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Feb 21, 2011

Cities in Motion Review

Lights Off
4 Awesome
Retails for: $19.99
We Recommend: $17.99
  • Developer: Colossal Order Ltd.
  • Publisher: Paradox Interactive
  • Genre: Simulation
  • Released: Feb 22, 2011
  • Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
  • Reviewed: Windows

I’ve been a fan of transport simulation games for ages. One of the first games I remember playing when I was younger was Transport Tycoon Deluxe, where you run a transportation company, shipping goods around, hauling passengers, and build your road / rail / airport infrastructure. When I heard about Cities in Motion, I got excited – it’s a slightly different game than what’s out there, where you’re managing the transportation needs for the population of the city, ranging through the years. Does Cities in Motion, Colossal Order Ltd’s first game, fill the void in the transportation simulation niche? The answer is an absolute yes.

Throughout the game, there is a varying population of people you’ll need to transport – ranging from Blue Collar, to White Collar, to businessmen, to retirees (“Pensioners” as the game calls them), to students, to the unemployed. Each set of people has their own set of things they want to do – students want to go to the college, pensioners just want to get around and don’t ever go to work or drive, businessmen want to be transported in style and as quickly as possible, etc. With that in mind, you start creating your transport network.

There’s various types of transportation networks you can create – buses, trams, metro (which is your subway / ground level / elevated light rail), boat, and helicopter. Each one has their pluses and minuses – buses are the cheapest, but can get stuck in traffic, and aren’t alluring to some of the upper class citizens. On the other hand, helicopters are very appealing, but are expensive to maintain. Building the networks are easy enough – place your rail if you need to, place your stops, and use the line builder to build your line. I’ve only seen a few issues where placing rail or a stop wasn’t allowed for no apparent reason, but beyond those instances you have some generally good flexibility with building what you need to build. Buses are restricted to roadways, whether small alleys or highways or anything in between. Trams can be built on or off roads, and metro can be built on elevated rail (think Chicago “L”), ground level, or 3 different levels of underground, with transitions between all levels. Helicopters can really go anywhere they want, as long as there’s a helipad. As you build your line, the path that will be taken is highlighted with path arrows as you add stops, so you’ll know the exact route your vehicles will take. Need to relocate a bus stop because you’ve realized the only available path takes the bus onto a highway? Need an extra set of tram track to cut the return trip down by a bit? You can take care of all of that before the linestarts functioning.

It’s important to make sure that you create an optimal route with the right amount of vehicles for the line, as your transportation network is constantly being rated. If you build too few buses for a bus line that brings citizens from a train station to their homes, you can have an angry mob on your hands, where people eventually get frustrated from waiting and decide to find another way home. If this happens too often, your overall reputation can go down, causing less people to ride your lines. You can always attempt to build your reputation back up by advertising, lowering ticket prices, or building a very ideal route, but it’s best to keep the people happy before you get into a situation like that. The game does throw its version of natural disasters at you – buildings can catch on fire, causing a fire truck to block the road, people could protest outside city hall, or displays of military power can take over a street, all throwing your street-level transportation networks (and the overall traffic) into chaos. I’ve personally seen events that have lasted long enough to have a ripple effect on traffic that took an incredibly long time to recover from, causing me to actually rebuild my tram network to avoid that area.

Citizens don’t just leave their house, take one line, and they’re done – they’ll take your entire public transportation network to get where they need to go, if they can. For example, you can have a bus line that ends at a metro stop, which takes citizens to a commercial district, which then has trams to take the citizens to their workplace. Or, you can make a citizen take a crazy chain of five bus lines, a boat, and a helicopter to get from their home to the grocery store. (I haven’t done that yet, but I’m gonna try).

As you start building lines and, in turn, tracking your town’s citizens to see where to build your next line, it becomes the amount of depth that is in this game. Each individual person in the game has their own house, their own work place, and is independently doing their own thing at any point in the game. You can easily spend more time than you mean to clicking on people, seeing their home, what their current line is taking them, what kind of car they own, what their job is (if they have one), and then optimizing lines just for that specific person. Each type of transportation has their own ticket price – you can adjust that at will, but in turn can make your citizens not take your lines if you’re not careful enough. The game has a fluctuating economy, so you’ll find yourself needing to adjust ticket prices to attract more people during rough times, or raise your prices when gas prices suddenly skyrocket and you’re paying more than you wish for your buses. It can be tough to make money in this game, but when you do, it’s incredibly rewarding.

The city you’re playing in is growing as you play as well – as you play through the years, houses will be built, highways will be constructed around the city, people will come and go to the city, and new vehicles will become available to you. While there are only a handful of cities available, each game has been a different experience for me so far, considering you will almost never build the exact same lines twice. There is also a city builder, which while fairly robust, is outside the scope of this review.

There is a campaign of sorts in place, which is more of a way to introduce you to the game in general – you start out in the early years with only a few different types of transportation available, and follow instructions to build lines, make money, and just continue on in the campaign. However, the meat of this game is in the sandbox mode – you can choose any city you’ve played in before, set your starting money, set how many banks will provide loans, set your starting year, and jump right in. Sandbox mode is where I’ve spent most of my time hands down – being able to build the lines you want by researching where people want to go is quite the time suck, and makes for a very enjoyable experience. Even in sandbox mode, people will ask you to build specific lines for them, often times in return for a decent sum of money, and additional reputation to help your company along the way. These are totally optional and can be denied, so you can continue with constructing your epic 40-stop bus line that takes college students to the stadium, but they add a bit of extra variety to sandbox mode.

Graphics are what you expect for a city simulation game – people have well detailed animations, textures look good, and there’s a decent amount of variety in cars. There is some repetition across buildings, cars, and people models, but nothing to distract you from the game. The detail of your transportation vehicles and the various types of stops is an added bonus, as vehicles open / close their doors and people enter and exit from those doors. People queue up at the stops as well, so you can look at each individual person who’s at that stop (as long as a building isn’t blocking your view). Those are just nice extra touches that add overall life to the game. There were a few crashes that I hit, and without an auto-save function, that can be occasionally frustrating, but ironically they tended to happen right after I made a poor decision and lost a bunch of money anyway. There will be a patch released on release day, so we’ll see if those crashes are corrected with that patch.

There are some occasional quirks that can get annoying – I can not find a way to de-select a line, even after closing the line manager. This can leave indicators up showing the current route you have selected, which can get in the way. Additionally, upon loading a saved game, you always start at a central point in the map instead of where you were when you saved, and all the routes your lines take are visible on the map – you have to go through and turn each one off individually to get the arrows to go away. While more of a minor thing, it can get annoying to disable all the lines if you have a large amount.

What it comes down to is this – Cities in Motion is a refreshing new look at city simulation. While most games try to cover everything, Cities in Motion covers one thing and does it well – the transportation network. This is a game I am going to continue playing for a long time now. Definitely recommended to any transportation buffs, or fans of city simulation.

A Steam code was provided by PR for review purposes