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Some Impressions: Cities In Motion

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Cities in Motion! It’s a transport tycoon game from Paradox that’s due out at the tail-end of next month. I’ve been playing with the latest build, and I actually have a problem with the game’s title. It should clearly have been called Cities in Gridlock, or Cities Keeping Perfectly Still. What I’m saying here is that I am bad at Cities in Motion.
Look! Here’s a picture of one of my tram stops.

We don’t like to talk about the tram stops. They’re like that strange dream you had, the one with your sister, and the rain. You just don’t talk about it.

So, yes: Cities In Motion tasks you with constructing and running a city’s public transport network. We’re talking buses, trams, trains, even boats and helicopters, and we’re talking building stops, designing routes and picking vehicles. With your pathetic budget you’re expected to analyse the city and do the most you can, and then recoup your investment through nothing but ticket fares and the occasional reward for completing an objective. It speaks volumes that the act of taking out a loan in Cities in Motion is performed with about as much worry as reloading in an FPS. It’s just what you do. Good luck!

My problem with the trams was in thinking that what would really help Tutorial Town was a comprehensive inner-city tram line, like they have in Manchester. Nevermind the fact that when I lived in Manchester I never rode on said tram (although there was once talk of organising a flashmob party on one of them). Anyway, in Tutorial Town my £10,000 tram network encountered a real showstopper of a problem almost immediately.

I was building the tram because the city needed public transport. Because the cities needed public transport, the inner-city streets were choked, suffocated even, by cars. Because the traffic was awful, the trams got stuck too, causing mass buildups of bored would-be commuters at each tram stop. Fail.

Which kind of sums up Cities In Motion. It’s a sim game, sure, but it’s also a puzzle game. Figuring out what type of transport to build, where to build it, how to build it (line? loop? spider web?) and how much to spend on it? That’s a puzzle. An unwieldy, hour-gobbling puzzle, but a puzzle nonetheless.

In case it wasn’t obvious already, I’ll just state clearly that this isn’t some softball, forgiving, casual experience. Until you start learning the nuances of running a transport network, Cities In Motion will smilingly saddle you with enough debt and customer complaints to sink even the most idiotically optimistic CEO into a swamp of despair. It’s very much a case of being handed a blank slate of a city, doing your thing over the course of an hour, then (eventually) realising the mess you’ve made and reaching for Restart like a starving man making a panicked grab for a sandwich.

Which isn’t to say Cities in Motion is off-putting or inaccessible. The interface is pleasant, and taking five minutes to research where your bus or subway should go is fun. Taking another few minutes to drag and drop it all out, ever-so-neatly, is fun. Then you’ve got to pick a few vehicles for it, deciding between a spread of speed, capacity, cost, reliability and appeal. That’s fun too. And of course after that you’ve got to give your new design a couple of in-game months to see how popular it is, and how it affects the other public transport routes in your city. Will it take some pressure off those overloaded trams we don’t like to talk about? Maybe, maybe.

The last thing I did in my game was build an exciting new water taxi route to take some pressure off my overloaded trams. Did it work? You bet your ass it didn’t.

For whatever reason, nobody wants to ride the new water taxi. There isn’t one person waiting at that stop. Why not? It’s a water taxi! It’s scenic! It’s cool! Which reminds me- we actually have a water taxi service here in London. Nobody actually takes it anywhere, of course. It’s rubbish.

Where was I? Oh yes- we’ve established that Cities In Motion is a tricky game, making this the perfect time to talk about objectives. They’re proper bastards. I mean, technically they’re fairly simple- some big cheese will ask you to connect the town university to some distant street via a pair of metro stations, or a government agent will get in touch to tell you that a dangerous enemy of the state is aboard the oldest vehicle in your fleet, and if you sell it then they’ll be able to capture him on the sly.

But as I’ve mentioned, money is always tight, so there’s an interesting element of having to fold these objectives into what you’re already trying to achieve. So you connect the university and street, then use the reward money to expand the new metro line with another stop in the middle. That kind of thing.

I’ve encountered a few problems, though I’ll preface them by saying that this is of course a preview build and anything might change. Though I do like the interface, it stumbles occasionally. I had an awful time trying to connect two train tracks that had a small hillock in between them, screwing with the autocomplete’s pathfinding, and placing a bus stop on the correct side of a street can be a fiddly. Woe betide anyone who places a stop on the wrong side of a street, as your buses will end up performing a tedious loop around a block to get there, and then another to get back on track. Speaking of blocks, everything’s very square. Where are the curled and knotted streets of old European cities? Not here, it seems.

There’s also some oddness about how many people can be found in each building. This is critical, as workplaces and homes with high populations are potential cash cows, but will also flood any stops placed near them. But it doesn’t add up- a huge apartment block will hold some 65 people, while a semi-detached house holds 30. And while my town’s airport had 50 people working in it, the tiny air traffic control tower next to it also managed a workforce of some 30 people. These figures should be intuitive, and they’re not at all.

None of this got in the way of my enjoyment though, as was proven last night when the build I’m playing quietly snorted up most of my evening. Whether Cities in Motion’s simulation is robust enough to stand up to long-term play is a question that’ll wait until the finished product, but signs look good. If you were interested in this game, I’d say you can very much stay interested.

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Quintin Smith

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