Those Games of 2011

Ah, its that time of the year. The time when Steam takes EVERYTHING from my wallet,  the time where it is now the norm for me to be working on uni stuff all the way through my time at home and the time where everyone writes top 10 lists.

Well, 2011 has been a great year. So rather than limit my choices to ten, I may as well give you a list of all the games I’ve really enjoyed this year and just why you should give them your time. Before I start, I need to say I have missed out a couple of key releases that probably should end up on this list. At the time of writing I haven’t played Bulletstorm, Dead Space 2, Gears of War 3, Halo Anniversary or the Witcher 2 so they will sadly be absent from this list

So, on with the list!

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Thoughts On… Cities XL 2012

Ever since EA stopped making good versions of Sim City, several companies have tried to make their own versions of the popular city building game to saté the demand of all the mayoral wannabes.

Perhaps foremost among these is the Cities XL series, which has been digging out itself a niche. Now, Cities XL 2012 has just been released. Does it add much to the series? Or is it more of an incremental upgrade not worth the planning permission?

This is how Cities are made
For those who don’t know about the Cities XL series, it was originally a massively multiplayer game designed for players online to build their cities and trade among themselves. Unfortunately, the servers were shut down and so the latest version is devoid of any multiplayer content.

Instead, you are presented with an area based upon real world terrain (chosen from a globe view) and from there you set up the road system, zone out areas for residents, industry and retail, and then watch the people roll in. There is a huge number of unlockable buildings, ranging from varying densities of housing up to landmarks, with every service in-between. I’m not keen overall on the way these games limit you to certain tiers of workers and industries by population, which seems a little counter-intuitive.

The cities start out pretty normal...

The cities start out pretty normal…

Each city requires resources to survive, but not every map includes all the fuel or food resources you need. This is where the multiplayer lineage is apparent as you can trade between the various cities you have made via trade buildings. It is a very strange system, which is cool, but does very much feel like it was the developers fixing a system that had most of its back-end ripped off.

Despite all of this, the city building still feels really powerful; if you had the time and inclination you could quite happily build model versions of most of the world’s cities. Cities XL includes several real world landmarks just to add a little extra to your starting city. However, these are the end-game units that take a lot of time and resources to build.

The main thing that 2012 adds is a huge selection of new buildings complete with new models to include in your city. Many of these are part of the various location packs, which allow you to customise your city to have a certain look, be that of a traditional medieval European town or a snowy hotel complex up in the mountains. It does certainly make your cities look more visually themed as opposed to the generic American towns, but overall they are simply alternative models for other buildings.

Another new feature that will make all the budding architects glow with pride is the inclusion of a tool that allows users to import models from their favourite 3D modelling programs, to make your own custom models into brand new buildings. It is a great feature that is perfect for this sort of game.

Towering buildings, microscopic framerates
Although 2012 adds some brand new objects, the engine it is running in is starting to show its age. It does the job alright, but it’s not exactly beautiful. The buildings, cars and terrain are all realistic, but the characters are stylised monstrosities which does break the immersion a little bit. The day/night effects look pretty good but they play no part on the gameplay, which is a little disappointing. Overall, don’t come to this game for its looks.

...but can end up sprawling for miles and miles

…but can end up sprawling for miles and miles.

The real issue with Cities XL is the fact the game can run horribly even on powerful systems, due to the old engine which doesn’t support multi-core systems. On both of my machines it randomly hitched up at various points, dropping down to single digit frames per second. It gets worse when you eventually get to huge metropolises, which can make the game nigh unplayable.

The sounds of the city… quieter than expected
To be honest, the sound in Cities XL 2012 is nothing really to write home about. It is a nice ambient sound, which works well when tinkering with your city or waiting for citizens to move in. For the rest of the time it’s barely noticeable. Thankfully, we are spared any questionable voice acting.

The city goes on
Cities XL 2012 is perhaps the best city builder in the past few years. It has a solid core but the outer edge is a little rough. It is very easy to pick up and play and be building your own metropolis. However, I think it is a little overpriced when bought as an expansion; it doesn’t contain enough new stuff for its price tag.

So as a brand new game, try it. As an existing player, though, only the hardcore Cities XL players should pick it up.

Mental Collapse, Schoolwork and Christmas…and Airsoft

So its almost Christmas, a time where I go home, have a good time with friends and family, do work and have some time off. To be honest this is a good thing as I had a miserable Saturday. The worse thing was it wasn’t anything that bad had happened.

I woke up after having spent most of Friday in bed being ill. I’d discovered someone had eaten half of my very tasty (and expensive) chorizo. I looked at my work which I had been struggling with before getting on the phone with my parents. Within minutes I was sobbing down the phone about how I wanted to leave the house I’m in this year, how all the work is hard and other things. Its probably the first time I’ve properly broken down while at uni. It wasn’t pleasant and I definitely gave my mother a fright, especially as I’ve been sounding pretty happy ever other time I’ve called home. However, a day spent out the house with a group of advice giving bros and another airsofting has me feeling a lot better. Uni is a hard time and have talked to both third years and my parents, Second Year is probably the biggest change in terms of both work and life in general.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom, so read on…

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