On Gaming

The main screen of “Democracy 2”, showing the different policy areas and the demographic polling in the center.

Two games present differing visions.

As I have alluded to in an earlier piece, politics is not exactly the most popular subject for videogames, even in genres that would lend themselves to realistic portrayals of the political process. However, in this time of political conventions I thought it would be worth the time to look at the contrasting visions presented by two games, Democracy 2 and President Forever 2008. Their differing visions in part are a function of the different focuses of the games; Democracy 2 is about the business of governance, while President Forever is about the unholy art of attaining political office, in this case the presidency of the US.

Democracy 2 is politics as the civics textbook would tell it. The game puts the player in the position of leader in one of several fictional (though clearly based upon real-world) nations. After setting the rules of the game, such as deciding the proportions of some political demographics (socialists, environmentalists, etc.), the player is thrust into leadership.

There are seven policy areas under the player’s purview, ranging from transport to welfare and tax. These seven areas slice up the main screen, with the middle filled with a box showing approval ratings from all 20 demographics of the electorate, plus two ratings that represent approval from the populace as a whole. Inside of these 7 slices, there are three types of clickable icons, as shown in the above picture; statistics icons (crime rate, GDP, unemployment), policy icons (tax rate, military funding) and arguably the most important set of icons, the flaming-red icons that denote pressing problems, like crime waves or hospital bed shortages.

A look at what’s making the “Patriot” demographic in “Democracy 2” tick.

The game under default settings is quite realistic in its depiction of politics, in the sense that it models “political capital,” or the amount of “control” over the government needed to adjust policies. Adjusting funding levels upward, downward, or eliminating programs altogether require differing levels of this ‘capital’, which is represented as a literal number. While this is a valiant effort to simulate the real-world difficulty of changing longstanding policy, I find that it is still too easy to tweak major policies, but this could be a side effect of continued exposure to American politics.

However, the biggest divergence from realism in Democracy 2 is arguably an inevitable consequence of its design; the lack of unpredictability. Policy pages are accompanied by green and red bars showing effect on both demographic opinions and various statistics. While there are random one-off events that are semi-influenced by policies, the whole concept of The Law of Unintended Consequences seems to be absent from the modeling of policy effects. What you see is essentially what you get, which makes the game predictable after a certain length of time playing it.

The main map view of President Forever. Notice the daily activity selection screen to the right.

Closer to the other side of the idealism to cynicism scale is the electoral simulation President Forever 2008. The developer, 270Soft, has settled very snugly into this niche; other titles focus on Canadian, British, and German elections. The goal of President Forever is very simple; to triumph in the electoral college at the end of a campaign.

The simulation is clever in that it rewards indulgence in the morally ambiguous games of electoral politics, but only to a certain point. Running relentlessly negative ads is nice, until one of them “backfires.” Shifting positions to please differing electorates and regions is good, until it prompts a “flip flopper” headline, and so on.

The game also manages to nicely capture the tendencies of the campaign media. Of the several activities the candidate can perform on any given day, the most essential tool is the barnstorm, which describes your basic “roll into town and shake hands” event. Oftentimes this generates headlines from the in-game newspaper about where the candidate went, which feed the news cycle. A candidate looking tired on the trail generates an even bigger headline.

An accidental commentary on the repetitive nature of a horserace-focused media. Screenshot taken from a user-generated scenario simulating the 2009 New York mayoral race.

In fact, because of the limitations of the computer simulation and a likely desire to sidestep the possibility of political controversy, the in-game media perfectly simulates the preference of the real media to magnify gaffes and focus on campaign set-pieces instead of policy. The overlap between  the headlines generated by the in-game newspaper and the types of useless political pieces highlighted by a recent piece on the comedy website Cracked is almost exact.

So which vision of politics is closer to reality? Both games are true to their respective portions of the political process;  governing is no picnic, but Democracy 2 is a bit too predictable in the policymaking department, and a bit too easy in the problem-solving department. Running for political office, on the other hand, is an exhausting exercise in crunching data, tailoring pitches, and manipulating the media, a task that President Forever manages to capture well enough. Either game makes for an entertaining diversion.


Box art for “Cities in Motion”

Is this game of transit management worth the fare?

The list of things that have been turned into video games is pretty long. Amusement park management was pretty early on this list, followed by general business simulation and its associated trillions of sub-niches, from airport management to oil company management and even running a zoo. However, one of the main streams of this “business simulation” genre has been the transportation management simulator.

