Imagine a game where you can create a city then go online and visit the creations of others. Well you don’t have to imagine as Cities XL does just that, you would think then that it is would be a brilliant game, unfortunately it isn’t, it is a game which is at times extremely infuriating.
If we look at what happened to me very recently you will see what I mean. My single-player city was going strong, I had nearly 400,000 in the bank and a slowly expanding population which was approaching 20,000 citizens. My city had two distinct areas, the first, and largest, was home to my city hall, vast amounts of housing, offices and industry which was clogging up the air with filthy smog. Down the long winding road I had a smaller area located on fertile land full of farms and a small smattering of my beloved rectangular housing zones.
Things were going well until I took the big step of expanding a new settlement near some newly constructed oil pumps. The residents in this small off-shoot of the city were missing vital amenities like leisure and education. I knew this because my advisor was informing me that there were problems for some citizens. I used the handy overlay to see where the problem areas were, with the housing zones turning red I knew I had to take action to prevent citizens leaving the city.
The imaginery construction workers came in and built a school, medical centre along with a couple of other amenities which, unlike housing and industrial zones are placed one by one. Once I had done this I proceeded to build some zoning for Executive families, they are more needy that Unqualified and Qualified workers, but I felt confident that I could manage to bring them into my city. I placed some high-tec industrial zones and waited for what I thought would be a triumphant flood of new citizens.
That wasn’t to happen, I glanced at my balance and realised I was losing money hand over fist, my advisor informed me that I had to act quickly to prevent the city falling into debt. I scrabbled around the financial menus and saw that those new amenities for the oild workers were costing me thousands upon thousands of dollars to run. They had to go, a decision which would leave the residents illiterate and at risk of boredom without any bowling alleys to go to.
It is a simple economic problem that services that the citizens regularly demand cost so much to run, each and every building of this sorts regularly costs you money and the first ones that you purchase only cover a very small area. The point that I described above where I started to go bankrupt has happened to me at the same stage in all of my cities I have managed, it feels like the pacing of development at this stage of city development is slightly broken.
An intriguing aspect to come in the future of Cities XL are the ‘GEMs’ or Gameplay Enhancement Modules which, when released, will add a level of micro-management as you take control of your own business. At the moment it is confirmed that there will be Ski and Beach GEMs. It seems that when you link these to your city they will have positive effects on factors such as tourism. What is important to take note of is that GEMs will be available at a reduced price to those who subscribe to the Planet Offer which is the MMO aspect of Cities.
With the Planet mode you get to chose a planet to set your own city in, planets are seperated according to languages and locations, though you aren’t forced to follow go to a British planet if you don’t want. Just don’t expect much response on a French planet if you are speaking English. Planet mode enables players to visit each others cities as well as to trade tokens. Tokens are general resources in the game, if you have a lot of farms you will have spare farm tokens which you can trade with the evil Don Madalff or with other players on the planet either in exchange for more money or other resources which your citizens require.
Blueprints are the final dimension of the online mode, when they are introduced to the full version of the game (they were present in the beta) you will occasionally find one on your profile page on the Cities XL website. If you want to use the blueprint you can then create a megastructure, so if you are lucky you can place the Houses of Parliament along with Big Ben in your city or even the Eiffel Tower. To create a megastructure though you will need the help of others through trading your tokens.
Prroblems arise with this though, there are often times when the servers don’t respond to your instructions, both when it comes to trying to trade and when doing more menial tasks like saving your online city.
It becomes clear after playing for a few hours that the game is missing a level of depth and involvement that will come with future updates to the game and the GEMs that are due to arrive. The city building is good despite the issues I have with it during some stages of city development and it is really fun to zoom right in on your city and watch your citizens go about their business or follow a car driving around.
People interested in the single-player component should be aware that you won’t get all the updates to the game that those who have subscribed to the Planet Offer will receive and they will have to pay full price for GEMs while subscribers receive a discount.
If Cities XL was only single-player it would be a miss, however the online component does add a new dimension to the genre and it is a great experience to visit someone elses city and see what they have created. Give it a try if you are interested in city building games, otherwise wait to see what the GEMs add to the game.