Cities XL: 2012 is a city simulation game developed and published by “Focus Home Interactive”. It’s the third instalment in the “Cities XL” series of games and is available on Microsoft Windows only (both boxed and via digital distribution). In essence, Cities XL 2012 is more of a major expansion of features from Cities XL 2011 rather than an entirely new instalment. In addition, like “Cities XL 2011”, the game focuses primarily on single player rather than the multiplayer aspect of the original “Cities XL”. During the game you play as a new city architect under the tutorship of the mayor and his assistant, the mayor has a tight budget to fill but wants to put his city on the map, you’re the brand new candidate to make his vision a reality and you’re thrown right in the deep end. As far as story goes in Cities XL, there’s not a lot there with most cutscenes being characters speaking via text boxes and the story cycle being summarised as “Here’s your city-building-blocks, build something amazing”. As far as conveying that the game is about exploration of what you can create over the reason you’re creating it, Cities XL does a fantastic job. However, it’s a little disappointing to add characters and narrative to something that clearly doesn’t want to require it. The game does have a fair few grammatical and spelling errors which does show off laziness, but the gameplay appears to not share the same quality.
For a city simulator, Cities XL is a very good looking game. You are able to zoom right in to street level of your city with crisp house textures and models being a joy to look at. There is significant slowdown as you zoom in but the frame-rate eventually levels out, revealing a very visually pleasing piece of work on the other side. Every part of your city is easily seen from your houses, with citizens walking around your roads and several cars and buses drifting past. The landscape and overarching world the city is built on is very colourful and great to look at, with the city looking better and better as your empire expands. There are several different environments in the “world” for you to develop your city on including green plains, rocky ravines and fragmented islands. The cities you build will be divided into different heights, requiring efficient planning of routes from city section to city section to maintain a steady growth and keep population satisfaction high. One minor gripe graphically is the lack of variation between districts. Each and every house, street and area looks pristine, clean and perfect. Considering the distinction the game makes between “unskilled”, “skilled” and other social subsections, the addition of graphically different houses to reflect that would add a nice touch of realism and flavour to the empire you’re creating.
The gameplay of Cities XL is pretty fluid and well presented. The basic premise of Cities XL is pandering to the population needs and requirements to maintain a steady income and have smooth growth. There’s a small box at the top of the screen that tells you the needs as they come in. For the most part of the early game, the city is built solely on the requirements that are fed to you. Further down the line is where the game starts getting a bit more strategic and in-depth with city layout often turning from quick instant-gratification decisions based on your low populous to long term decisions that need to be considered carefully based on future projections and current layouts. The budget of your city also becomes increasingly critical based on those long term decisions, making the game only get harder and micro-managed as time goes on. Unexpected problems such as pollution, congestion, lack of highways and other problems come into play, making that decision you made on the fly moments earlier costing you great chunks of your city to fix. The gameplay has its fair share of problems stemming from the “unlock system” the game provides. The amount of buildings and city combinations you’re able to build as mayor is staggering; the only problem is that unlocking each part to be able to make those combinations takes a lot more time than it should. Each stage of Cities XL 2012 has its own set of goals to complete before you “level up” and manage to unlock the next set of buildings to expand your city. However, the goals tend to have a large delay between accomplishment and credit with credit being awarded in bulk after many challenges have been completed over a long time period. This can be especially annoying if the populous are asking for certain objects that you can’t get yet because the game simply doesn’t allow you to have it despite filling in the requirements.
As far as building your city goes however, the game is extremely relaxed and creative in its approach. Roads, residences and communal buildings are able to be built in practically any way possible based on 4 building “styles” including set placement, placing based on set nodes and free-building. If you wanted a city that looked like a spiral, Cities XL would let you do that. The possibilities of creation, maintenance and growth are very high, a very nice sight in a game based on creation. The only problem with this kind of limitless creation is that eventually the game will tell you that some parts need to be restructured. The game tends to end up taking you down a very “cookie cutter” city layout in order to be successful. The only problem with mixing creation and strategy is that the two rarely interact well; one must take preference over the other in most situations. The amount of variation you can make with the cookie cutter build is pretty staggering though with 2012’s edition offering 300 new buildings, 15 new map types and a new modding tool set for personalised assets. The modding tool set is easily the most long-lasting part of Cities XL with the community forums taking a role in challenging players to create their own assets for others to use in their own creations. The amount of creation offered professionally is good, but being able to mix that with the ideas of a whole community turns a sparsely featured creation game into a wealth of possibility.
The game has a lot to offer including a wide variety of roads, residences, workplaces and areas to build on. It’s a shame that an awful lot of the content on disc has to be unlocked as you play. In addition, due to the nature of the game’s progression; a lot of the creativity that the building and road variety can have is often overlooked in favour of progress.
The game looks very good but very plain and unvaried. There’s little to no difference from one building to the next, one road to the next or one area to the next. It’s hard to believe that the game shows “multiple classed areas” when each area is clean and pristine. The ability to zoom out and in with a great amount of detail does it a few favours however.
The sound of the cities running day by day including building, cars driving and people walking and talking brings a real feel of realism to the creation you’re in charge of. The music is largely forgettable but it’s forgiven in that it’s not exactly noticed whilst managing a city of several square miles.
Cities XL 2012 is deceiving in its execution. The game starts off very easy following basic requirements of the populous including more work-places and houses. However, it quickly becomes extremely hard with decisions defining the next few hours of play. If you want to come and build a quick capital city in 30 minutes, this isn’t the game for you. If you’re in, you’re in for the long haul.
Unlike the original Cities XL, the game has no multiplayer but the replay value mainly comes from the ability to expand single player much longer than most games. The modding community adds a variety of new items to work with and cities can often absorb hours of your time. However, once a building has been reached to the point where you’re satisfied with its growth, there’s not much else to take in.
Cities XL 2012 is a niche game by all accounts. The simplicity may draw some in but make no mistake; this game will only be truly satisfying to those that are into city planning. Considering that the genre has been particularly dry in recent times, it may be the saving grace if you fit into that category. It has its fair share of problems and is largely forgettable after one or two “big” playthroughs but it’ll keep you hooked long enough to feel like a mayor, if only for a while.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.