Takes care of the basics relatively well, but Cities XL is hampered by bland graphics and shallow gameplay The city-building genre has been dominated by SimCity since 1989, but in recent years, the once-proud franchise has descended into mediocrity. Cities XL presents a new take on the genre: a city-building game that promises the type of features typically seen in MMOs. Building cities is, at least initially, refreshingly simple. Pick a residential, retail or industrial rone and then draw it on the map, making sure it s linked to roads and your City Hall, and within seconds homeowners or keen entrepreneurs begin to arrive. Thereplenty of choice, too, with housing options ranging from cheap, high-density homes to more palatial dwellings for your cityelite. Businesses are just as well catered for, with different types —from all manner of shops, to office blocks to industrial estates —and sizes available. Transport options are similarly broad, too. As with SimCity, your citizens must be provided with an extensive range of services and amenities. Each of these —be it a hospital, fire station, school or leisure centre —has a basic range of influence and. If your citizens canget access to the facilities they need, theycertainly let you know about it through the gameslick information screens. Financial management is also handled in similar menus and, thanks to their clean design, it s another area of the game where problems are infrequent. Developer Monte Cristo has done a good job of tying everything together: to build a successful settlement youneed every type of housing and every type of business and, to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible, youhave to pay attention to your transport network, which consists of an extensive road system alongside trams and subways. However, those looking for complex urban planning wonbe sated by Cities XL: yougiven no specific goals, there are none of SimCitynatural disasters or random events to add interest and, aside from the cycle of building houses and workplaces to expand your metropolis, therelittle to hold the playerinterest. The gametowns also lack the personality required to make them attractive long-term investments. Cities look decent from the wider camera angles, with gleaming office blocks sitting beside neat houses, but zooming down to street level reveals bland graphics that lack detail and streets that are, for the most part, devoid of pedestrians and traffic. The near-total absence of background music, convincing sound effects or the general hubbub of city life further reinforce the idea that youactually mayor of a modem ghost town. Planet Mode, meanwhile, allows you to take your cities online —at a price. The ?7 monthly fee lets you upload five ofyourfinest creations to the gameservers but, aside from being able to take a peek at other peoplehandiwork, there isnthat much to do: you can trade resources with other players, which is handy if youoccupying an oil-rich region, but the rest of the online mode is made of promises for add-on packs, future expansion and little else. With Cities XL, therelittle to interest the long-term player; the graphics are bland, and the gameonline options are basic. It may suit those looking for no-frills city building, but the lack of challenge or depth mean that those used to the endearing and expansive SimCity will soon become jaded by Cities XL. Congratulate relatives and acquaintances flowers. you can send flowers to Russia being far beyond its limits!