Cities XL Preview [PC]

29 Jul 2009  by   Paul Younger
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I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a beta version of Cities XL and after our recent interview with the CEO of Monte Cristo, Jerome Gastaldi, I was really looking forward to this game. Being a big fan of ‘SimCity 4,’ Monte Cristo’s promise that Cities XL will be the next generation of city builder intrigued me.  From the download of the 2.5GB setup file, you know this game is going to be big, and after the hefty install and a couple of additional updates you can now log in. Before joining a planet and creating a city you are given the option of a tutorial which I suggest you take a look at.However, while the tutorial itself outlines the basic gameplay in Cities XL, it doesn’t provide an insight into some of the more complex components of the game (such as trading and blueprints) so you’ll have to use your own grey matter to work them out. At least until a boxed copy is released with a user manual.Currently in the beta there are four different planets to choose from and you’re given an indication of how many cities are online, and how many free spaces there are on each server. When you join a planet the surface is varied all over the globe giving you the choice of a number of locations including sand, mountains and snow. However, with the beta having been going for a while now, a lot of spaces have been taken so you may have to compromise. Especially as with each location you need to make sure the difficulty rating is suited to you and it has a reasonable percentage of flat land. It took me a good fifteen minutes at least to find an easy difficulty map with at least 40% flat land. Hopefully Monte Cristo will add more easy maps for beginners otherwise the rather daunting prospect of having to play on a higher difficulty map will drive inexperienced players away from the game.Once you have chosen your map and named your city you are prompted to place a city hall and then its time to start zoning your city for your citizens to inhabit. You have four different type of citizens to cater for:  unqualified, qualified, executives and finally the elite. As your city grows over time you unlock the affluent and educated citizens, but unfortunately there is no citizen development – for example, you will always see the slums inhabited by unqualified workers in your city even if you have the best schools and services around. One of the key aspects in SimCity 4 was the development of your citizens via the different services on offer and even though all cities need some unqualified workers, having a whole district of them isn’t exactly ideal.Obviously with workers you have to create jobs and at the start of the game you are given the option of farm lands, offices and heavy industry. Like in SimCity, heavy industry pollutes the air so keeping your citizens, offices and crops away from the fumes is your best bet. As your city grows you unlock different levels of a certain industry most of which have three different variations normally giving you the opportunity to create larger more expensive versions of the original industry. And, thanks to the impressive graphics engine, you will notice all the little additions and enhancements to your city.Three different zoning tools have been created for the game to place houses and industry sectors. You have the traditional square zoning which places buildings in a set square design with roads surrounding it. You can also place single buildings as long as they are connected to a street. However my favourite zoning tool is the free form where you can draw out the perimeter and it will add as many building into the zone at once, meaning you can fill almost every small gap in your city.{PAGE TITLE=Cities XL Preview Page 2}But developing your city won’t be easy unless you have the money. Taxes are your main source of revenue in the game, and making sure the citizens and industry taxes are at the correct level will be the difference between whether your industries go bust or stay afloat. Also, set your living taxes too high and watch as your city suffers a max exodus taking to the roads and leaving your city broke.Talking about roads, Cities XL is the first city builder to incorporate curved roads. I know it doesn’t sound too fascinating or big, but believe me it leaves you wondering how any other city builder has not incorporated it until now. It gives you freedom to create a city the shape you want it to, mixing this with the free form zoning tool gave me great results, allowing me (and everyone else in the beta) to create unique cities.See, Cities XL has been hyped because of the promise of MMO elements, which if I’m being honest aren’t really there. Despite the fact that you are on a planet with other human players and trade is encouraged, there isn’t really much else that makes it a MMO. Most of the time I forgot I was playing online apart from the annoying chat window which you cannot close or hide for one reason or another.When I envisioned an MMO city builder I expected to be able to create airports which you would be able to link with other cities and gain revenue by using your airport as a flight destination. I saw the possibility of linking cities and being able to sell excess resources (yes, I know the trade option is in the game but I wanted more depth to it). I expected to see cities with too much electricity being able to sell it to a neighbouring city for a monthly fee. Like I said the whole game simply feels like a single player outing with an online auto-save (which slows the game down considerably).It is also worrying that the game is still pretty buggy. The most prominent is a severe memory leak (which Monte Cristo is reportedly aware of) which occurs after about 15 minutes of play time, causing the game to slow to a crawl. Quitting and then reloading the game resolves the problem but it does get very annoying, especially when the game becomes so slow that placing zones becomes very difficult.Despite the generally impressive visual, there are also certain graphical glitches. For example, on a couple occasions the game forgot to load textures for cars, leaving grey boxes driving around the streets. Trying to adjust visual settings in game is also not recommended – often, the game would freeze at this point leading to more quit out and reload fun. I even suffered random crashes where the game would shut down totally and leave me back at the desktop. Worrying indeed but, Monte Cristo has assured the community that all these bugs will be fixed for the final version.It’s hard not be disappointed with Cities XL – I understand that the title is still in the beta but from what I saw the developer has a lot of work to do before it is ready for retail release on 9 October. And it’s not only the bugs – it seems to be underdeveloped in some areas, specifically the MMO elements of the game. Is it the next generation of city building games? At the moment, no. It does sport some nice features (like the free-form zoning tool) but currently there is little to entice city-building fans away from SimCity 4.

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