I’m a city in motion don’t you know? Oh really, I’m a city in motion too!
Cities in Motion 2 is a transport-empire building game built by Colossal Orders Ltd, and published by the strategy masters Paradox. While in screenshots it may look a lot like SimCity, it does away with the necessities of looking after utilities and planning residential and industrial zoning, instead putting you firmly in charge of everything to do with transport. Is it any fun?
That question really depends on what sort of person you are. If you want immediate thrills and cheap excitement, then I’m not sure why you’re even reading this article. It’s a transport game, not an FPS. If you’re the sort of person that enjoys studying graphs and charts and then enacting plans to make other graphs go more vertical than previously, well then this is the game for you. I’m imagining that potential buyers of Cities in Motion 2 will be the legions of people disappointed by the recent SimCity, and for me at least it scratches the same itch. Whereas in SimCity you had much more control of the overall city, none if it was in too much depth and the traffic was a nightmare unless you created unrealistic pathways to ‘game’ the system. In Cities in Motion you get an incredible amount of control, and there’s still the thrill of being able to influence the way a city grows in a much more realistic way than SimCity.
One small disclaimer, I haven’t ‘finished’ this game. I’ve spent just over ten hours with it and am planning on spending many more. The campaign is unfortunately suffering from some bugs that makes it hard to progress at the moment. As ever, if the game changes dramatically, I will update this review to reflect that.
The game opens with what must be the oddest loading screen I’ve ever seen. It’s just a queue of people waiting to board a tram, but none of them move at all, they just ‘hop’ to the next position in the queue, and there’s something deeply unsettling about each and every one of them. If Paradox don’t release a Silent Hill DLC for this they’re missing a trick. The horror transport simulator genre isn’t too crowded. (Although there is this.)
Once you get into the game there’s a simple tutorial that takes you through the basics of camera control, what each button does and then helps you to create a couple of lines. As is the norm for Paradox, the tutorial is incredibly superficial and only hints at the terrible and wonderful depths of the systems in the game. I followed the tutorial easily, but as soon as I got set free on my first mission, I was lost.
The basics are simple, you use data maps to see who is trying to go where (or you can even follow the little people on their day to day business, they even have their own homes and jobs and cars and names. Fancy that.) and then you create public transport links to help them get there. Currently you can create Buses, Street Trolleys, Trams, a Metro system and Waterbuses to get people from a to b. The problem is that this isn’t a puzzle game. Nothing is clear cut, and wherever you place a bus stop, someone is going to be slightly too far from it. If you place another one you’ll end up placing hundreds and the buses will never get anywhere because they have to stop so often. You place all of the stops or track depending on what you are building, and then you can assign those stops to a route. You control which way it goes and where it turns, unfortunately there’s no quick way to tell it just to go back on itself (like bus routes tend to do in the UK) so it takes a little bit of messing around to get things the way you want. Once you’ve done all of that you can assign vehicles to the routes, and this will usually depend on your clientele. Blue collar workers don’t mind getting the cheaper buses, whereas the richer citizens will get grumpy if they don’t have nice warm metro trains.Once you’ve assigned vehicles you then need to sort out the timetable. It will work it out automatically, but it always needs tweaking as you see buses clump together or there’s big gaps between two departures in rush hour. Everything is simulated surprisingly authentically, so there is a rush hour and there’s less traffic on weekends, it makes sense to plan your timetables accordingly.
This might sound a bit much, and it is, but it’s rewarding once you start getting to grips with it. You can even set up zones to sort out ticket pricing, charging more for people who want to change zones. On my first go at sorting out the campaign city I immediately tried to imitate London, with it’s spiderweb of metro trains and shorter bus routes going between particular places where people need to be. I zoned it concentrically because it looked nice, and then I added a waterbus because why the hell not. It was chaos. To be honest it was quite similar to the real London, with loads of empty trains and then suddenly one absolutely full with everyone in a bad mood. No-one could be bothered to wait for the waterbus and the whole city became perpetually gloomy while I lost money by the bucketload. Just call me Boris.
Once I started paying attention to the data, things became clearer. My Metro routes didn’t make sense because they joined landmasses that didn’t really have anything in common, my bus routes were too short to get people to where they wanted to go unless they just needed to go to another shop (which they don’t ever seem to want to do). Once I thought things out (and I actually used a pen and paper to do it) it all started settling in and making me a tidy profit.
Profit isn’t the only thing to be concerned with in the game, you also have to be aware of your company’s image, by making the service reliable and clean. The way everything is presented in the game you do want to make the most of your town, and I found myself having a strange attachment to the lives of the little people and the way the city was developing, far more so than I ever have done with SimCity. There’s something charming about the reasonably realistic visual style, and the graphics might not be extraordinary but they’re relaxing and gentle on the eyes. There’s always something going on, but it’s subtle enough that if you just want to watch things ticking over you can. My only problem with the visual style (other than the terrifying loading screen) is that some icons, particularly ones for bus and tram stops, are quite difficult to spot where your planning out your routes. The UI could do with some tweaking to make certain aspects stands out a little more. (It doesn’t help that I’m playing on a HDTV quite far away). There are some wonderful little touches, like the fact that if you go to the edge of the map, you can see magma down below the Earth’s surface. There’s no game mechanic behind this, but it’s a little bit more interesting than nothingness. Trains and roads all seem to make sense when you put them down, weaving in and out of little tunnels, and cars manoeuvre around them appropriately. It all feels exceptionally solid, with none of the glitchiness you see in other city-building games.
There are other problems with the game as at the moment it’s quite buggy with a number of glitches relating to your objectives. These can completely stop progress in the campaign, and while most of the missions just involve linking two places together for some cash, they do provide some structure to the game and it’s a shame when they’re not working. There’s also quite a lack of content at the moment. This is entirely justified by the low price point (£14.99 and that’s full price) so you’ll be paying for DLC if you want more cities and modes of transport, although none of the DLC has been released yet.
Multiplayer is functional but not really something I find interesting in games like this. You can build alongside another player, which is particularly useful if you have someone showing you the ropes, or you can play competetively, where certain underhand tactics such as messing up that expensive new Metro line they’re building or undercutting each other brutally can lead to some entertaining moments, even if it’s unlikely to keep you coming back. Definitely best played with friends and with voice chat.
If you’re into this kind of game (and you’ll know who you are) it’s a pretty brilliant simulation, making up for most of the shortcomings that plagued SimCity. Things have persistence here, travel makes sense, and you have full control over everything that matters to transport. It might feel a little dry at times, but there’s just enough visual flair to keep me entertained for hours on end already. A solid game and an outstanding price.
Disclaimer: We received a review copy of this game and did not pay for it. This never affects the scores we give to games.