Over the past week, city building fans have waited patitently for what they were hoping to be the definitive city builder since SimCity 4. Unfortunately the opinions of players has been mixed at best. So is Cities XXL better than Cities XL or worse in every way? We have heard people say this is just a re-branding of an old game, so we decided to find out for ourselves.
Cities XL first launched in 2009 and was a spiritual successor to City Life. The game offered expansive landscapes in which to build your dream city along with online capabilities (long before SimCity). However this did not live up to expectations, the online was a flop, the game suffered from poor optimization such as only using one core on multi-core systems and various memory leaks. Despite this, fans of the series have remained loyal. Despite its faults, Cities XL has offered a very fluid and flexible city building game.
When Cities XXL was announced, it was detailed to have an all new engine, more low-level micro-management and various improvements including to performance. These alone should make it a worthy upgrade or entry point for a budding city builder.
Well the first thing we questioned is the games engine. It is possible this is a new engine under the hood, but on the surface it looks very much the same engine as before. Graphically the game looks the same, albeit with a new black UI. The controls work much the same way and the menus are largely the same. So on the surface at least, the engine seems to have been tweaked rather than fully re-worked from the ground up.
Performance wise, this game is far better. Our city of 425k inhabitants is still as smooth as when we started. In Cities XL Platinum, a similar sized city we had suffered from terrible frame rates and choppiness at this point. The UI is also more responsive than before. We did encounter some minor graphical glitches, mostly that at night, streetlights would illuminate a grid beneath them. But nothing game breaking.
There are some new buildings to place in your city, like a pollution sensor and an eco-car dealer. There are not enough with too little function to add much weight behind a new game release, but welcome additions.
Talking of pollution, this has been greatly tweaked and works more the way you would expect. It makes more sense than ever before to ensure your industry is far from residential areas, where as before it was more of a case of “Does City have Heavy Pollution? Yes, City becomes polluted everywhere quickly”.
What we found most disappointing is there is not much of the low-level micro-management that was promised. What sets the Cities XL/XXL series apart from the SimCity series is the latter focuses much more on micro management and is more organic. In SimCity you say where you want residential, commercial and industrial areas, then depending on the desirability of the area would dictate what would be built there. This would not be static, you could have a luxury hi-rise apartment, but if crime in the area goes up this may become abandoned becoming an eyesore on your landscape. Cities XL/XXL cities generally remain the same, you will not find one neighborhood going from being desirable for Elites to suddenly becoming deserted.
Despite this short coming, one major addition that will help over time to make the Cities XXL the city building game we have been waiting for is the inclusion of the Steam Workshop. I really look forward to seeing the modding community making new buildings, new functions, improvements, fixes and potentially new functionality.
If you are a fan of the series, the current 50% discount off the price is very reasonable. Even not as a full game but £15 as a kind of expansion is not bad value. If you’ve never owned a game in this series and you want large sprawling cities rather than the small towns in SimCity then this is a game well worth picking up.