Fact: until now, no city builder has surpassed SimCity on the modern construction part, just as well as the Caesar series remains the ruler of ancient themed strategies.
Attempt: CitiesXL 2011, the sequel of the similar title from last year, tries to make room for itself among the city builders, but only makes it half-way. Practically, there’s nothing wrong with it, but there are lots of times when you will feel that it’s all too much for you.
Like any city builder, CitiesXL 2011 puts you in charge of a virtual city, with an initial sum of money at your disposal and the obligation to satisfy all the needs of your citizens, as well as earn some money from all the businesses in town. If you’ve played any similar game, things will go rather smoothly. But for beginners, the tutorial is mostly useless and the much too spread-out interface doesn’t help either to efficiently survey all the aspects that influence the urban life.
Where’s the multiplayer?
The first thing that the producers did was to get rid of the multiplayer side, without even trying to modify its working, used before as a MMO with a monthly fee. The players who chose to pay could interact and trade various goods amongst them; now, besides the single-player, there’s no other intelligent life form on the planet where you settle your town (because the AI can’t be considered smart either).
If you don’t feel like playing the tutorials, you can choose between two starting options: choosing an area directly from a planet or from a list of environments, resources and traveling options. The only difference is that with the options you can filter just the elements you want. The areas are split between 5 characteristics: petroleum, fertile fields, water, holidays and difficulty level; the environment is also varied, from mountains to deltas and it also includes some predefined areas (like Paris), where the roads and bridges are already set and you just need to place the buildings in the right spot.
Oil as main resource involves a city based on heavy industry, with energetic needs and enviable resources, but also with a high pollution that needs to be carefully controlled. Fertile fields bring you a city based on agriculture with less pollution, but you’ll need big luxury goods imports. The holiday areas are based on the hotel businesses and all the other buildings that entertain rich tourists. And, of course, the difficulty level can add one more layer to a map that, let’s pretend, has oil, but too few water resources.
Hundreds of buildings
Once on the map, the first thing to do is connect it with the “outside world”, that being a road to the end of the game space. Even here, you are given at least six options (in the beginning) for roads: simple, double, straight, with or without crossroads or all round. Then, you have to build the city hall, the main public edifice to which all the other buildings need to be linked. Just like with other games from the genre, all buildings need road access, otherwise they are useless.
In the beginning, all you have are unskilled workers that will strive in plants and farms, so that you will then get access to skilled office workers. The other two social ranks are the executives and the elites, with the last also being the highest tax payers. All of them need shops to buy food and clothing, then entertainment, education, hospitals, police , etc. All these options are gradually unlocked in direct dependency to the number of inhabitants of the city.
The population grows efficiently only if there are enough working places and houses to accommodate the workers. So you need to balance this relationship carefully, but it’s quite hard because of the undecided AI. One time, you are informed that you need unskilled workers and you put up houses for them; but only two minutes later, the same game tells you that unemployment among unskilled workers is huge, even though you didn’t even fill up the newly built houses.
Commercial areas also depend on resources, so you need to have manufacturing set up. If the shops don’t have resources, neither the buyers are pleased, nor the businesses bring money to the budget or to their owners. From here, bankruptcy is only a step away. The problem is that the game doesn’t give you any viable solutions on how to tackle the extra unwanted buildings, besides “demolish them”. There’s no option to temporarily deactivate them, an idle mode where they will just sit there until you manually activate them.