The latest offering from Colossal Order and Paradox Interactive, Cities in Motion is a transport simulator in which you are tasked with the set up and maintenance of the public transport networks of four major European cities; Amsterdam, Vienna, Berlin and Helsinki. There’s been quite a gap in the market for a decent transport simulation game of late, and everyone’s hoping that Cities in Motion will be able to live up to the likes of Transport Tycoon and SimCity 3000. Here at Mana Pool we’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Cities in Motion since we were given the opportunity to do a hands-on-preview at the beginning of the year – so, does it hit the mark?
First things first – the graphics in Cities in Motion are really gorgeous. The city really feels alive as people and vehicles buzz around all over the place and it’s enormously satisfying watching one of your vehicles go along its route picking up and dropping off passengers, especially if you’ve managed to get the balance of number of passengers vs wait time right so that your vehicles are always full but the queues aren’t getting too long. It’s a fine balance, and while you get to grips with the game you’ll undoubtedly have large hordes of angry, red-faced passengers who have been waiting forever for a bus to come along, only to find it is too full for them to get on. This is exacerbated by the fact that in the first scenario mission, Berlin 1920, the vehicles all have a painfully small capacity. At this stage a bus can carry just 8 people, and trams 14. They are also extremely unreliable and break down a great deal, causing giant traffic jams in your delicately balanced network and making your passengers even more annoyed. Of course, this is all part of the fun and challenge of the game – I just felt like the first scenario was quite a bit harder than the subsequent missions because of these unreliable, low capacity vehicles.
It’s also important to watch where you’re putting your stops. If you put them on a busy road, traffic will make it a long journey even if the route is short so it’s important to try and place stops in a less busy location, but which is still within the catchment area of whatever building or attraction you want to get visitors to. If you click on a road you can see how busy it is in terms of % capacity which is really a great help when planning a route. Sometimes placing a stop just round the corner can make all the different between a profitable line and a catastrophic traffic jam.
There is an overlay function which shows you the areas in which different demographics live, work and play. The populous is split into seven categories; blue collar, white collar, businessmen, students, retirees, tourists and dropouts. Each group has a different destination preference – for example students want to get to college, old folks like their parks and tourists love those sights – and they have a different amount of cash to spend; you won’t see the unemployed guys taking the helipad nor the businessmen slumming it on the buses if they can avoid it. However the exact stats aren’t shared so although you can see where a certain group of people live and work, it’s not always clear which mode of transportation would be the best to build if you want to target them specifically.
You can also set company policies which will affect your outgoings – ticket prices, staff salaries and amount of maintenance work carried out all have an impact on your bottom line, as well as your company reputation. Set prices too high and people will get annoyed and start walking, as well as spreading the hate. Likewise pay your workers peanuts and your reputation will take a nosedive. However, how much is too much? It’s hard to judge where your prices should be set. As we mentioned in the preview, you are told when passengers think prices are too expensive but there’s no indication of just how much they think they’re being ripped off by.
Similarly, you are able to look at an overview of vehicles and stops and sort them by stats such as passengers carried, income generated, energy used, condition etc, but you can’t see the exact income vs upkeep costs of a certain vehicle or line. I’d have loved to see something to tell me exactly how much a certain vehicle is costing me and how much it is generating, but the absence of this information makes ensuring that you are profitable harder than it should be. So when it comes to cutting costs you can judge it by information such as least-used stops, but that’s not necessarily an accurate measure since it only counts passengers picked up. I found that sometimes it’s very important to have a drop-off stop where fewer people try to get on, right before a busier stop to make sure there is actually room on the vehicle when it arrives at the larger crowd. At the end of the day, if you don’t make enough money you’ll go out of business, so it’s really a shame that you aren’t able to drill down more into the figures.
I also found that for some of the objectives I needed to work to a numerical value which wasn’t visible anywhere; for example in one scenario you must get rid of any vehicles which have a condition of less than 70% – but you can only see a tiny green status bar which doesn’t have any figure to it even on mouse-over, which made it very difficult to judge which of the vehicles needed to be replaced. Likewise, when you need to get reputation to a certain figure but can’t see the exact numbers it’s hard to tell how far off you are and therefore which actions would be the cheapest ones to take to increase popularity enough.
One thing I did find really annoying was building metro tracks. Placing them in the correct location so that they actually join up to a station rather than float on top of each other is a rather hit and miss affair, and they are expensive pieces of kit so getting it wrong generally means a reload. There is a transition piece which takes you from underground to ground level but nothing for ground to elevated; for that you seem to just need a length of track long enough for it to slope sufficiently but I’m still a bit uncertain about that. Likewise, the elevated tracks will adjust height to go over objects which would be fantastic were it not for the fact that you can’t force them back down again when you get to a lower section of the city so joining them on to a station is, again, a royal pain in the arse. Another little gripe was that it doesn’t appear to be possible to upgrade a stop to a more luxurious one without demolishing it and adding a new one, which means you have to close the line for a period of time. It would be preferable to be able to upgrade an existing one somehow, even if it meant that particular stop would be out of action for a period of time, without breaking the line entirely.
A quick mention for the audio – the music is fitting to the game but gets repetitive quite quickly. I must admit I played without music for a good portion of the time because it was really getting stuck in my head. I thought it was a shame that there were no voice-overs for any of the scenarios, but the city sound effects were bang on and unobtrusive.
Cities in Motion also has a map editor, which I’ve already spent hours messing around with. It’s just about as addictive as the game itself and for those people who would moan that the game doesn’t have any building options, maybe this will appease them. There are tons of different buildings and props to play with, some of which are tiny little details that you wouldn’t even notice but the city would feel lacking if they weren’t there – such as extra crates and pallets next to market stalls, tiny litter bins and fire hydrants, bollards and hundreds of others. You can even place a few farm animals, and crowds of protesters! The interface is simple, although I had a bit of a tussle laying train tracks by the station because they wanted to interconnect with the ones close by, and making a river isn’t as easy as it sounds as you have to hollow out the ground and then fill the hole with clean water. The menu to select props and buildings could be a little more user friendly as well – it would be quite a time saver if it would remember the last menu you were in when you re-open it for example – but for the most part I have no complaints. It’s fun, simple, definitely noob-proof and really adds to the replay value for me. I can’t wait to see the maps people (with more skill and patience than me) come up with in the next few weeks and months!
The other wonderful thing about Cities in Motion is now that the engine is in place, there’s tons of scope for expansions. What we’d really love to see later is the addition of goods and freight as well as just people. The opportunities for creating a supply and demand based goods transport simulation based on this engine are enormous.
One last piece of advice; we found that the game cursor has some issues causing it to be really sluggish and it also seemed to slow FPS right down, particularly when you’re on a faster speed. Luckily in the graphics options you are able to choose to use the system cursor instead which sped things up dramatically.
All in all, Cities in Motion is really a fantastically relaxing simulator; you can take it as slowly as you like as you can build whilst paused – but for the total control freaks amongst us (and many people who enjoy games like this also enjoy knowing every little statistical piece of information we can get our hands on), we would really like to have more information available. It’s still possible to build up your travel empire without it, but there’s just no reason for it to be missing. To sum up, if this is your kind of game, at £15 Cities in Motion is a bargain for a game which will keep you busy for absolutely ages.
HD Gameplay Video (Unedited, Pre-release version)