Paradox Interactive and Colossal Order Ltd have unleashed upon us a humdinger of a simulator. Imagine SimCity and Transport Tycoon’s big brother with better graphics, better sounds, better simulation and you will be getting close to what’s on offer with Cities in Motion.
You get to build and manage your own transport system, involving bus routes, tram routes, underground and elevated metro links, waterbus and helicopter infrastructure across either a sandbox city or one of four European cities all over the course of a hundred year span. As befits a simulation of this kind you have a set amount of cash available. To earn more you have to raise the ticketing price or be as economical as possible with the expenditure of the track layouts – but be careful, raise it too high and the city dwellers won’t bother using your system, too low and you won’t be able to maintain the infrastructure.
On top of all this, you have to keep an eye on the current global economy. For instance, during a boom wages are up, people are happy and are willing to spend a little more on public transport, however, in a downturn, people are naturally tightening their belts. Just when you’re getting used to economics of the game, you suddenly realise that the bus route you have painstakingly built is causing a major traffic jam and the locals are banging at your door, which unfortunately lowers your popularity level and the confidence the council have in you, so it’s back to the drawing board.
Speaking of which, the populous are quite a fickle bunch and the slightest mishap will have them ranting and raving. You have to please a range of citizens such as Pensioners, Students, Blue Collar Workers, White Collar Workers, Tourists and my personal favourite: Drop-Outs – who look a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. This bunch don’t half complain considering they do very little other than wander around and hang out, but together with the Students they are very vocal and environmentally friendly, and as time goes on they begin to want a more green approach to public transport which means you have to revise how you plan your infrastructure whilst keeping everyone happy. An underground metro is usually a good way to shut them up, sorry, I mean please the tax-paying workforce, but the creation of an underground metro is certainly challenging, careful planning is recommended here, too many lines criss-crossing each other can cause no end of confusion, as you can drop down to three levels below ground and lay the tunnelling that would have Isambard Kingdom Brunel spinning in his grave.
As the population booms, so do the demands and it’s not too long before you are whizzing from one end of the map to the next, and shouting ‘tough bleeding luck, love’ at some poor pensioner who has complained about the bus being late due to a demonstration at City Hall. You certainly get into the flow of things and the game draws you in with a very helpful tutorial, followed by a series of scenarios – although I was only playing the beta, with Vienna from either the 1960’s or 2009 was the sole option.
The sandbox mode is wonderful and you have the ability to either copy a current city or create one from a range of different templates on offer. The graphics are really very good for this type of game. You have a 3D, bird’s eye view of the city that can be rotated and zoomed in and out, right down to traffic level where there’s a realistic flow and over a hundred unique building models you don’t get too confused over one rectangular structure from another, as with previous games of this ilk. You can zoom into an individual and click on them to view their opinions of you and receive a sound effect suited to their character – grumpy old man gives an incoherent moan and mutters about something. The traffic noise is good and not too overwhelming to give you a headache within ten minutes of playing.
The building controls are easy to get used to, although you can lose yourself in menus, but once you have the hang of it, it becomes fairly straightforward. A simple three button arrangement at the top of the screen represents, pointing tool, building tools and bulldozer. The other in-game icons are spread to the edges of the screen and are exploded, widget-style, when clicked, making the game playing area very clean and free from too much clutter.
I had a couple of gripes. One: when building an elevated metro line, I couldn’t marry up the station and the existing line, I had to bulldozer everything and do it again, despite the fact I did it exactly the same way as before. Two: I found a couple of times, that even though I created a new line with the correct stops etc. the buses refused to move and resulted in my popularity going down as people waited at the bus stops – by applying the bulldozer to everything and starting again fixed this but as I said, this is only the beta, so I’m going to assume those issues are just down to that and my heavy-handed approach to public transport management.
I did manage to totally deface the once beautiful city of Vienna, however, I thought the denizens of the pride of Austria were remarkably tolerant. They gave me another chance to rectify things and boosted my capital, so even if your carefully laid system is going down the pan there’s always the chance to pull yourself back out of the gutter. Although, I think there is currently a wanted poster with my image on it on every lamp post in Vienna. Should I ever return the mayor has threatened to tar and feather me.
I thoroughly enjoyed Cities in Motion and I would recommend it to anyone who loves the SimCity RTS type of game, the interface is easy to get into and it has a colourful and lasting appeal. It’s out soon, so keep an eye out for it.
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