by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
These are hard times for city building fans. The only place to get your kicks is on your tablet or phone where your game of choice will have the depth of a puddle of water after a mild shower. Worse, the developers will be charging you an arm and a leg to progress beyond the opening half hour. Sure, SimCity is now playable offline, but the original online-only requirements and small map sizes have proven utterly devastating to the game’s momentum.
Good news for that other city builder, Cities XL, right? Well, yes and no. Yes because people no doubt sought out the game to get their building fix, but no because Focus Home has been unable to capitalize on EA’s misfortune since. Cities XXL doesn’t do much to change that.
XXL? XL? Platinum?
Deja Vu crept up on me even as I was selecting the map and setting up the game. Had I not seen these menu’s before? What were the options in Cities XL again? I was sure that they were the same but they - looked - different. The illusion of playing a new game held up only for a very short while until I entered the game and saw the same tired engine that powered the four (count ‘m) Cities XL games released since 2009. Granted, slight improvements have been made with each iteration but nothing so groundbreaking that it would warrant a new release.
So I went looking for what would warrant one now.
That proved harder than I thought, but they do exist. New buildings have been added to the already extensive building library. The best of which are the new Environmental buildings which can be used to improve the city ecology. Taking a page out of SimCity’s playbook, some buildings can now be upgraded with a variety of efficiency-increasing options. A building filter allows you to quickly find buildings of a specific type or era and new maps and environments have been added to the game, as well as a proper day/night cycle - useful, but nothing major.
Focus Home boasts that the engine has been improved for performance and - for me at least - that’s proven to be no idle boast. I suspect that especially players with older systems will notice how smooth the game runs, allowing for cities that sprawl out further over the map before the performance starts to suffer.
Perhaps the most noteworthy change to Cities XXL is its Steam Workshop support, allowing you to quickly install - and get rid of - user created mods.
Does it read like a patch so far? It does to me.
Nothing was done to improve the God-awful “achievement” overlays, the graphics look incredibly dated and there really is no goal beyond creating large or especially pretty towns. For all of SimCity’s faults, it does feel much more alive than Cities XXL and this is one area where this offering continues to fall short.
I won’t go so far as to say that all that is really new in Cities XXL is the extra X. It is obvious that the developers have worked hard on a variety of improvements. Some work out, others not so much. The updated interface, for one thing, is something of a downgrade - it tries to look more modern but ends up looking rough and unfinished. An improved engine apparently also does not mean improved graphics. Cities XL marketing screenshots have looked gorgeous for every iteration of the game but even on today’s video cards the game cannot deliver on their promise.
So I’m stuck. On the one hand, Cities XL was always a fair city builder that deserves to be played. Its huge maps, great zoning tools and excellent information screens are a huge plus as opposed to what SimCity has to offer. On the other, it’s a severe case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. All the extra X does is offer an excuse for Focus Home to drum up new sales for their old game. For that, I cannot do anything but downgrade the score.
Put it to rest
All things considered, XXL is without question the best version of the game to date but it should have been offered to existing owners as a patch and never have come to Steam at 40 bucks a pop. It’s high time that Focus Home puts this game to rest so that it can start fresh.
Small improvements throughout.
It’s the same game we have been playing through four iterations.