Being tasked with building a public transport system doesn’t sound like a very interesting game, but Cities in Motion 2 delivers enough fun for it to be worth the purchase to most.
City building games haven’t been taking my fancy recently, with nothing really standing out from the rest of the games in the genre. So when I saw Cities in Motion 2 by Paradox Interactive pop up on Steam, I waited until it went on sale over Christmas before I picked it up for a play. What I found was a game that is good at what it does, but suffers from some annoying flaws that take away from the overall experience.
Paradox Interactive has made some amazing games. Mount & Blade: Warband is one of my favorite games of all time, but unfortunately they have also made some games that I try to forget about; and whilst Cities in Motion 2 is a fun game, It doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and ends up as one of those unfortunate games that you will forget about in a few months.
City management games can often seem quite daunting to a new player, with a large amount of tools and features that are never really explained properly. Cities in Motion 2 does a good job of explaining enough of the game to get you going, while still leaving parts of the game for you to figure out for yourself. At times it can feel a little daunting; I’ve mastered all of the basics, but this is one of those games that no matter how much you play it there are still going to be things that you don’t know how to do. For the most part that’s a good thing, but at times I had to tab out to check whether a feature was actually in the game at all.
For example, I was disappointed to discover that I couldn’t assign specific buses to the routes that I wanted them to run. Some runs require larger buses, but the game automatically assigns them; which means sometimes I had 10-person buses overflowing while a 30 person bus has 5 people on it. This proves to be a problem when you are trying to make all of your travelers happy. Apparently, people don’t like being crammed into buses like sardines in a can – who would have guessed?
People do tend to be very unhappy in Cities in Motion 2. I struggled the entire time to make satisfy everyone, until I had the sudden realization that it doesn’t seem to actually matter how unhappy everyone is. About 50% of my passengers were very unhappy, but they still caught the tram to work every day which meant I kept making money. I would have loved for people’s happiness to have a noticeable effect on your business, but it never seemed to make a difference. The result is that people’s emotional state feels like a feature that was added on because it was expected, rather because it adds to the mechanics of the game.
The mechanics that the game has are solid, which makes it enjoyable to play for long periods of time – which, if you’re anything like me, you will. This is a game that encourages long play sessions, and there’s something extremely satisfying about it; you feel good when you pick people up and move them to where they want to go. They might not ever seem to be any happier about it themselves, but there’s a gentle pleasure to be gained by knowing that you’re running an efficient system. It’s a strange feeling that really makes this a fun game to play.
For all of the enjoyment, unfortunately some game sessions can end in disaster and general anger. I mentioned earlier about there being some annoying flaws, and the lack of an auto save feature made this a particularly difficult review to write. When I played the game for the first time, I lost 3 hours of gameplay when the game crashed to my desktop. Normally I wouldn’t have the time to continue a game after losing that much progress, and a lot of people would just drop it there, but I soldiered on.
Obviously I was a bit of an idiot for not manually saving, but having to always remember to go into the menu and save your progress is a huge distraction to the player that can be a big issue, one which detracts from the experience. For some it could ruin the entire experience, and be the reason they stop playing.
There are some other issues – nothing major, but they all add up to detract from a game that without them would have been fantastic. Placing tram tracks is quite inaccurate and will cost you money when you inevitably place a track on the wrong piece of road. It isn’t exactly game breaking, but it can be a huge detriment when working with a small amount of money, and will annoy meticulous players who don’t have cash to waste. At one point, I was running low on money and trying to set up a new line in the hopes of salvaging my campaign from the brink of destruction. I ended up being only a few dollars short of the amount I needed to finish the line because of having to constantly fix bits of the line that hadn’t been placed correctly. After a bit of swearing, and doing the thing I always dread in management games – taking out a loan – I managed to continue; but I felt cheated. The game had punished me for something that wasn’t my fault.
Another problem is the game’s market system, which constantly changes what people are willing to spend and what you can get away with charging people. As a basic rule I tend to charge people as much as I can get away with, but that number is always changing and can sometimes change quite dramatically. I kept going from making piles of money to being in full panic mode trying to get back above the red line.
While this is probably a realistic model of what running a transport company is like, when I was unable to make money it felt like there was nothing I could do. I had to adjust my prices every few minutes because people kept complaining about how expensive it was to take the bus, even though the prices had already been lowered the day before. It can mean a profitable and well thought out system can quickly end up costing you hundreds of dollars every hour.
If a game has good gameplay mechanics then it will reward skilled play, and in a public transport game like Cities in Motion 2, with good forethought you should be able to set up a profitable system (in the same way you can set up a profitable city in SimCity with proper zoning). But this element of randomness that Paradox has seemingly built into Cities in Motion 2 means that even the best player can get screwed over by the absurdly fickle population of the city they are working in.
For players who are looking for a more laid-back experience, and aren’t so interested in running a fully efficient system, this game will give you a decent amount of fun, and isn’t bad to look at. The visuals are good, and it helps that a starting city is already extremely aesthetically pleasing. I would find myself just sitting back looking at the city and all the moving parts of it. True to the name of the game; the cities of are indeed in motion. Moving the camera through the city and simply watching the trams move down the road and seeing all your little people getting on and off of buses is an extremely satisfying thing, and is in my opinion the best part of this game.
I should also mention that although the game only comes with a few cities in which to build, the community has done a great job in reproducing real-life cities in the game’s engine. I was able to find my home city of Auckland, and whilst it may lack the scale of the city in real life, it was a good representation. This openness to modding extends the playability of the game far beyond the scope of what’s there to start with.
If you have time to spare and want a fun game that doesn’t require too much attention, then Cities in Motion is definitely a game you should pick up. The visuals will keep you playing for long sessions, and the satisfaction of moving so many people around will make this a generally fun experience that will bring you back for more. However, if you’re a serious player looking for an in-depth strategy game, this may disappoint. The controls are imprecise, and too much of whether you succeed or not is out of your control. The end result is a game which is enjoyable while it lasts, but could have easily been far better.