Cities XL: review


  • Format: PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Monte Cristo
  • Developer: Monte Cristo
  • Players: 1
  • Site:

Monte Cristo’s Cities XL originally came with an online MMO option, a feature that got us very interested. The online possibilities with this game would be new and, dare we say it, maybe even revolutionary. But before we could even take a peek at the online world of Cities XL, it got cancelled. According to Monte Cristo, “the subscription rate is lower than what we expected and therefore the Planet Offer is no longer sustainable.”

Disappointed by the loss of something that could have been great, we moved on to the single player mode.

The tutorial introduced the two main characters of the story. The cliché incompetent major and the fruity, creative major’s aide who are supposed to be a comical duo by being stupid and making fun of each other. Needless to say, getting past the tutorial and not having to deal with them any more, was when the fun could start.

The first thing you notice when you start playing, is that Cities XL actually has a very good interface. It’s overviewable, informational and it doesn’t get in the way. The building menu is very easy to use, and by displaying everything in the same way throughout the game, you are never at a loss about where to find what you’re looking for. The game also keeps you informed about the status of your city. Which inhabitants are still unsatisfied, which public services or industries need more attention, and you even have a menu that you can use to locate all the different buildings. Because this is a danger in city building games: your city becomes too big to overview within the hour, making it hard to find what you placed where, and leading to a loss of structure. The game gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to placing the buildings, which also leads to the danger of putting your buildings in random places, taking up space you can never use again. Cities XL is a game that needs structure, planning, and thinking ahead. You can randomly build things, but you won’t get as far as when you think it through.

Very random building placement

This is a game that takes time to figure out, that requires you sitting down and failing horribly several times before improving. But the sad thing about that is, once you do get the hang of it, the game quickly gets boring and repetitive. The gap between unlocking the basic building and unlocking the really cool buildings, is just a little bit to big (imagine a requirement of 5000 inhabitants for the simple buildings and 75000 for the really cool ones).

The graphics are pretty good, especially for a city building game. The zoom-function gives you something to play with and a way to ‘connect’ with what you’re building. Allowing the player to actually see from close up what they’ve built was a good decision. Putting actual citizens in the game was something that would make your city feel more alive. Unfortunately, when you zoom in to see your ‘puppets’, they look a little bit gormless.

How does this constitute normal, average-day people behaviour?

The crudely made class divisions (unskilled workers, skilled workers, executives and elites) do not let you bond with your inhabitants. You do get feedback about what they are lacking and what they like, but this never really goes into much depth.

The learning curve in Cities XL has been applauded in many reviews, and although we discovered that you do gradually learn how to build tactically, the game has one fatal flaw:

Once you start losing money, it’s very very hard to go back. Once you start to lose money, you realise you have to make some changes to your city. Attract more workers, create more jobs. But what does this require? Yes, money. Prepare to lose millions and be forced to forfeit the game, to your utter frustration. This is not a game that will go successfully the first time, or even the second, third or tenth time. It takes practice, planning, and experience. Something that some people don’t mind, but we can’t say it’s a good gameplay element.

This is the moment you have to start panicking

We must admit, though, that there is something addictive about Cities XL. Simulations of city building has always been something that we have enjoyed to do, we love making all those decisions and watching something we have created grow. This made us frantically try again and again to ignore the flaws and ignore the money death trap, and try and make a great city. We kept returning to ‘Gamer City’ (we know, our humour was infected by the game’s lame humour). But once we made a rather successful city, we turned the game off and never looked back.

Cities XL feels like a game that is just not finished. Cities XL unsuccessfully aims for a certain renewing depth, but the game never gets there. Although it looks good and can be amusing for several hours, not many players will keep playing this game for very long. The loss of the multiplayer function was disappointing, but apparently just not that successful. The unfinished feeling we got from the game reflects in something as simple as a spelling error: “Welcome to Chatper 2”. A rather amusing embodiment of how close the game was to getting it right – one letter – but it just couldn’t get there. The game shows promise, though, for the players that do get past the obstacles. The many different possibilities combined with the clean look of the game, allows you to create a really nice town and keep you busy for at least several hours. Cities XL is an entertaining game, but it needs work. Maybe the patch that is planned to come out in the near future will get it closer to a finished game.


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Written by Snezana N

She destroyed her first PC (running Windows 3.11) at the age of 11 and since then has been obsessed with everything about games and technology. Founder of Game Thingie (, she's currently a game journalist to learn about the industry and get into game development after attaining her MscBA. She also cannot stop talking about how awesome Yakuza 3 was.

One comment

  1. KrazyFace /

    Every time I look at one of these ‘build a city’ games I’m reminded of the love affair I had with Sim City on my SNES. Sim City’s winning fomula (for me) was that while at first it seemed complicated, once you spent a few hours on it it became second nature. Infact, I built a city so flawless that I could happily go to school all day and let it run it’s self! When I came home, I’d spend hours refineing it more. I couldn’t get enough.

    I’m always tempted to buy one of these when I’m in a supermarket (generally city builers cost about £3) but feel put-off because
    A) The price can often reveal more about a game than the description on the back and
    B) When I look back at SimCity I feel I’ve got the rose-tints on.

    Good review though, and by the way, what’s wrong with lounging around on your front lawn in your underwear? I do it all the time!

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