One of the latest entries in this genre has been the Paradox Interactive game Cities in Motion. The game, which is just over a year old, pulls the player down from the country or region-scale focus of previous entrants and has the player managing a city-scale transit system. Unlike other games of this sort, in Cities in Motion there isn’t actually any AI company to compete with. Even though you run the system as a fully private enterprise (with very occasional and small subsides from the city), for all intents and purposes you are in charge of a private-sector monopoly, with the only competing transit options being walking and private driving.

An example of a ground-level subway station in-game.

You are given 5 modes of transport to work with. Three of these: busses, streetcars, and heavy rail (subway) will be the bread and butter of most systems, while the latter two, water taxis and helicopters, are expensive and useful in very limited situations. Travelling these vehicles are seven different social groups: several classes of workers, plus students, pensioners, tourists and “drifters.” While the game makes much of these distinctions, and on the individual level these groups do differ in travel patterns, on the aggregate, any system that serves the major areas of the city covers all 5 groups.

This actually alludes to one of the bigger problems with the game; too many aspects of the game mechanics that are supposed to realistically constrain the player  can be ignored with little consequence. Take the economic simulation. While there are real fluctuations in interest rates that affect vehicle cost and bank interest rates, larger changes in the economy are also supposed to affect the tolerance of citizens for fare hikes, with bad economic times leading to lower fare tolerances. In reality, any sufficiently reliable system can charge punishing fares (this writer remembers getting away with charging $16 for a subway fare) and still draw citizens. There are other game mechanics like vehicle attractiveness that are similarly underutilized.

The other problem with this game is that it is not dynamic enough to stay exciting after developing a basic network. While real cities are supposed to expand or contract as time goes by, especially in response to transit connections, Cities in Motion cities expand at predictable intervals in the same places, as scripted by the map. The commuting cycle of the game is also abstracted for simulation reasons; there is no day/night cycle (maps are either permanently day or night), and individual journeys take months, meaning that there is no distinction between, say rush hour and off peak or weekends.

Because of how the time simulation in the game is set up, some of these virtual passengers might have literally been waiting for days.

The transit options I mentioned earlier are generally well done but could use some extra flexibility. Streetcars/light rail can only be built on ground level, as opposed to underground or aboveground, both of which are common in the real world. Similarly, one can’t designate bus lanes on roads on roads. Recurring prompts from citizen groups to create a route between certain points on a map don’t allow for transfers, incentivizing long, otherwise impractical routes. The game simultaneously gives the player too much and too little data—it is impossible to know how profitable an entire line actually is, though player modifications have generally rectified this problem. Similarly, while there is a map that displays where various social groups work and live, there is no clear way of observing traffic flows from one or area building to another. Individually observing specific citizens will have to do in most cases.  These are not insurmountable frustrations, but frustrating they can be.

Final Focus

Graphics: 6.5/10- Graphics are competent, and very good at higher levels, but game gets a lower rating because graphics are rather taxing on the computer system. Various player mods that allow tinkering with camera angles also reveals some flaws not apparent in the regular view.

Gameplay:7/10- The task of the game is pretty simple and well laid out. Watching a transit network work is entertaining, if you’re into that sort of thing. Play is somewhere on the middle of the realism to simplification scale, though some transit experts have pointed out holes in the simulation.

Replay Value:4/10- This is the real Achilles heel of the game. No dynamic city simulation, predictable growth, and a lack of any competing private transport services mean that this game can be dry after that initial burst of construction.

Overall:6/10- I recommend this game if and this is a big if, hence the reverse italic, you already appreciate city simulation games and particularly concentrate on the transit planning aspect of those games, as this writer did. Even those who are familiar with the open source projects in the transit simulation genre, Simutrans and Open TTD, may not appreciate this as much considering the lack of competitive AI. 

The cover for the “Anthology” edition of the game, including the original and two standalone expansion packs.

In which I review an acclaimed WWII themed strategy title.

Company of Heroes, as those who follow the movements of video game publication more closely than I almost certainly know, was released back in 2006 to wide critical acclaim. Indeed, the game currently enjoys a 93/100 rating on the review aggregation site Metacritic.

