If you already own Cities XL, you might as well stop reading now. Despite all of the marketing rhetoric, all XXL does as far as anyone can tell is change the UI from blue to black and possibly add support for multi-core threading to make it run better on some machines. We’ve personally never had any trouble running these games and this runs the same as any, but it’s unlikely that those changes are going to make it worth spending any money on.
If you’ve never played a Cities game before, it’s a little like SimCity but more of a building tool rather than a game. The simulation is much less challenging, the menus are more functional (at times) and the graphics are much less stylised. The only sense of gamification there really is comes in the form of milestones and goals that unlock things. Every couple of minutes your screen will be flooded with notifications about something good that you’ve done (like 500 citizens!) and you’ll unlock another set of buildings, but that’s about it. There’s no campaign with challenging scenarios and in the menus there’s even an ‘expert’ mode that just unlocks everything for you from the start. Unlike in SimCity, you rarely need to be careful with any kind of budget, you just put down whatever you want and it gets built almost instantly. Your citizens are much more forgiving than in other games so this really becomes more of a ‘design a city’ tool.
Graphically there’s a lot of different buildings that can crop up in your city (you place residential, industrial and commercial zones down like in SimCity, but larger buildings you place individually) but unfortunately all of the models and textures are ugly. This game is all about scale with much larger plots and cities possible than in any other city builder, but zoom in and you can see why. Civilians look like RCT3 visitors, the cars don’t appear to have any connection to the road at all and every building is incredibly simple and unappealing. You can suggest themes for your cities to build under, like Victorian or modern, but in the end every city ends up looking very similar. Even the road building tool tends to produce some unnatural angles unless you spend a lot of time getting the curves just right, so as a tool it’s awkward to recreate a place you know in real life, or simply try to build something symmetrical.
From the tone of this review we’re sure you can tell that this isn’t easy to recommend. There’s not enough gameplay to be a game, not enough depth to be a simulation, not enough freedom to be a creative tool. It’s somewhere in between all three. There’s definitely some fun to be had in building a giant city using planning ideas you’ve cooked up, but there’s no sense that you’re experimenting, you’re just plopping it down then looking at it. Coupled with a horrifically basic UI and some awful bugs that lead to menus and options disappearing for no reason along with poor performance on some machines, there’s really no reason to buy this. If you are desperate for something new to play, just get Cities XL Platinum, it’s quite literally the same game in a slightly different colour, but currently half the price.