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Cities XXL

By zethalee31-03-2015
Cities XXL

The Defence

Focus Home Interactive
Focus Home Interactive
Simulator, Strategy
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce GTX 260
AMD Radeon HD 5670
3 GB
8 GB

The Case

Focus Home Interactive, well-known for producing games such as Blood Bowl, entries in the Wargame series and others, has been hard at work publishing titles in the Cities XL since 2010. With entries cleverly named Cities XL 2011, Cities XL 2012, and Cities XL Platinum, the series has remained quiet since 2013, silently providing an easier alternative to the difficulty of SimCity 4. Now, Focus Home have released Cities XXL, promising a game world that's “bigger and better than before.” But is Cities XXL deserving of its name, or is it better off forgotten, left to transform into a digital ghost town?

The Defense

Coming off of Cities: Skylines, it's quite clear that any entry in the city-building genre is going to be a step down from the outstanding achievement that Skylines is. This knowledge, in conjunction with knowing that Focus Home Interactive develops budget games, still cannot save Cities XXL from being a buggy, awful mess of a game with very few redeeming features to its name. It is worth noting that I haven't played any other entries in the Cities XL series, so I have gone into playing Cities XXL completely blind. While community responses online have been overwhelmingly negative in reference the lack of any new features, it is not something that counts against the game in my review.

Upon first starting the game, you're treated to a splendid view of an incredibly bland main menu, complete with uncentered text. Not to be deterred, I skipped over the tutorial section, figuring that most city-builders play effectively the same, selected a location for my city, and got to work. A few hours later, my city's population had ballooned to a bit over eleven thousand, but it didn't particularly look that way, nor was it difficult getting there. In fact, this apparent lack of difficulty is perhaps the biggest fault alone with Cities XXL; there is simply nothing of any real consequence that ever happens to your city.

From above, things don't look so bad.

From above, things don't look so bad.

Take, for example, the alerts, a mainstay of the city-building genre. Most of the time, they'll tell you about important events that are happening to your city, such as traffic problems, or how happy most of your citizens are. When I managed to get to said population of 11k, the only alerts that I got were about how bad traffic was getting in my industrial corridor, which I dutifully ignored. No citizen unhappiness, no decreased trade profit, no extra noise pollution, nothing came of having traffic backed up to the map border, and I can't help but think this is intentional, to make the game easier on players.

The indication that you start with 400,000 money also helps to further this. It'll be a long time before you'll run out of that much money, and hopefully you'd be able to get a sizable city off the ground before that happens. Curiously, the best way to make cash is to speed up time, and let the game's citizens make money for you at ludicrous speeds, all without any input from the player. Leave the game to idle for 10 or so minutes, and you come back to a nice stack of cash, again, because there are zero dangers to your city.

Building your city is no easy task in and of itself. As there's no guiding grid to see how far you've extended or placed your roads apart from one another, you're left to eyeball the placement. Screw up, and you'll be bulldozing not only the road you placed, but, rather inexplicably, buildings in an area around where you click. As you place singular large “lots,” as opposed to smaller zoning squares of Cities: Skylines or the small rectangles of SimCity 4, this can lead to bulldozing one half of a block, just to redo one road.

An urban designer's nightmare made reality.

An urban designer's nightmare made reality.

Roads themselves curve quite nicely, though if you end up angling said roads, you might find yourself stuck with a large number of triangular land areas that are too small to hold any housing lots. Confusingly, in order to place any road in the game, you first click to set the road, and then click again to confirm placement. For building a large city, necessary in order to acquire as much cash as possible, this unnecessarily slows down your development.

Similarly to most city-builders, if you acquire enough citizens, you unlock more and more buildings to place around the city, to various effects. Unlike other city builders however, you don't have to manage water, energy, or garbage usage, or at least, not as far as I could tell. Placing wind turbines only increased the noise pollution in the area, but I never heard any complaints from residents about said noise, aside from a slight reduction in happiness.

Happiness itself is a rather strange mechanic as well. For commerce, whether it be industry, shops, or manufacturing, it seemed to waver between 30% happiness and 100% happiness, with no in-between. Shops themselves were particularly frustrating to deal with, as my citizens required places to buy goods, but the retail outlets continually complained that they were unable to sell enough goods. If a single shop stays unhappy for too long, the building razes itself, and a new one of identical quality rises in its place, only to suffer from the same issues.

Lonely life on the urban frontier.

Lonely life on the urban frontier.

Citizen happiness, thankfully, actually fluctuated, being affected by various things such as employment, access to retail, healthcare, and leisure activities. Various levels of happiness were displayed by percentages upon clicking on a residence, associated with a color shade. Overall happiness seemed to rise solely based on having more places to live in, as if the city were perfect and its only downfall being not enough places to live.

These percentages, bizarrely enough, were re-used in reference to employment as well, in place of actual numbers. Numbers were also eschewed in place of “tokens,” when it came to looking at your imports/exports, and trade values. For example, I had a “retail goods” value of 1.4 produced, when my city only needed 1.1. I'm not entirely sure if that means thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands. This coupled with the confusing token system, left me wondering why the developers felt the need to obfuscate information needlessly, if not for the sake of making it easier on the player.

The “turn” system is even more evidence that Focus Home didn't want to overburden the player with information. Hovering over your population and cash on hand tells you that you have a certain amount of each rolling in every turn, with no indication of when that might be. I couldn't be bothered to time the game, and there's no progress bar anywhere on the UI, so it might well be that turns only take place after enough city events have passed.

Dreams of a beachfront house, some tens of kilometers away.

Dreams of a beachfront house, some tens of kilometers away.

The game itself isn't anything to look at, either. Citizen models are downright ugly, cars turn into vague grey boxes if you zoom out far enough, and there's not much variety in house models that are used. The UI is tiny to the point of nearly being non-existent, and there's a lot of clicking through various menus that must be done in order to access information about traffic levels or various pollution amounts. There's no indication that the game is paused, either, as cars still keep on driving, and citizens continue to go about their daily business on the streets.

The game isn't entirely bad, however. The music is nice and relaxing, and clicking on various places of employment display routes taken by their employees to get to work, something which Cities: Skylines lacks. There's also quite a large collection of downloadable buildings and mods on the Steam Workshop for adding variety to your city. The presented game world is also quite large, and, if you feel the need, you could set up a vast network of cities that trade with one another across games.

The Verdict

However, all the comfortable music in the world can't save Cities XXL from being a dull, unchallenging experience. Though the game has quite clearly been developed on a budget, there is simply nothing interesting about building a city in Cities XXL, from the information to your city, to simply expanding it further and further, none of your actions seem to carry any weight whatsoever, and with a lack of any real obstacle to overcome, no reason to continue playing at all.

Case Review

  • Tunes of the Streets: The background music is excellent and fits well with the genre.
  • NAFTA's Cousin: Inter-city trade is a nice idea, but requires a huge time investment.
  • Urban Decay: Citizen and building models look terrible, and the UI is far too small.
  • Hands-Off: Information is represented in abstract percentages or “tokens”.
  • Traffic Jam: Long periods of inaction, waiting for money.
  • Keys to a Ghost Town: All issues can be ignored, without any consequence.
Score: 1.5/5
Simply lacking in nearly every regard.
Comments (2)
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Posts: 39

Heh, if I had played any other entry in the series XXL would have very likely gotten a straight 1.

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