While such glowing praise did play a role in my deciding to purchase the anthology, things are not always as they seem when it comes to well reviewed games. I remember getting the complete edition of Empire Earth II several years ago, largely on the basis of its favorable reception (79/100 on Metacritic) and found the game incredibly underwhelming. In short there were too many things the player was asked to do, and the package was not tied up together well enough. This does not even account for the fact that computer players seemed to do everything ten steps faster, even on lower difficulty levels. That game ended up being a more complex, less well executed Rise of Nations.

But I digress. The first hing you notice is that the initial mission of the Normandy campaign, the one from the original game, is on the beaches of D-Day. What I find unusual about this is that the D-Day invasion is typically portrayed as a climax to the European theater, the crescendo rather than the start of the story.

And so your adventure as virtual military tactician begins with getting this unit several feet onto the beach.

That first mission does provide a good enough introduction to the game but is also fairly passive. Sure, you have to dodge howitzer fire and MG bunkers, but the path of attack is pretty well defined, plus the mission is broken down into very obvious objectives (get X number of riflemen on the beach! Get some engineers to cut the barbed wire!). If you look closely enough at the above picture, you’ll notice the first of those mini-objectives.

The overall game mechanics are as fluid and realistic as promised. Unlike many older RTS games, gone—for the most part—are the unrealistic abstractions that older graphics/physics systems demanded. Playing Rise of Nations in the modern era made these problems clear; troops will stand and fire as if nothing’s happening in the face of machine gun fire, while howitzer shots would explode on top of infantry and the fireball would be accompanied by a simple drop in the health bar.

Artillery shells wreaking havoc on a group of infantry.

Those small touches are not neglected here. Machine gun fire affects infantry movement, making them crawl more slowly along the terrain or retreat to the safety of a sandbag. Artillery and bomb fire also are rendered in a manner closer to the real world. First of all, they have a reasonable degree of inaccuracy that depends on distance from the target, and second of all, direct hits from these bombs actually eliminate units, who in turn are tossed about the landscape in motions realistic and disconcerting alike. One quickly notices how the game earned its “M for Mature” rating. The other change is in resource acquisition. Instead of hurriedly building farms and dispatching civilians to chop down forests and operate oil rigs, resources accrue from resource points, different sectors of the map that infantry can secure.

The other part of that are the cut scenes, which are a typical mix of choreographed game play and separately drawn sequences. While far from a cinematic experience inanof themselves, the cut scenes do immerse the player in the missions, creating the feel of an interactive episode of Band of Brothers at times. For the record, the first campaign does cover some of the same ground as the TV-adapted book.

The skirmish modes I actually have not played frequently, mostly because the campaign missions are engaging but also because an RTS that is solely combat based, like Company of Heroes, for some reason loses a bit of its “kick” of excitement without a clearly defined set of objectives to defeat the enemy. This is as opposed to the older Rise of Nations, which spans a wide breadth of history and gives the player other things to do aside from capturing territory points. This will likely change as I actually finish the campaigns.

That one quibble aside, Company of Heroes is as good as previously told. It is a fast, fluid, and free flowing RTS that you probably already have if you follow the genre closely.

Final Focus

Graphics: 8/10- even 6 years later (in fairness, 3 years since the last expansion) Company of Heroes manages to strike a great balance between high performance and high detail graphics. One can spot slight flaws in the drawings of troops and armor, but one won’t dwell on them. Explosions are well detailed and shaded, and buildings are destroyed almost brick by brick, not with artificial animations.

Gameplay 7.5/10- the resource points concept is a smart way to alter the paradigm of RTS games, and it is actually executed well. Too often games are filled with smart ideas that are fouled up at some point. This is not one of them.

Replay Value: 8.5/10- the anthology is jam-packed with the content of the original game and its two standalone expansion, from campaigns to factions. I expect to spend at least another few months on fresh content in the game, and this is before accounting mods.

Overall: 8/10- Good game, even if it treads on the well worn tracks of the World War II theme. What it lacks in the originality of subject matter is quickly made up with the originality of gameplay execution. 

Citizens in ‘Sim City 3000’ about to stir up trouble. Perhaps a manner for citizens to render judgement on mayoral  leadership other than rioting would be useful?

In which I discuss the absence of politics from many city-building games.

Politics is a topic that often does not get a star turn in videogames. To some extent this is understandable; politics divides people, and games are meant to, in many ways, bring people together and entertain them. Which of course, explains the popularity of first person shooters and war-based real time strategy games.

