addicting and deeply satisfying. Watching your city grow is a very enjoyable experience and is sure to be one that lasts quite a while since the maps are extremely large in Cities XL 2011. Your population will be hitting six digits long before you have come close to even filling a tenth of the map. They are really large and vast, which is fantastic.
The graphics are pretty adequate overall. They are certainly not breathtaking or revolutionary, but they are a step up from the graphics in competitor games such as SimCity Societies. Buildings are all fully 3D and look like what they are labelled as, and your city really looks alive as pedestrians and traffic zip around your city sidewalks and streets in a believable fashion. Though the graphics aren’t going to wow you, they certainly are detailed and are pleasant to look at. The people in the game look a little weird when you zoom in on them, but it’s not too much of a bother if cartoony models don’t upset you.
Cities XL 2011 has quite a nice, relaxing soundtrack to enjoy while you build your cities. Thankfully it never gets over the top or silly, as is the case with SimCity titles. Sound effects are also pretty decent. You won’t hear too much when you are zoomed out from your city and are building, but when you zoom right in to the street level, you’ll hear every vehicle driving by along with any sound effects created by buildings in your city. The game sounds pretty immersive at the maximum zoom level, but I’ve noticed that there is a strange glitch that occurs sometimes when you zoom back out. At times, even at distant zoom levels, you will still hear everything at street level for several seconds. Sometimes it can even go on for about a minute which is odd, but it doesn’t really hamper the overall experience much.
Overall, Cities XL 2011 feels more like a SimCity game than SimCity Societies does and, in many ways, is the true successor to Sim City 4. If you enjoy city building sims and want to play one that is truly worth your time, then Cities XL 2011 is the way to go.