Cities in Motion 2 is one of several Paradox Interactive releases from last year which slipped through the cracks at MMGaming. I have to admit to being intrigued by the title and looking it up, because I was hoping I would see a sort Predator Cities style game, with gigantic moving cities which eat each other. Or at least something with moving cities, because I have to admit that I used to be quite the fan of Predator Cities. Although… I disliked the way it ended, but I digress. However, the few bits of cover art and screenshots I saw all pictured trains and the like, and because I instantly assumed it was some form of Train Simulator, I decided to ignore it.
Well look at all this egg that is currently residing on my face right now and I have to admit to be tucking into a slice of humble pie (only a slice of course, humility is fattening) in that having recently downloaded and spent some time playing Cities in Motion 2 that I actually really quite enjoy it!
Simulation games are all the rage these days. Back when I was wee you had a choice of Plane Simulator or actually being a functioning member of society. And while, honestly, that choice probably still holds true today, there are now dozens more simulators on the market from the boring, to the excellent to the ridiculous (and I seriously advise you to click on that last link). Well, Cities in Motion 2 is another one for the list except it’s WAY broader than a simple TRAIN Simulator. No, it’s a whole bloody PUBLIC TRANSPORT Simulator.
I jest, of course. Gameplay wise, Cities in Motion 2 is actually more reminiscent of Sim City than any of the games I have mentioned thus far. It is a management game in which you are placed into an already large and functioning city (usually) and you have to provide a public transport system for it using buses, trolleys, trams and trains (I also have the expansion for the addition of monorails). Its premise sounds, quite frankly, dull and tedious, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t just a good bit of fun!
The heart of the gameplay and management comes from the clever positioning of your transport. For example, when building a tram system (and trams tend to be the meat of my systems) you place your depot at a nice central location, then you place the tram rails around a little chunk of the city. Too long and people won’t like the line because it will take too long to get anywhere, but too short and you don’t really get your money’s worth. Then you place your stops, each of which has a radius around it in which the citizens of the city would be willing to walk to reach the stop (beyond that radius and the stop is too far away to be worth the effort, and so they don’t use the tram). Then you need to buy a few trams in the depot, create a line which links all the stops together and then back to the depot, and then you can sit back and watch your trams trundle out, picking up people at the stops and carrying them about.
And of course it then spreads from there, with intersecting tram lines, bus lines and trolley (trolleys being like a sort of electric bus, or a really rubbish tram) lines. Bus and trolley lines need to be short, because otherwise they take too long and people won’t use them, but don’t worry because they tend to not make very much money anyway. Trams are used for more mid-level distances (for example crossing a zone of a city) and for crossing an entire city you will need to set up an expensive metro line (which you can actually position to go either overground or underground).
On this first level, the management is reasonably straight-forward. You want to have a good coverage of stops across your city, so that most people are always within walking distance of some public transport. You also want your different lines and systems to intersect so that people can switch transport types to cross longer distances. The thing is, it doesn’t stop there. There is another level of management below this, which I am still coming to terms with. You need to set up the timetables of your transports so that people don’t build up at any of the stops and don’t become unhappy, while also wanting to keep the costs of running the line down (i.e. there’s no point having 3 buses an hour if the line is only transporting 10 people in that time). You also need to be aware that weekends and evenings will be slower, whilst there is also a morning and evening rush.
BUT it doesn’t stop there either! Below this is a third level of management, which I am only barely scratching. The city is not just made up of a solid lump of people randomly moving around. No sir. There are leisure buildings, residences and home and places of work and business. AND there are different types of people, including blue collar workers, white collar workers, businessmen, pensioners, students and tourists. All of these people live in different places and want to travel to different places, for example the upper business class tend to live and work in the centre of the city, big apartment buildings and so on, whilst the white collars live in smaller suburbs and travel into the city, whilst students (rather aptly) just live wherever the fuck they can.
With all of this to take into account I wouldn’t be surprised if there was other levels below even this, with lots of little cogs all turning their own mysterious way. This is the game’s biggest strength, the level of detail and polish in it is simply astounding. There are just so many factors to take into account that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if you saw more tourists on sunny days than you did on cloudy days (although now that I mention it, I’m not sure if there is a dynamic weather system). You can even click on individual people and watch them trundle about in their lives. It makes you entirely aware that you are in control of a living, breathing city and you cannot simply throw vehicles at it and hope something sticks.