That flourish of sarcasm aside, it is remarkable that the one genre of games that explicitly puts the player in the role of a government executive—the city builder—so rarely features politics. In the Sim City games, there is the concept of the Mayor Rating, but the accountability the mayor faces to the citizens are carried through blunt, non electoral means. At earlier stages, people simply ‘vote with their feet’ and leave the city, while riots begin to appear at lower mayor ratings, and running too high on debt will lead to summary removal from the city.

And of course, don’t forget the “city opinion polls” featured in ‘Sim City 4.’ Again, these polls were for the most part simply suggestions.

What is missing from all of these accountability mechanisms is the concept of regular elections, which seems unusual when you consider the fact that SimNation is ostensibly a western liberal democracy. Sim City 3000 did feature the concept of petitioners—various interest groups that would come to the mayor’s office demanding various changes—a casino here, a commuter shuttle there, and I very much missed them in Sim City 4. Still, even that iteration did not include regular political and electoral action.

But why is this? There are two obvious reasons. The first is that any game that tries to simulate a real world process, from city building to transportation planning and any business enterprise that can have the word tycoon appended to it, requires a level of simplification to make it an engaging game in the first place. This is why things like community board meetings have been omitted from most of the Sim City games. The other probable reason is that urban politics, especially in the United States (where the Sim City games were developed) is an unholy cauldron of class and race, both of which are controversial by themselves, and even more toxic to attempt to portray in the context of a video game. A third reason, might be the inherent weirdness of a mayor that also can play god having to face elections, as captured in this College Humor video from last year.

Ever since I started playing the Sim City games—back in the early 2000s with the “Network Edition” of Sim City 2000, I have wondered about this lack of politics in the series, but usually thought that it would be unworkable to include a decent political simulation in the game anyway. Then I picked up a copy of the excellent Tropico 3 a few years ago. The game, for the uninitiated, sets you as the leader of a fictional Caribbean island nation and marries the building and economic management of a conventional city-building game with the political power of a typical real-time strategy game. While the game does allow one to lead in the manner of a classic ICC-warranted autocrat, stifling press freedom and having “eliminated” citizens who dare to dissent, the game also heavily nudges the player towards less blunt methods of political influence.

The savvy ‘Tropico’ leader would do well to check this panel regularly. On the right are approval ratings from the major island factions.

And this is where things get interesting. In the world of Tropico 3, there are multiple political factions—ranging from your classic Marxists to business oriented leaders and religious devotees that are affected by—and react to—each and every major decision you take, from the building of a cathedral to the prevailing island wage. Every so often citizens will demand elections, and while a leader can rebuff this request, such action usually will be accompanied by a drop in citizen happiness and an increase in rebel activity.

The place from where El Presidente’s oratory originates.

The game gives the player the option of conducting an election with a speech. The game gives three aspects in crafting the speech; an issue, such as foreign relations or corn shortages, to address, a specific faction to praise (which raises one’s approval rating among the faction), and a promise to make (such as higher wages or lower crime). All of these inputs are turned into a natural sounding speech by the game, played over the radio for the entire nation to hear. After a short interlude the actual election occurs, when your advisers give you a heads up estimate on the pending vote totals. The player is then given the option of sweetening the election results, or accepting the legitimate vote total. Fudging the results does not always work, and carries negative political consequences such as substantially increased rebel activity and international opprobrium (and the loss of aid dollars). Add all of this to the numerous random political events in the game and one has a very detailed yet playable political simulation.

So what can the non-themed city builder, such as the next iteration of the Sim City series, take from this? Obviously the options to kill, imprison, and bribe political opponents probably wouldn’t be realistic for a game ostensibly set in a “Western Liberal Democracy” (unless that democracy is a Mediterranean European country or a particularly corrupt US state), but the implementation of factions, random political events, and elections themselves, is all good.

While more nationally oriented, this is a good jumping off point for factions in a city-building game. Snipped from an online power-point presentation.

First to factions. In the American urban political landscape, there are typically several main interest groups, including real estate developers, public sector unions (perhaps divided between police/fire and all other public sector employees), environmentalists, the working class and poor, among others. The sizes of these factions would directly relate to the population makeup of the city (poorer residents more likely to be populist pro-union types, richer professionals more likely to be pro-business, etc.), and they would regularly complain to city hall, similar to the petitioners in Sim City 3000. Mayor ratings would have a global aspect, followed by a detailed rating of each faction based on specific policies carried out.

The game could give the player a map like this with polling data to improve campaigning.

