Simulation games have been a long-time cornerstone of the industry and cater to the kind of people that absolutely crave control. Whether they’re micromanaging their avatar’s love life or orchestrating railroad delivery deadlines, sim gamers get their jollies from the large amount of detailed customizability these types of games often offer, and there’s a certain pride to be had when it comes to managing a world in times of calm and crisis alike. So it only stands that a truly comprehensive city simulator would be the proverbial wet dream of every gamer who ever organized their Sims house down to the matching drapes. In that sense, Cities XXL, a massive city sim, was almost certainly designed to give OCD gamers a stroke.
If you build it, they will come
Cities XXL, the supposed step up from Cities XL (which we’ll get to), boasts over one thousand different buildings, geologically-varied landscapes, and the ability to manage the daily workings of a common-day metropolis. Players assume to role of mayor, or God, and strategically place roads, homes, and businesses within their selected biome in an attempt to attract some citizens. Once all of the necessary buildings have been raised, people begin to flood in, looking for jobs and a pleasant place to live. It’s up to players to manage everything from unemployment to the environment, all the while attempting to not go broke from overspending on Ferris Wheels and skyscrapers.
Overall, building and road placement was fairly easy when the camera wasn’t zooming in and out of the map like a drunken photographer with presbyopia. There’s no limitation regarding which buildings can or cannot be placed side by side, and players aren’t restricted to a grid pattern for their suburbs and inner cities, though there’s really no point in straying from a perfectly-angled building placement. You’re given a set amount of cash to start, and it’s up to you to create a system of income vs. spending by increasing taxes, building the appropriate number of homes and shops, and trading with nearby towns.
After merely two hours of meticulous construction and mindless nitpicking, my city was finally complete. There was nothing left for me to do but sit and wait, which is exactly what I did for the next ten hours (sort of).
Where’s the fire? No, seriously…
I’m not exaggerating when I say I spent the first of those hours with my eyes glued to the screen, eager to click down whatever emergency sprung up in the pristine town of “Hate This Place.” Whether there was a tornado, a fire, or a city-wide riot, I had everything ready to go. There was no force on Earth that I had not spent time and money prepping for, so imagine my surprise when the biggest calamity to strike was a 3% increase in the unemployment rate.
Even after I sped up time and sat for another thirty minutes, the only truly horrible events that required my attention were bankruptcies and whiny citizens, the first of which could literally be solved with a freaking bulldozer. There were no floods, no fires, and certainly none of the invading aliens we saw going as far back as Sim City 2000. All I saw were houses being built, businesses collapsing, and income flowing in from the overtaxed inhabitants. “The citizens are bored,” said a message prompt on my screen. “Well good,” I yelled back, “because so am I!”
The neglectful parent experiment
Since three and a half hours is far too short a period to judge a game with any degree of certainty, I decided to have a little fun with the remaining time left before I could uninstall Cities from my computer. Having built a metropolis comparable to the town I grew up in, I decided that the best thing to do would be to leave my city completely alone. At 200,000 inhabitants and $4 million in the bank, I stood up, put some clothes on, and went to find the nearest pub. Roughly 4 hours later (I threw in a nap towards the end), I sat back down to check out what would surely be a desolate, bankrupt hole in the ground. To my absolute shock I discovered only 8,000 people had left and I was now the proud owner of $133 million and a stable economy. My complete and total absence from the game was far more beneficial than any bit of effort I could have ever put in while actually trying.
There is absolutely no excuse for developers to sell a sim that actually does a better job playing when no one gets involved. The sheer audacity of producing a game that doesn’t want players to touch it speaks to either the size of Focus Home Interactive’s massive cajones or their blatant disregard for consumers.
The bad, the worse, and the unforgiveable
While the above-mentioned qualms absolutely break the game for me, there may indeed be a select group of accountants or comptrollers that truly get off on self-perpetuating simulations. It’s all fine and good if watching a game beat itself really gets your motor turning, but even if that were the case, Cities XXL still won’t get you there.
The game itself chugs like a frat boy when you’ve got more than three things going on at a time, and it constantly struggles to recognize any of your achievements until five minutes after the fact. And while zooming into a part of the city with Google Earth-like precision sounds fun, the whole thing falls apart as citizens glitch their way across the street and cars freeze mid lane change. Tack on one of the worst soundtracks since Men in Black 3 and a “save” button that loads an old game as opposed to saving your current game (because why the hell would it do that), and you truly have a sensory overload more akin to sticking your brain in a microwave than playing a game.
While I myself have yet to play any of the previous Cities installments, word on the street is that XXL is really just a rebrand of Cities XL, with nothing but the color of the menu changed for the benefit of Focus Home’s wallet. If this happens to be true, then the developers have successfully hit a new low that even Lindsay Lohan would cringe over. However, since I cannot confirm this and absolutely refuse to go back to any game even remotely related to XXL, I’ll just have to rely on all the glaringly wrong aspects available right in front of me.