Review: Cities in Motion

March 24, 2011, Author: Sarbjit Bakhshi

If solving traffic problems using public transport floats your boat. If you have been waiting for almost a decade for another Traffic Management simulation to surface on the PC. If you like buses, then Sarbjit Bakhshi has just two words for you about Paradox Interactive & Colossal Order’s new ‘Cities in Motion’ game: ‘Hubba, hubba!’

One careful driver
You play a public transport planning specialist who is invited to the cities of Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki and Vienna at key periods in recent history to develop their transport systems.

The setting comes in scenarios that are based on real life events and these are quite engaging. Within each scenario, one has a series of goals and a loose storyline to help frame all the tasks. These are witty in a low-key way and don’t obstruct the gameplay, which is the least you would expect in the circumstances. Traffic Giant, for example, had one goal screen per scenario and was still compelling.

As you play and have success in managing your transport systems, more and more vehicles are released (you get the choice of trams, metro, buses, boats and helicopters, but strangely; not trains) and allow you to shift people in better style and in larger quantities. Not all goals need to be completed to finish each scenario and with no score being kept, your own desire to have a beautiful enmeshed transport system is the only real target you have. It is very easy to cheat on some of the goals in this game; when asked to construct a bus line between two distant points, you can do it for one day, collect the bonus and the drop the route immediately, but this just underlies the nature of the self targeted gameplay. Each completed scenario allows you to reopen it and play it later, as well as use it in a sandbox mode.

A close up of suburban houses and a bendy bus

Drives like a dream
If you’ve never played these kind of games before, the experience of play is quite hypnotic. Start with a city, get people and/or goods from point A to B, balance your costs (and hopefully!) make money. A simple premise repeated over a matter of hours, and it becomes a bit like weaving from a thread into a beautiful tapestry of buses, trains, trams, and riverboats. They flow through your simulated city like blood cells in your city’s arteries feeding your muscles with essential oxygen. The cities themselves seem generally to reflect the actual layout of the cities they are modelled on, although I don’t know these cities well enough to be able to note the degree of accuracy.

One key difference between this game and the others is that while most traffic games allow you access to high-capacity vehicles pretty soon after starting, Cities in Motion bucks this trend. Vehicles carry very small numbers of people for most of the game and once you have created a few lines and transport pinch points, you rue your inability to deplete the long lines of queues with your frequent carriages. Even tube trains run up to a capacity of about 90 people per train, which is inadequate for most large cities.

However, this limitation encourages you to think more strategically and lay out lines that don’t generate such large numbers of waiting people. As someone on the Paradox forum commented, this is not a game where you try to maximise your profits at all costs, but more where you try to produce a proper working transport system. So beyond laying track, you also have the opportunity to launch advertising campaigns, adjust ticket prices, adjust vehicle and stop maintenance levels. Each of these has an effect on customer happiness, take-up and your profits. While profits effect your ability to buy more vehicles and lay track and therefore has its place, customer happiness is also measured, therefore you are encouraged to seek balance in all metrics.

This game is available on Steam but at the time of writing, crashes my machine every time I time to save it. If you have downloaded it this way, run the game directly by finding the .exe file without running Steam. This will allow you to save without problems. Shoddy, Steam, very shoddy.

Still, if you’ve enjoyed similar games before, you will love this. It feels fresh and yet familiar and one finds oneself building ever more interconnected traffic systems, enabling your citizens to hop from helicopter, to boat, to tram to bus to reach their destination.

Bird's eye view of your lovely city.

Powerful engine
There is no denying the beauty of this game. As you can see from the screenshots, the buildings look lovely, well rendered and realistic, as do the trams and boats. Water ripples down canals and people realistically embark and disembark from vehicles. The view is rotatable and you can zoom quite close to the action.

All this comes at an inevitable cost as while the minimum specifications for this game seem a little high-end on first reading, they really are the bare minimum needed to play (Windows XP/Vista/7, 2 GHz Dual Core, 2 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 8800/ATI Radeon HD 3850 – 512 MB RAM, OpenGL 3.0). My PC, which is slightly better than those specification struggles to maintain a decent frame rate on the fast speed setting with most features turned off.

Whisper-quiet drive (required)
As you’d expect from this kind of game, you’ll mainly be hearing vehicle sounds, smooth jazz and bells ringing whenever you take on customers. After the 15th hour it gets annoying and thankfully you can turn it all down and concentrate on the game.

Better than the UK public transport department?
No game is perfect, and yes, there are quibbles with the interface, (slightly unintuitive), a lack of feedback mechanisms for particular missions (construct a 6 km bus route, with no indication of how to measure the distance of a bus route) but these do not get in the way of what is a great game.

What remains is a game that is compelling and satisfying to play and will rob you of hours of your life. I have played it for over 20 hours and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.


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