It’s pretty broadly accessible as well, from people like me who only want to play a few hours at a time and not really get bogged down in micromanagement, to people who will want to name each individual tram, line, depot and stop (and yes, you CAN do that). I can’t really explain why it’s so gripping either. It’s a “Harvest Moon” style of game. Allow me to explain. Way back in my younger days, I had Harvest Moon on the gameboy, a game in which you were a farmer. And that was the game. You went about farming, hoeing your fields, planting crops, feeding livestock, milking cows, harvesting products with a few dozen smaller minigames along the way (including a hilarious chicken fighting one). Put like this it sounds, even to me, like the most boring thing anyone could waste their time on. But I honestly poured dozens of hours into the game, as proud of getting my chickens to lay golden eggs as I was when beating instance bosses in World of Warcraft. I can’t really explain why it was so enthralling, only that I know it was.
There are issues, though which I did notice fairly quickly. The major one that keeps cropping up is that the game is just far too slow for me. You can speed up time and watch your system whiz around like busy little ants (maniacal laughter optional), but even at max it still takes a fair amount of real world time to watch a whole day go by. My current game has me making a decent amount of money (I am very firmly in the green) and I want to save up enough money so that I can expand my system. However, the time it would take to save up enough money is just so bloody long and so I am forced to sit there just watching and waiting. This is especially painful because I am wanting to build a metro system, which is the only reasonable way of connecting up the various islands of my city, because I would need hundreds of thousands of dollars for the size of the project.
It’s true I COULD take out an in-game loan of the money and put that to good use, but it seems a bit counter-productive to have to get a loan of money when I know that I could just MAKE the money. What would work would be some way of turning on a “travel speed” of sorts for actually whizzing through the days and weeks, and I don’t know why it wasn’t included.
Other issues include the lack of variation in your vehicles and buildings. Each type of transport gets two depots and three types of vehicle, which is really not very much. As well as this, every vehicle is actually has only very average stats, even the more expensive ones seem not really worth the bother. Part of the reason for this actually makes the situation worse in that the developers offer dozens of DLC packs, each a quid or so, for a new set of trains/trams/buses. I would not be surprised if those nice and shiny vehicle types were all better than the standard in-game ones, and this seems like a very subtle pay-to-win style of DLC, which is actually a little offensive.
And finally is that the AI of the game seems to be run by the same guy who designed the windows installer. Things like ticket prices (another thing you can change) should be fairly stable, perhaps changing them up and down a little as time goes on. However, I am forced (in my current game) to change the prices several times a day… And that’s IN-GAME days. This is because, at night and during the day, people aren’t using the transport as much and so they are fine with higher prices, but as soon as it’s time to go to work they ALL get pissed because the prices are so “high”. So naturally, I lower the prices, only for the game to then tell me a few (in-game) hours later that the prices are now too low. It’s actually extremely irritating, and I wish there was some way to either have different prices for different times of day, or that people would just ACCEPT the stupid prices.
It’s not just that either. The first objective you are given in the campaign is to make a system which covers “15%” of the city. It’s not made clear whether it is 15% of the population or 15% of the buildings, but I set about it anyway. I’ve established now that it simply can’t be 15% of the city’s territory because I’ve, thus far, managed to cover what must be closer to 30% of all the buildings. So it must be 15% of the people. However, because the people move to and from different areas of the city, the actual percentage (of the 15% objective) that I have covered constantly fluctuates from as low as 20% all the way up to 50% and that’s actually pretty frustrating as well.
Overall the game has more ups than it has downs, and I think I’m going to go ahead and give it a fairly hearty recommendation. I would say, though, games which focus so heavily on management (and indeed micromanagement) have never really been much of my thing. For me, this game was a diversion. An entertaining one, to be sure, but not something that I feel I could go and rave about to absolutely everyone. Even with this in mind, it really does deserve recognition for it’s astounding attention to detail and depth.