Crispy Gamer

The Five: Cities XL

The 10-Cent Tour: The city-building genre gets a much-needed urban redevelopment with Cities XL.

1. With all due deference to SimCity, isn't it about time that someone made a multiplayer city-building game? I mean, isn't it people that make a city what it is? Monte Cristo out of France will launch Cities XL in late summer/early fall, an ambitious new version of its City Life franchise complete with solo play out of the box and, gasp, a massively multiplayer game under the hood. Now virtual mayors can drop towns onto planets hosting up to 10,000 sister cities. And yes, the cities are persistent and yes, the planets feature global economies based on the cities that populate their surface.

2. What fun is knowing Paris exists if you can't visit? The Cities XL planet mode allows players to customize an avatar and go for a stroll in other burgs. Meet up with other players and shoot the breeze or get into the real work of negotiating resource trades. What's that, you say, you need electricity? Well, what do you have to offer? Perhaps some food, say?

3. If you ever played City Life, you know that this was a promising, feature-rich update to the formula SimCity invented. With Cities XL, you get more, more, more. Curved roads? No problem. Train tracks running through mountain tunnels? That makes sense. A city economy based on the education and income of the citizens and businesses who actually count the dollars they make? Definitely. Form-based zoning and starchitect put-that-building-where-I-want-it control? Come on, who do you think you are talking to? Of course you can. For the sim fan that likes to geek out over knobs to twist, this game is an instrumental panel of delight.

4. One word -- well, acronym: GEMs. Game extension modules will roll out at the rate of a couple a year and let you expand your city's simulation possibilities. Want to run a ski resort? Grab the ski resort GEM and get to work laying out the runs, setting up hotels, and deciding how much to charge for the apr?s-ski. Worried that mayoring can be mightily dull work, the developer has effectively created a city-building game that wants you to plug in a wide-open world of tycoon simulations. With car dealerships, soccer stadiums, zoos, hospitals and even a subway sim, the mind boggles at the extendibility possible in this approach.

5. Make a city, man! Whatever the weird mojo SimCity bottled long ago, the idea that you can plan, develop and run a city on your own is, in some respects, the ultimate power trip. Cities XL supersizes that ego boost with more control and more stuff in more detail. But at the core, this is a city-building game built by city-building game fans for a new generation of virtual city-builders to come. Welcome to the 21st-century city simulation, my old friend.

The Crispy Forecast: City Life was an entertaining game, but always felt a little like a demo for something great. Our guess: Cities XL will prove that was the case.

This preview is based on a developer interview and beta build of the game.