It’s hard to review any city builder simulation game without referencing SimCity, arguably the first of the genre. With all the disappointment surrounding the release of the latest SimCity game by EA, die-hard fans have been searching for a way to quench their hunger for the ability to build massive cities featuring millions of people roaming the streets. Before we dive into Cities XXL and what it represents, it’s worth taking a look back at how the series came to be and its history for those unfamiliar with the title.
Cities XL was originally developed by Monte Cristo as a sequel to City Life and was released in 2009. Focus Home Interactive purchased the franchise in 2010 and released Cities XL 2011 that year. The company then followed up with Cities XL Platinum in 2013 and Cities XXL releasing on February 5, 2015. Those familiar with previous Cities XL games may be aware that each installment has seen minor updates to the game, with some going so far as to saying they simply could have been patches. The big question is, with the latest game actually taking on a new name – that is Cities XXL rather than building on Cities XL – does it do enough to warrant its extra “X?”
Please note that while an unbiased review would look at Cities XXL as a standalone game, we wouldn’t be doing our due diligence if we didn’t compare it to previous iterations of the series.
Cities XXL starts off with a 10-step tutorial that introduces you to the basics of the game, albeit with some corny and poorly written dialogue. Luckily the game itself doesn’t suffer from a nagging secretary that tells you what you should be doing every few minutes, once you start to build your own city. While the tutorial does a decent job teaching you how to maneuver the camera, zone buildings and clean up traffic, it actually doesn’t go in depth enough for you to understand the mechanics of the game. Perhaps that’s intentional so that there’s more of a self-learning process in Cities XXL, but there were several things we wished was explained better before we embarked on managing our first city.
For example, the tutorial does a poor job elaborating on how certain industries are necessary for others to survive. It also doesn’t go in depth on how utilities are used, like how electricity and water isn’t a necessity for residential and commercial zoning to operate and grow, but rather industries use it to make their goods. It’s a bit awkward when dedicated electricity and water buildings aren’t needed for your citizens to go about their daily lives and is even more strange when certain maps don’t even allow you the ability to build a dedicated water building.
It’s a good thing there isn’t a ton of dialogue in Cities XXL, because the tutorial is poorly written
But those limitations on each different map is part of the game’s core design, that is allowing you to build multiple, massive cities that help one another out. In Cities XXL, you don’t just build on a certain region with a few maps available, but there’s an entire planet at your disposal with some pre-made maps that represent famous cities such as Los Angeles, California and Paris, France. Even the Los Angeles map has its roads laid out for you to simulate the massive traffic congestion the city suffers from in the real world. Cities XXL certainly lives up to its name of allowing you to build extremely large cities filled with millions of people but whether or not your PC is up to the task is an entirely different question.
There’s just no way around it, Cities XXL is poorly optimized and even computers boasting great hardware will suffer from frame-rate drops once your city expands beyond 500,000 people. It’s unfortunate too since the idea of having multiple cities co-existing to benefit one another, each with millions of people parading the streets and commuting to work sounds like a great city builder game. Instead, you’ll end up bouncing from city to city starting from scratch when you realize you can’t play in a big one without getting frustrated.
With a planet at your disposal, you can definitely build massive cities that work with one another to prosper
At its core, Cities XXL functions as a city-building game and even has several features that would make other titles in the genre jealous. For those always searching for a way to build a perfect-looking city, Cities XXL handles zoning in an intuitive fashion, allowing you to drop blocked zones uniformly and taking care of the roads that go along with it. Compared to Cities XL Platinum, Cities XXL adds a new interface window that lets you select how long each zone block is as well as the roads that accompany it, making it easier to plan your city in advance. The game also gives you the freedom to draw roads and zoning however you like, whether you want to make gigantic circles for your citizens or to replicate real world cities.
But like other city builders, the game suffers from traffic congestion issues that seem next to impossible to eliminate. No matter how many bus lines or metro stations you build, your citizens will continue to complain about traffic issues even though the game gives you advanced tools such as making a road one-way travel.
Believe it or not, this city barely takes up 20 percent of the map
But that’s when things get really interesting for Cities XXL. In the time that we spent in the game building numerous cities, we never actually saw our population drop. Sure people would complain about traffic and being bored, but no one would actually leave the city. Industries would shut down and rebuild over time but none ever became a detriment to progressing. As a result, Cities XXL is more about figuring out the balance between unemployment and available jobs so your city keeps growing, than it is about solving problems and keeping your citizens happy and not homeless.
Which is another downer considering how neat the Trade feature is in the game. If you have an excess of a resource type in Cities XXL, you can trade it off to another city or to Omnicorp for additional revenue. Overloaded with heavy industry and offices that aren’t being used by manufacturing? Sell it off and watch your bank grow. The Trade panel is also how a city without water or fuel can function – you can either purchase it from Omnicorp or trade it from another city that you’ve built. As your city grows and progresses, it’ll be about keeping your revenue high so that you can purchase those resources from Omnicorp, or you’ll have to resort to starting another city to help fund an existing one with the resources it lacks.
One of the more unique features of Cities XXL is the ability to trade
Unfortunately, Cities XXL lacks depth as a city builder. You’ll feel compelled to keep your citizens happy, but so long as your revenue is in the black, you can mostly do as you wish. Instead of having citizens constantly moving in and out of your city, population growth is easy to sustain and one could argue that’s the point of Cities XXL. But it gives you a false sense of actually building a massive, thriving city when you’re mostly worried about whether your computer is going to come to a crawl after a certain point. As a standalone game, it’s enjoyable if you like to see cities spring up and your bank account sitting comfortably with millions of dollars, but if you’re looking for an actual challenge in managing resources and maintaining the happiness of your citizens, Cities XXL is not the game for you.
In other words, Cities XXL performs much better as a sandbox city planner, which is made even more evident with easy access to cheats from the game’s menu. But hey, if you like ignoring your citizens’ pleas of congested traffic and lack of leisure opportunities, and instead want to build a massive city and see how things function in a simulated world, Cities XXL will certainly satisfy that, until your computer can’t keep up.
As a final note, those that own previous iterations of Cities XL won’t find much new with Cities XXL. The UI improvements are minimal at best and there’s no new features to get excited over. It’s still arguable whether or not the “improvements” made to the engine is optimized for PCs as we still endured slowdowns in the game’s performance.
For all the things it does right, Cities XXL does plenty wrong
Cities XXL Review: What We Liked
- Great tools for zoning, building cities
- Massive maps and the ability to have millions of people
- Trade feature adds incentive to build multiple cities
- Functions well as a sandbox city planner
Cities XXL: What Would Make it Better
- Better optimization
- More depth with consequences to not keeping citizens happy
- Clearer explanations on why certain things can’t be done (i.e. Holidays on certain maps)