A couple of months ago I previewed Cities In Motion from Paradox Interactive and Colossal Order and I was mightily impressed. This time round I have the fully blown beast at my fingertips and believe me, Cities In Motion is a thing of beauty.
If you haven’t read the preview, then let me update you. Cities In Motion is Transport Tycoon: The Next Generation, an RTS Simulation where you are commissioned to build the ultimate transport system for your city. Spread over a hundred year period you will build a variety of public transportation systems, from the golden age of open-topped buses in the swinging thirties where engineers took pride in their work and there was no such thing as double-bubble and plastic seating, to the bleak and sterilised environmentally friendly future of 2020.
You have four different cities to vent your creative skills upon the hapless populations: Vienna, Berlin, Helsinki and Amsterdam. Each have their own particular needs and issues, such as valued architecture that needs to grow old gracefully without the scourge of modern idealism, or a fast paced modern society that houses fresh-faced students and college drop-out who value the resources of mother Earth’s bounty, smell strongly of joss-sticks and hug trees freely. The trick is to balance your system by ensuring that the majority of your citizens are happy enough and you gain the supportive arm of the mayor and local council. Finding this balance, however, is 90% of the game, as you are constantly reminded of your failures and inadequacies by the ever useful popularity level. Setting the ticket prices too high for a measly bus route around the block, for instance, will infuriate the pensioners who are unable to make it that far by foot. Similarly, setting stops for trams, buses and underground lines too far from the city hot-spots will alienate you from the upbeat and upwardly mobile denizens.
This balance you are working for is fine, very, very fine. But getting there is half the fun. Ruining the once magnificent city of Vienna by placing elevated metro lines that criss-cross the city is a one-way ticket to the dole office, while ignoring certain sections of the population, be they the Pensioners, Blue Collar Workers, White Collar Workers, Tourists, Students or Deadbeats, sorry, Drop-outs, is also a sure fire way to find yourself tarred, feathered and run out of town on the back of a donkey. So in essence, a keen eye on your available information, in the guise of the popularity level, and keeping a watch on the current trends of society, are as important as creating and maintaining a work of transport art that would have Isambard Kingdom Brunel singing sweetly from wherever it is famous engineers go once they depart their Earthly coil.
However, merely keeping a watchful eye on how much the populous love you isn’t the only factor you need to consider. The dreaded global economy can have a decidedly bad effect on your carefully planned and intricate system. If the credit crunch is biting hard, then expect the people to tighten their belts and resort to shanks’ pony instead of taking the wonderful trams you paid all that cash for. Lowering the ticket prices helps, but at the detriment of the maintenance of your system. However, through the rose tinted goggles of the developers, you also have those gold rush times where the pockets of the locals are bulging with largesse and they can’t help but spend their ill gotten gains on your wonderful system.
Cities In Motion plays wonderfully. The build options are simplistic enough to get a grip of very quickly. The widget-style menus, which can be too much at times, are colourful and informative – although perhaps a little too informative? You can easily drown in information whilst your water buses plunge into depression. The controls run smoothly enough and the addition of not only the twelve level/scenario campaign mode, but a wonderful sandbox mode and map editor as well is a blessing in disguise.
Thankfully, the micro management can be handled with apparent ease. Keeping your gaze on the economies of the city or the world isn’t that difficult once you get into the game and following the tutorial is definitely recommended. The transport systems available are very nicely arranged to follow the trends and date. For example, you can’t build a helicopter pad in the middle of 1930′s Berlin and there’s no point in creating an underground network of tunnels in Vienna, but you do have something like thirty different types of transportation vehicles, all of which are based on real-life models.
The feedback you get from the game is superbly written. When your going the wrong way one of the citizens or the mayor him/herself will pop up and inform you accordingly. If you really make a hash of everything and are about to collapse the city a polite box-out will appear and alert you to the error of your ways. The citizens can be selected individually and zoomed in on to an alarming degree to give their opinions on what direction you should take next as can the collective members of the city’s society.
The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, with real-time traffic movement, pedestrian movement, animated Ferris Wheels, bow waves from the water buses, shadows from the birds that fly overhead and people milling around their back gardens. It’s really quite an impressive piece of work, and when zoomed in, it’s a pleasure to behold.
The sound is perfect. Horns, aircraft, people shouting or talking, traffic noise all mix together without giving you an instant headache or distracting you from some other duty.
The gripes I had in the preview copy seem to have disappeared. I could link both ends of a metro line together and I didn’t have any problems with the underground tunnelling levels. The citizens have relaxed a little and aren’t quite so bitter and resentful at any change, and the navigation of the city is more fluid and behaves itself considerably better. To be fair, this is an awesome game, very well presented, very well written, absorbing and entertaining. But, like SimCity, Transport Tycoon or any other simulation it has its niche audience and whilst there appears to be have been a bit of a gap in this genre recently it will only appeal to those who enjoy this kind of city-wide management. It won’t pull the hardcore FPS guys away from their gamepads, but it certainly keeps those of us who really enjoy this kind of game enthralled for many hours. Well done Paradox and Colossal Order, a game well done.
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