Review: Cities in Motion an Innovative Take on Business Simulations

Imagine SimCity, then imagine being able to micromanage all of the public transportation infrastructures of your virtual city, and you’ve got Cities in Motion, released February 23, 2019 (North America). Cities in Motion is a game that is all about starting and managing a public transportation empire in one of four European cities, from the start of the twentieth century to the present day. Unlike SimCity, the other details about running a city are none of the player’s concerns. Cities in Motion was developed by Colossal Order and published by Paradox Interactive.

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As part of your transportation empire, you are in charge of managing the bus, streetcar, metro/subway, water taxi, and helicopter fleet in a city. You plan the routes, lay down the track, build the stops and stations, buy the vehicles, and set the fares. Your ultimate goal is to connect an entire city to a well-oiled public transportation system that is being utilized efficiently by the populace, all while trying to turn a profit. Initially, just aim to achieve either geographic coverage

If this sounds like fun, you’re right; it is fun, especially if one of your biggest complaints with games like SimCity is that the transportation features seem like an afterthought. Cities in Motion would, however, be even more fun, if it included more guidance concerning what passengers are looking for and how to start in such a way that you won’t spend the next 20 in-game years trying to recover you’re initial outlays or having to take out loans to pay other loans.

[Please note that the grades awarded below were determined on an A+ to F scale.]

Presentation: B

The graphics for City in Motion are functional, even if they are not all that spectacular. None of the pre-built cities are very large, but are well-rendered, even in light of the fact that certain buildings are recycled over and over (e.g. hotels, department stores, apartment buildings). Vehicle models appear to be historically accurate but are a bit on the simplistic side, and it would have been nicer if they had been a bit more detailed and showed aging over time (they certainly break more often the older they get). That said, vehicle animations are smooth, and, unlike some 3-D games that run into rendering issues, vehicles always stay put on their player-defined routes (e.g. the helicopters don’t fly through buildings).

As for audio, the ambient background music sets a good often-trancey atmosphere but is perhaps most memorable for not being particularly memorable. Sound effects are well done, and really give you the sense of being at the heart of a bustling city, whether it’s cars honking at each in the midst of a traffic jam or the doors closing on a metro car.

Gameplay: C+

Cities in Motion has a steep learning curve; aside from a slow-paced tutorial, players are thrown off the deep end to sink or swim in their newfound transportation empire. Be prepared to be a bankrupt tycoon during your first few hours of the playthrough, and don’t hesitate to restart when your finances collapse. Aside from some statistics regarding your ridership, expenses, and revenue, don’t expect to receive any information or advice regarding what you can do to pull yourself out of the red (and you will be pulling yourself out of the red within a few minutes of starting the game).

Eventually, you’ll figure out that having one big bus stop hub is a very bad idea. The passengers pile up and get angry with the long wait; vehicle traffic, including your buses, slows to a crawl in the affected area. Gluttons for punishment will soon realize that having a huge transportation hub for all of your vehicle types is an even worse idea than the bus hub. The key, it seems, is to start small with a few bus routes that eventually feed into an elevated-rail metro system. It can take decades to get the point where you’ll be able to undertake significant expansion, but if you’re careful and hang in there, you should be able to rake in a few thousand dollars a month… in comparison, purchasing a new set of metro cars in the game will also run you a few thousand dollars.

Learning curve (and perhaps, realism) aside, the biggest flaw of Cities in Motion is that it is a game that would benefit from a lot more features that would, in turn, enable players to fine-tune their decisions and management. Cities in Motion is already a micromanagement game, and there are definitely moments when you’ll say “I wish I could do X,” only to realize that the game does not have an option for letting you do X. For example, fares can only be set per vehicle types, without regard to the length of the route or any other factors. A bus ticket will always cost a set amount, regardless of the bus route, and the same applies to other vehicle types. Although players can somewhat hobble together express metro lines, it’s not directly possible for a player to simply expand the number of tracks on an existing line. You’ll probably notice that many of the roads are laid out in a diagonal grid fashion; this wouldn’t be a problem, except that you can’t place metro stations diagonally, leaving players to cram metro stations into awkward areas that do not get a lot of pedestrian traffic.

On a lesser scale, the vehicles in the game do not account for any future improvements beyond the present day. Presumably, there will be even more fuel-efficient buses by 2030 in real life, but within the game, you’ll always be stuck in a world that is circa-2011; the buildings look like they might be stuck in a world circa-1920. Unfortunately, unless you remind yourself to save often, you may not reach 2030, since the game will sometimes crash for no apparent reason.

Replay Value: B+

In fairness to Colossal Order, Cities in Motion does what it does better than any other game to date. It makes the public transit options in SimCity 4 or Cities XL seem like a skeleton of what they could have been. Once you learn most of the nuances of Cities in Motion, you may find that you put a lot more time into it than you first thought that you would, whether it be in sandbox mode (with no fixed objectives) or in campaign mode (with fixed objectives). To get the most out of this game, you have to take some time to learn it. Those who cannot or will not put the time into learning the mechanics of the game are probably going to quit in frustration.

Additional paid downloadable content is already available, with more paid DLC scheduled for release. DLC, thus far, has been focused on adding additional vehicles to the game. Patches should improve the stability of the game.

Overall Fun (not an average): B

For SimCity and city simulation fans, Cities in Motion is entertaining enough to have a long shelf-life and would be a worthy addition to your video game library. For the casual gamer and gamers who don’t care for simulation games, there isn’t too much in Cities in Motion that would make it worth buying anytime soon. The gamer who will enjoy Cities in Motion the most is the kind of gamer who enjoys micromanagement coupled with a fondness for buses and trains… and a gamer who doesn’t mind the odd crash here and there.

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