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Tom Senior

Nov 18, 2010

Cities XL 2011

I'm losing more than $10,000 a minute. My citizens hate me because I've had to sell all the Ferris wheels. They leave in droves and I spiral further and further into debt. In city-building sim Cities XL 2011, it's easy to lose, but you can never really win. You have to work hard to turn a profit and keep everyone happy.

You build your cities by sketching out districts (housing, shopping and industrial) onto a sizeable map. Citizens are divided into four classes: Unskilled Workers, Skilled Workers, Executives and Elites. While they all have the same basic needs, they also require good access to specific places of work. Offices will need a mix of Skilled Workers and Executives, while heavy industry demands a lot of Unskilled proles to keep the factory fires burning.

Anyone else humming the EastEnders theme yet?

As citizens flock to your paradise, more ambitious projects such as super-hotels and huge landmarks become available. These require a lot of workers on all tiers to run, and plenty of cash to support, but will keep the population happy.

Maintaining your citizens' happiness also means providing public services such as schools, hospitals and leisure centres. A clever series of visual overlays shows a hot and cold view of your map, flagging up any areas that are sorely in need of some attention. The key to avoiding a horrible financial crash is to expand slowly and keep an eye on the often overly fragile economy.

Going global

Cities XL had a multiplayer element that let players link their cities online for a subscription fee. This has been dropped for Cities XL 2011, but there's a similar singleplayer feature. Every city you build takes its place on a spinning globe map. These cities can be linked so that they're able to trade resources with each other. This allows your richer cities to aid your failing ones, adding a good incentive to start new towns.

Where else can you make cities look like geometric birds?

It's a pretty game, too. You can hover far above your town and zoom all the way down to street level, but the roads themselves are static and lacking in character. Poor, crimeridden areas don't become rundown. Prosperous business areas don't grow or thrive. I'm told I need fire stations but I've never seen a fire. The only indications of success and failure are the dollar and population figures at the top of the screen, and the occasional pop-up alert.

That's the trouble with Cities XL 2011. It's efficient and handsome, and satisfying to a point, but is ultimately soulless. Victory means creating a massive city in which nothing is really happening. It can be an absorbing challenge to get to that stage, and the ability to link your cities adds some longevity, but I could never shake the feeling that I wasn't so much building a new place as completing a mathematical exercise. Nevertheless, it's a solid enough sim for those eager to fill a SimCity-shaped hole.

Cities XL 2011

A complex and wellbalanced sim that’s troubled by a severe lack of long-term objectives and dearth of character.

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