City-management game Cities XXL is challenging, but lacks approachability

WRITTEN BY: Josh Smith

Six years ago a city-building game was released that started as an MMO-like experience, but due to a poor response from players, it was patched into a single-player game. You’re thinking, “SIM CITY! I remember that debacle!” but you’d be wrong. The game running that gamut first was Cities XL, and despite the lack of subscribers and a change of direction, which eventually lead to the end of developer Monte Cristo, the game ended up being on the good side of fun. Last month a new developer, Focus Home Interactive, took their shot at the franchise with Cities XXL.

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite measure up.

City management has become a popular genre thanks, in part, to the liberties that each game in the genre takes. Cities XXL sprinkles in a few wonderful ideas, but the biggest hurdle is the difficulty, something that is high even for players experienced in the genre. Newcomers will find themselves overwhelmed, those who have experience in the genre will become frustrated, and those who remember Cities XL will ask what this newest installment has that the other doesn’t.

The world of Cities XXL is perhaps the most impressive touch to the game. Instead of simply choosing your location from a list, something that many titles do, XXL shows players a map of the globe, laying out each location and showing its level of difficulty. Some areas are more hospitable than others due to a number of factors like climate, resources, or accessibility, which allows players to choose their own experience rather nicely.

After choosing your location, it’s time to start planning. Having a grid-like layout is aesthetically pleasing and can be a little easier to manage, but the ability to place roads in any place you see fit can lead to some fun designs ... or a headache of traffic congestion and impromptu shortcuts through residential areas. The key to Cities XXL is patience, something that is difficult to force upon yourself.

Areas can be built and zoned for specific needs, residential, office, or industrial, each with their own subsets. Building homes next to industrial zones will lead to pissed off residents, upset at the pollution. Likewise, building them too far away leads to a long commute, something nobody likes. Early on in your city, you’ll find that you don’t have enough money to create it perfectly, so playing slowly and methodically is almost a requirement, something that many will find boring.

Build too fast and you’ll see growth, but you’ll soon find that you can’t meet the demands of those living in the city. Trying to maintain a healthy rate of growth and building to meet the requirements those within the city have will lead to bankruptcy. When you hear “patience,” imagine playing the game slowly and calculated, then play it slower.

There is fun to be had, but Cities XXL certainly is a niche title. It’s not welcoming to those who have no experience or love of the genre, but it’s certainly not a terrible experience. It’s hard, success comes to slow-playing, and there are many gameplay options for those who find enjoyment. Unfortunately, for the majority of the gaming public, those finding enjoyment will be the minority.

Overall Score: 6 out of 10

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