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Cities XL: Demoing the Demo

September 12, 2009

The French developers Monte Cristo released a demo of their upcoming city simulator title Cities XL on September 7, and I’ve finally gotten around to giving it a try.

A bit surprising; the graphics were pretty good, but I think I might have been expecting a bit more. And then the demo reminded me of something I’d forgotten about being one of its features, it also has a (subscription-based) MMO mode in addition to regular offline play. An MMO city simulator; and that’s what the demo showcases. Servers are called planets, and cities on planets trade resources as some places make somethings better than others (like some places make food, some make water, some make fuel, etc) and then depending on what types of economy a player focuses on (although in the limited demo it seemed kinda difficult to try specializing, maybe its a quirk of being limited to only small towns) their town will develop different more complex resources (abstracts like office, manufacturing, heavy industry, etc).

This type of economic depth possibilities is something we only dreamed about back in the days of SC3k when I did city journaling (city simulator meets role playing games through “conventional” Internet means like BBSes).

Not too surprising, there’s still a few quirks in the game. I’d have thought that this game was developed from scratch but some of these are the same quirks I specifically remember having in Monte Cristo’s City Life, such as glitchy menus (handling mouse events more times than it should [i]id est[/i] multiple sound effects for a single click, opening and closing a menu at the same time) and iffy support for Windows XP Media Center Edition (my operating system).

In the city sim fan community this game as been heralded as the successor to SimCity 4 (since EA’s own attempt at it was a flop to just about any fan of the original series; albeit it is a very beautiful game, SC Societies has no gameplay depth, maybe even to the point of not even calling it a game, but more of a type of Paint, nay, KidPix, for designing cityscapes).

I myself have been wanting to play this game for a long time, and by that I mean since the first day news of it made it to the SimCity fan communities. Actually, it was hearing of their work on this game is what made me interested in trying out Monte Cristo’s earlier city simulator work, City Life. Funny that [b]the[/b] city simulator series ended up more like City Life and now Monte Cristo intends to make a game more like the original series.

As a longtime SimCity fan, I’d say that Cities XL definitely looks like its got some definite potential, especially with the MMO mode giving it a whole uncharted realm for city simulators. However, from my limited experience with a limited demo of a game that’s not even released yet (enough disclaimers yet?), I think SimCity 4 is still going to be the diehard hardcore city simulator game; particularly in the wide range of customizations SimCity 4 allows and with its huge assortment of plugins and customs already out on the net. Maybe I’m just a Will Wright fanboy, but that’s my $.02.

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