Cities in- Is it 3 in the Morning Already?
(Note: This review reflects the availability of DLC content for the game)
When one thinks of a city-based simulation game, one thing comes to mind for two different audiences. For people vaguely familiar with the genre, they think of SimCity. For people who've played SimCity games, they rip their hair out remembering how much bullshit they had to go through to learn how to build an effective transportation system. So when a game like Cities in Motion comes out that centers entirely around creating a working public transit system, it's reasonable to approach it with some caution.
The game has a tutorial that briefly walks you through the basic controls and the five different types of transport you'll be working with- buses, trams, the metro, water buses, and helicopters. It doesn't hold your hand a great deal, meaning that players are going to be pressing the restart button quite a few times on the first mission of the game whilst they try to figure out how to generate their own profitable bus lines. Even when players finally discover how to feed lines into each other, restarting the scenario is still called for at points.
The simulation itself doesn't force the player to go into the nitty gritty.. The numerous vehicles have different energy/fuel expenditures and capacities, leaving the player to decide which vehicle is best for the route they've developed. The player can also control the prices of each transportation type and to whom they market to. Other than that, the player has to rely on the strength of the lines they've built to carry the day.
The game's original campaign is twelve missions long, and this leads into one of the game's big problems. There are only five maps available without the Tokyo DLC, and that's including the tutorial map. So you'll be visiting Berlin, Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Vienna three times each whilst going through the campaign. What keeps each visit relatively fresh is that you will often be revisiting the same locations several decades into the future or past. Some missions have gimmicks, such as one mission where the player must forgo the use of helicopters and the metro, another where buses aren't allowed, and one where the player must manage the transportation systems of both East and West Berlin.
It's worth noting however that it is blatantly easy to cheat at the game when such requirements pop up. Besides one or two of missions in some later scenario that try and enforce it, such as 'Remove all metro lines' or 'Have no buses in your fleet', the game often won't check to see if you're keeping to the concept of the scenario. This was incredibly evident in the mission where I had to manage both West and East Berlin, where I just had metro and helicopter lines crossing over and under the Berlin Wall. It's not clear if this is a coding limitation or there simply wasn't enough time to find a way to enforce this better, but it does seem very strange.
There are also a couple of technical quirks that will puzzle players, such as being unable to place diagonal metro or monorail (a new transportation type from the Tokyo DLC) stations. Also, there were points during play where the vehicles completely disappeared from menus after having to briefly switch windows.
Despite the limitations of what is probably a relatively small development team, Cities of Motion is nothing if not a strangely compelling game. The campaign scenarios themselves are fun to try and puzzle out, and it''s strangely satisfying to watch your lines suddenly start to rake in cash.
The limited number of developer-made maps is somewhat compensated by the fact that players can essentially play at any point between the early nineteen hundreds and the first fifth of the new millennium. The developers have released several DLC packs for the game that adds new vehicles, a new map and campaign in the form of Tokyo, and most recently new types of metro stops to handle high volumes of traffic, meaning that the game definitely has the support of its developers. And if Cities in Motion is a harbinger of what to expect from future releases from this developer, then they may find an American audience yet.