Elections would occur every so often (perhaps every 10 game years to allow players long enough to actually change city policies, or be called at the discretion of the mayor, similar to a PM in a parliamentary system) and feature speeches with similar structure to the Tropico 3 implementation, and perhaps would even include debates with the opponent (the opponent would be drawn from the ranks of city businesses, unions, or the vast bureaucracy). Polling data would be provided, and perhaps the game could include campaign actions and allow the player to make subtle improvements to “swing” neighborhoods in the week before an election—increasing hospital funding, putting more beat police on the street—to nudge poll totals. More devious mayors could have the city police tail and harass the political opponent at the risk of voter backlash, legal trouble, and negative press.

A badly trained/funded police department, for example, could botch a stop like this, creating a substantial political problem for the mayor.

Another aspect that would add an interesting twist to the game are randomly generated political events based on actions you take as mayor. While these have existed in limited forms in previous Sim City games—going all ‘austerity package’ on your hospital system usually led to scrubs going on the street—they did not have much of a political component, and were predictable. What I suggest instead are more unpredictable events. For example, a particularly business-friendly administration may risk being hit with a developer bribing scandal, or a badly funded police department has a higher probability of committing a racial profiling/excessive force type incident. All of these random scandals would leave a mayor with several potential reactions, all with both predictable and unpredictable effects that would depend on the political makeup of the city. Add to all of this an independent media landscape that is also capable of swaying the electorate and one has a recipe for stimulating game play.

All of this would require substantial developer time, and almost certainly won’t make it into the upcoming Sim City. That said, the addition of a full-fledged, moddable political simulation would make for a more realistic, multifaceted game with even longer replay value.

Is the third time the charm for this series?

In which I consider the latest attempt to revive the city building genre. 

I’m not much of a gamer, but I occasionally will be peppering this blog with reviews of games I come across. Mostly because this is much easier than complaining about the media all the time. Or transportation. 

Last week I picked up the latest iteration of the relatively unknown city building series, Cities XL. The original version of the game was initially met with hope by the city-building community, as it was announced on the heels of Sim City Societies, a game universally panned in the city-building community for a lack of realism and its “too easy” game play. XL was seen as an attempt to create a realistic city construction experience. But then it was rushed to release with a badly constructed Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) aspect and with a lack of crucial features. The community revolted again.

Several years and a further two versions later, the game has finally come to a finished state; the MMO project was aborted, and features like public transit options that were missing from the first version were added. The game has also managed to cultivate a community of custom content creation, further extending its replay value.

The globe view is a pretty ill graphical representation, so to speak.

I began the game as someone with experience playing several of the Sim City games, most recently Sim City 4. As a result, much of my review will be framed, for better or for worse, in terms of comparing the two games. As I turned on the game, I did appreciate the laying out of the cities on a globe. Doesn’t really affect the game play, but it looks cool.

The first thing you notice when starting up the city is the stark difference in interface. The familiar RCI graph from the Sim City games is gone (more on that later) and there is no minimap to make shifting around the city map easy (which is just as well as the plots in CXL are massive). The graphics are pretty good, certainly a step up from Sim City

The “Sim City 4” economic graph at its most complex.

Now for the economics of the game. The “residential” zones are divided into four wealth groups; unskilled and skilled workers, executives, and elites, which roughly correspond to Sim City’s three wealth groups of lower, middle, and upper income. This, however, is where the similarity ends. The next zoning group is “industry”, which covers “food industry”, “heavy industry”, “manufacturing”, “high tech”, and “offices”. Several of these then include four zoning  density levels and an extra slot for “exceptional” buildings. This here is where the more radical break with the Sim City paradigm comes—the first four “industry” zones do correspond with levels of industrial zoning in the SC games, but the “offices” category is basically the bulk of Sim City’s “commercial” zoning category. The third category, “commerce”, includes “retail”, “hotels”, and “leisure”.  I like the fact that “retail” is separated out into a different category and is something residents demand separately, a touch of realism.

The Economic graph of “Cities XL” at its most complex. Keep in mind this is one of two graphs.

To focus more on the economic system of the game, running a successful city is a tighter economic balancing act than in the Sim City games. The concept of resources has been added to the game, so in addition to the city needing water, power, and waste disposal to grow (as in Sim City), Cities XL 2012 adds fuel, food industry, and “leisure” to the mix. In fact, each and every one of the categories of citizens, industry, and commerce, in addition to those basic resources, has to be kept in fine balance with one another for business to grow and for cities to prosper.

