Publisher: Monte Cristo
Developer: Monte Cristo
Release Date: Q2 2009
While often considered a niche genre, city-building games still maintain a space in the hearts of many gamers, especially those who grew up playing PC titles like Sim City. The genre is still popular enough to entice developers and publishers, with Sim City titles, for example, still appearing on store shelves every few years. Lest everyone think that only Maxis is interested in the genre, French developer and publisher Monte Cristo has made a name for itself within the market with its City Life series. The City Life games attempted to do more than just give players a virtual urban playground to build (and destroy) — City Life required that players manage social classes within the cities, making sure that there were plenty of employment and leisure opportunities for the rich and the poor.
With the relative success of City Life under its belt, Monte Cristo has decided to push its beloved city-building genre even further, recently showing us the fruits of their labors with Cities XL, a game that takes the core city-builder and aims to expand it in ways fans haven't seen before.
The core of Cities XL is the city building, which has been streamlined, but not "dumbed down." Rather than forcing players to choose between "zoning" or "plopping" down buildings, the game offers both styles of play, available at any time. It's also handy that the developers have created a tagging system - this allows you to choose an area to build in, and then tag it with building types, such as "industrial" or "agricultural." Rather than forcing players to choose each specific building to place, the tag tells the system to figure out what buildings you might need from that tag class, and the AI will build it for you. It's a quick way for the non-micromanagement fans out there to get into the other aspects of the game.
Cities XL is aiming to offer tycoon-styled gameplay in the form of Gameplay Extension Modules (GEMs). Each GEM focuses on one type of business, such as ski resorts, beach resorts and more, and Monte Cristo is looking to make each GEM a game in its own right. In the ski resort example we saw, players managed many aspects of running a resort, from manually designing ski trails, to hiring ski patrollers and choosing what sort of hotels and other amenities the resort will offer. While at first blush it might seem odd to have tycoon games inside of a city-builder, the GEMs make sense in that, in the example of the ski resort, the more well-designed and managed your resort is, the more "tourism resources" you'll draw in, not only from your city, but also from other player cities on the game world. More resources help you expand your GEM, and, more importantly, improve your city.
Monte Cristo is hoping to make the city-builder a more social experience to the point of offering online worlds ("Planets"), which are essentially MMO-styled servers. When you sign up for the "Planet Offer," which Monte Cristo says will cost roughly $5 U.S. per month, you're given access to these persistent worlds. Once there, you can interact with other players by sharing resources, visiting each other's cities and working cooperatively to build special superstructures. Players can specialize their cities; for example, maybe you want to create a city that does nothing but generate electricity — you can do that, relying on other players to provide you with other necessary resources (food, waste hauling, etc.) while you provide them with massive amounts of cheap power.
While the buzz phrase on every PR person's lips these days is "social networking," Monte Cristo's actually attempting to integrate social networking into Cities XL. Since the online gameplay is social by design, Monte Cristo says that it makes sense to create a social network for players of the game. This network is managed through a Web site that will host player profiles, blogs and applets for managing your cities. Players can upload screenshots and videos from the game to show off on their player blogs, and they can also log in through the Web to manage some aspects of their cities — such as resource trading — without having to load the game. This Web-based play should be pretty helpful for those would-be urban planning addicts who need to sneak in some game time while at work. Adding to the social aspects of the game, there will be a full 3-D avatar chat environment in each city, where players can meet up and shoot the breeze.
One component of the game that may give players a bit of heartburn is the pricing. To play the game in multiplayer mode (the "Planet Offer"), there will be a monthly fee that has yet to be determined for the U.S. market. Along with that, each GEM will carry a price that is based on its complexity; a very simple GEM might be very cheap, or even free, but the more interesting GEMs could cost several dollars to purchase. As you can imagine, your monthly gaming budget could get tapped quickly if a lot of great GEMs are released. It should be noted that single-player does not have a subscription fee; you just buy a copy of the game and start playing.
Monte Cristo plans to release Cities XL either late this summer or early in the fall for the U.S.
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