Cities XXL is a really difficult game to review. Not because I had a hard time breaking down the details of it or exploring all of its nuances, but simply because I feel like I’ve already reviewed this game. I mean, it’s been just over three years since I took a look at Cities XL 2012, but it seems like I pretty much covered everything there. I don’t mean that as some sort of lazy slight to get out of doing this review, I mean it in the very literal sense that I’ve played this game before.
That’s not exactly a stunning literary introduction, but our hands are a bit tied here sadly. If you’ve played Cities XL, you already know what you’re getting into. The Cities franchise is one of the more established city building simulators, but really tends to focus on some of the more minute details. You’ll have to make sure you have enough proper housing to convince executives to move to your city, so that they can fill up that expensive office, and they’re sure as hell not going to live in the tiny apartments you built for the factory workers.
There are a few additions to the mix here, but there’s nothing that will take your breath away. You’ll find a lot of “green” options to help tackle the rising pollution levels in your city, and you’ll notice that pollution is realistically centered around areas as opposed to just being spread across the city. There are also five entirely new environments that your map can take place in, and a moving skybox does offer a more lifelike biome for you to create your architectural masterpiece.
Honestly, I’m not even sure why I’m shocked. After all, the Cities franchise does have a penchant for doing this. Cities XL 2011 was essentially Cities XL with a few new maps and features. Cities XL 2012 and Cities XL Platinum were the same type of deal as well: basically a clone of their predecessors, just with more maps and features.
One of the biggest improvements to the franchise is that it finally supports multi-core CPU usage. I definitely don’t want to downplay this as a piece of tech, since trying to work with hyper threading is about as easy as trying to herd cats using a leaf blower, but it’s simply not proving to be a noticeable improvement. We don’t seem to have the same crashing issues that we’ve seen from the franchise in the past, but the framerate can still drop to absolutely unplayable levels at the tip of a hat.
We ran Cities XXL on our beefy test rig, featuring an over-clocked 4770k, 22GB of RAM, and a 295×2 GPU. For the most part, the game gave us framerates in the triple digits when we weren’t actively doing anything. However, whenever we tried to lay long roads or plot out developments of a decent size (read: a huge portion of what you’ll actively be doing), the framerate plummeted. I don’t mean down to a standard 60 FPS or even the bare minimum 30 FPS, I mean we saw frame rates in the single digits, often below 5 FPS. How this got through play testing is unbelievable. For the record, I mean that literally. I have a hard time believing that Cities XXL was play tested and found to be acceptable.
One of the largest selling points here is that the fact that the game actually works this time, and even that only seems to ring half true. Even if this wasn’t the case, the fact that this is in very large portion a performance upgrade sits very poorly on my conscience. Again, I don’t want to downplay the programming sorcery that is multithreading applications, but fixing a game used to be considered something that was done with a patch, not selling an additional product.
The user interface and menus have been retooled in Cities XXL, but I can’t say that it’s strictly for the better. It definitely has a more modern feel to it, but it really looks like it was a rush job. Everything about it simply seems like it was thrown together. This is the definition of being nitpicky and on its own would barely be worth mentioning, but any graphic designers in the audience may want to prepare themselves for some fairly atrocious kerning. I’m not really sure how you can manage to have your typeface off-center on the main menu of your game, especially when it’s a game about micromanagement and fine details, but that’s part of the magic of Cities XXL I suppose.
We did play the game in standard 1080p resolution, although this wasn’t a result of frame rate issues. At larger resolutions, scaling becomes a massive problem. It was almost impossible to correctly select icons running at a native 4K resolution, and function trumps form in real world tests. It’s a shame, since the game does look nice at the higher resolutions.
Cities XXL is something that I have to hate by its very nature, simply for being a pain in the ass to review. The game tries to play as a “Best Of,” but at the same time, there isn’t a single damn thing here that demands you to pay literally double the asking cost for the previous game in the series. Sure, there’s a 50% discount right now if you already own Cities XL, but if that’s the case, then you already practically own this game as well. That said, if you’re brand new to the franchise, Cities XL Platinum is still a fantastic city builder in its own right, and offers a much more reasonable price tag right now. However, if you’ve played any game in the series before, it’s safe to keep driving past this cityscape; you’ve already seen all the sights before.
This review is based of a PC copy of the game, given to us for review purposes.
Cities XXL feels more like a sidegrade than a true upgrade, as it offers little more than a performance patch for its $40 price tag.