The lack of an easily viewed graph of this balance does make this harder to work, but it is managed. The separation of resident wealth levels by zoning, however, I find rather annoying and unrealistic, adding an unnecessary level of complexity that does not reflect the real world. The Sim City games modeled wealth levels of all zones based on “land value”, which in turn was based on other aspects you could control, a more realistic sysyrm. The resident wealth zoning is also what makes dividing the different sections of industrial zoning by wealth unrealistic. Again, what sort of industry is created (in the Sim City) games depended on the education level of the populace and tax incentives. Again, more realistic. As for the third category, commerce, while I do think separating out retail stores (supermarkets, delis) into a new category and zoning that separately is good, one thing I detest about the game’s engine is that citizens demand “leisure” (parks, Ferris wheels, bowling alleys) buildings that the city has to build and maintain. Zoning for private companies makes sense, but not city management. The government providing its citizens such amenities in the real world may smack of the dreaded S-word, but the game was originally developed in France, after all.

Bus routes radiating from a depot in the game.

I both like and dislike the way transit is done in Cities XL. I dislike the fact that you can’t build roads or civic buildings (overwrite, essentially) over previously zoned private buildings, meaning that instead of dragging a higher capacity road over the current congested one, you first need to demolish the surrounding buildings. In Sim City, this was done as you put the new road or civic building in place. Not a huge problem, but inconvenient. What I do like is how public transport is dealt with. Instead of placing bus stops randomly, Cities XL introduces the concept of bus terminals, from which bus routes must begin and end. Between, the player lays out stops on streets, creating routes. The subway building system is slightly more annoying, as the tracks are auto-constructed as you lay out stations, but this is still more realistic than the treatment in Sim City 4.

“Over-abstraction”, case in point; instead of portraying levels of crime, the graph instead presents a level of “satisfaction” with the “security”, presuming that the service exists in a vacuum divorced from the negative effect it is designed to combat.

However, while the economic system in the game is at once complex, it is also oversimplified. This brings me to another aspect of the game I’m not much of a fan of; what I will call its tendency towards over-abstraction. Let me explain; all of the resources I mentioned earlier, for example, are presented not as any sort of tangible unit (pounds, kilos, ton(ne)s, etc.), but as “tokens”. These “tokens” can be traded between cities, but it’s very vague where they leave and come in. “electricity” and “water” (and “fuel” for that matter) magically get to buildings, with no pipes or wires needing to be laid. Perhaps the most egregious is the treatment of government service buildings and amenities. There are no quantifiable graphs or maps showing educational or health attainment, or of crime levels and fire hazard. Instead, the nebulous metric of satisfaction is used (e.g. education, security, fire rescue satisfaction), overlaid on a map. This, to me, seems like a cop-out from attempting to give the player more realistic data on the effects of these services. However, credit must be given for ditching the arbitrary circle-shaped coverage area of Sim City 4 and replacing it with a road-based coverage reach. That said, even the passage of time in the game is not measured in any actual units of time, but in “ticks” of a tiny circle in the panel. These ticks, of course, create the paradox of  representing the endless passage of frozen time.

In sum, Cities XL is a good enough game and custom content does fix some of the problems I pointed out, but it is in some ways lacking. Still, it is a respectable effort to follow in the footsteps of the Sim City series. Of course, with a new iteration of the venerable series set to release early next year, this is the perfect way to pass the time until then.

Final Focus

Graphics: 7/10- pretty good, mostly realistic buildings and vehicles, but all of the citizens in the game seem like they were drawn by one of those caricature artists that dot the tourist sections of Central Park and 5th Avenue like a plague.

Gameplay: 6/10- good efforts to break from the Sim City economic paradigm, but not executed in the best manner

Replay Value: 6.5/10- from having developed several plots already, I can say that the game is predictable enough once you realize how the economic system works. Still, the building and trading is engaging inanof itself.

Overall: 7/10- the problems with the economic system can easily be overlooked, and the game can be enjoyed on its own terms. I did get a chance to play the pre-release beta of the original Cities XL and I can say that the latest version is significantly improved. If you’re a fan of the genre, Cities XL 2012 is worth the buy (unlike the original), but expect to have frequent feelings of longing for aspects of Sim City 4 as you play. Also: no disasters. 

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