City builder lacking in gameplay, gamer says
aka The BackgroundI've always been a fan of SimCity. After the somewhat disappointing SimCity Societies, I was hoping for a new 'real' SimCity game. Maxis didn't deliver however so I was pretty excited to see Cities XL being made. Early videos were promising with gridless building, freeform zoning, curved roads and more. A multiplayer component was being added allowing you to build a city on a planet with lots of other people, allowing you to trade for real. Read on to see if Monte Cristo delivers on the promises.
Building your city
aka The MayoringThe basics work just like previous city building games. You start by building some roads, including one which connects to the border to allow trade with the neighbours. After that you need a City Hall (for which I have found no apparent use so far), utilities (you start off with one building for water and electricity but get seperate buildings later on), and then lay down some zones for residential, industry and commerce.
(As an aside, when you first start a city a limited number of building options is availble and you unlock more as your population increases. With an option in the menus you can unlock everything from the start.)
Both roads and zones have a 'rigid' and a 'freeform' mode. In rigid mode roads will be straight lines and zones are rectangles. In freeform you can curve roads to create scenic routes or accurately follow the shore of a lake. With zones you can draw convex polygons and the buildings inside will arrange themselves accordingly.
This seems pretty nice but the problem doesn't show itself until later in the game. You see, different roads have a different width, but it is not clear exactly what that width is. Because the houses and industries are built straight at the curb of the road you can't just widen the road to relieve traffic, you have to demolish a lot of buildings. One would like to only remove a few pixels so your new road can fit, but you have to remove whole buildings for a small upgrade, leaving you with lots of unused land unfit for building, because the buildings have fixed size.
Of course this is remedied by planning ahead, but because there are no tiles there's no knowing how wide a road will be exactly. So you are pretty much forced to use the 'enable all buildings' option so you can build that highway straight away to avoid restructuring half the city later on.
Also of note is that when a house is built, it stays built. It will not upgrade to something better if the neighbourhood improves or get replaced by a bigger apartment building. Only companies get replaced and then only after they go bankrupt.
Managing your citizens
aka The Troubleshooting As always citizens are ready to be disgruntled at the slightest mishap. Unfortunately they aren't very clear about what they want. What does 'Electricity is too expensive' mean exactly? The message suggest I go trade and buy some but placing more plants/windmills works as well to remedy the situation.
For some reason hospitals, PD, FD etc seem to have city wide reach, but you can never tell exactly how busy they are, until you get another message saying people are lacking something. You also cannot indicate the service level so you always pay the full maintenance.
Balancing your budget
aka The MoneygrubbingIt seems very easy to earn money in the game. As long as you have citizens and businesses you earn tax money. And since people don't leave unless you boot them out you keep that money. The only way to lose it is by building stuff or from service costs. These seem pretty high, sometimes you pay half the construction cost every 'turn' (there's a progress pie chart to indicate that). Build more housing and industry and that is solved again.
In single player mode you can also sell resource tokens (more on those below) to an NPC corporation for some money, but it's hard to tell how much as there is no indication how often you will get periodic payments for them.
aka The MMOCBGThat's Massively Multiplayer Online City Building Game, in case you didn't know :). For a couple of bucks per month you get to play the Planet Offer. This means you get a planet with 10,000 locations for a city and you can choose up to 5 to build yours. Apart from having a chat window (which, while not as bad as the Barrens Chat, isn't exactly enlightening), there is not much difference to the single player experience. The only thing you can do is trade resource tokens with other players. These are things like Oil, Water, Food, Workers etc. However it seems that you don't get enough of these to really make the most of it. In a region you choose to build your city in you will have one resource but not another. This forces you to trade with other players. You will need to buy stuff pretty early on while not having anything to sell yet, everything goes to your city without having any surpluses. This makes it more into a nuisance than a good gameplay element. Add to that the fact that there's no way to figure out exactly how much water (e.g.) you produce, how much the city takes and how many water pumps you have to build before you get a token to sell, and the confusion is complete.
The developers promise to put blueprints for 'megastructures' on the site that you can win to build in your city. To do that you will need lots of these resource tokens. You would need to buy these from other players because you can't get them all yourself. I foresee this to be a problem because there's really not much of an incentive for other players to help you build that structure.
All in all I'm not at all sure if those monthly payments are worth the benefits. There are some discrepancies as well between the Planet mode and single player mode, like not having public transport in single player but only in Planet. It doesn't seem very nice to me to leave the single player part incomplete.
aka The AudiovisualThe graphics look ok, though nothing special. I don't need hyperrealistic eye candy for this sort of game, and it does the job. Zooming in and out is pretty smooth, and LoD gets turned down a notch if you zoom away.
The audio side I find lacking. I hardly ever listen to ingame music (it gets too repetitive), opting instead for my own. It is then that it becomes apparent that there is hardly any sound in the game at all, apart from the interface. No buzzing of electrics, honking of cars, etc.
Bringing it all together
aka The ConclusionPlaying the game I wanted to award 3 stars, starting the review it was 2.5, and finishing it I changed it again to 2 stars. As much as I want to like this game, it just has too many problems at the moment to really enjoy. Planning a city in advance is extremely hard without a grid or in 'unlock mode', the city looks lifeless and there is hardly a challenge. Kudos to Monte Cristo for trying but it really doesn't work out so well. So unless you have 40 bucks/euros growing on your back I'd definitely wait until MC gets things sorted before buying this game.
If you're looking for a good city building challenge I suggest looking up a copy of SimCity 4 in the meantime.