by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
A lost genre returns
‘Tycoon’ games are more numerous than anyone cares to think of. Or are they? During the late nineties and first half of the previous decade, a flood of poorly designed business simulation games flooded the market and only a handful were worthy of our time. Exceptions such as the fabulous Transport Tycoon were so few that the genre was soon relegated to being budget bin material and not much else. After 2005, the genre became quiet, almost to the point of seeming to be extinct. Only a handful of simulations were released, with Restaurant Empire 2 being one of the few to stand out in a positive way. Just when we started wondering if development of these games had stopped altogether, they started popping up as browser games in Facebook and elsewhere. Farmville and Cityville draw huge crowds, proving that the genre is more popular than ever, at least in the online space.
Having seen the genre go browser-based, I was a little surprised when Paradox announced that they were working with the Finnish developer Colossal Order on Cities in Motion, a business sim focusing on transporting passengers within cities. A pleasant surprise, I should add, and I couldn’t wait to give the game a spin.
Cities in Motion puts players into the role of a ‘City Transportation Planner’, giving them full power over every bus, tram, the subways and more. The game can be played in sandbox mode or through 12 scenarios that cover 100 years worth of transportation history in four different cities.
Only Vienna was available as a playable map in the beta version, but the retail version will include maps of such cities as Amsterdam and Berlin as well. Each city is represented by multiple map versions, depicting city growth over the 100 year time period that the game covers. Starting a game in the 1920s not only means a smaller map but also has an impact on how many people will take public transport, what vehicles are available and the cities’ economical state.
While earlier versions of the maps lack accuracy - they seem to be stripped down versions of the contemporary maps - they do give you a distinctly different experience when setting up new lines. Less ground to cover usually means shorter routes, a fact that is surely appreciated by the slower and smaller vehicles that are available in that time frame. New, faster and roomier vehicles become available later on, replacing the old classics and usually causing a considerable stir in the dynamics of your public transport lines as the speed and passenger size allow more regular pickups and shorter waiting times.
The creationists view
The creation of new lines appears to be a little easier than altering existing ones. Bus, water and air lines can be created just by adding and assigning stops to the map while tram and subway lines require tracks to be laid out first. This is an easy enough process and many portions are a drag and drop kind of affair. Subway tracks can be placed on different levels so that lines do not have to cross each other. The mechanic to connect one level of track to another is a little iffy at first but becomes easier once you have done it a few times.
Once a line has been created, you simply purchase a vehicle to service it and push a button to open it for public use. The number of passengers using the line depends on a number of things including its stops, its connections to other lines, whether it takes the passengers over various demographics to where they want to go, the economy and more. It takes some time for people to ‘discover’ the line though, so don’t expect to find hordes of people at your stops right away. Making even the smallest change in a line such as upgrading a stop will cause passengers to forget about a line and this is something I hope will be changed before the game goes to retail.
In many cases, adding a new line has an impact on other lines as well. Your new line may mean that a potentially large number of passengers switch over from an existing line as they find quicker ways to reach their destinations. It may also ‘unlock’ areas that previously had no access to transportation, increasing the pressure on your existing lines. As you can see, transportation is incredibly dynamic and the game will have you monitoring your lines closely, adding or removing vehicles as needed. Fortunately, it is possible to remove a vehicle from a line, put it in the ‘global’ depot and then assign it to another line so you can flexibly decide where you want to apply your resources.
How she plays
Graphically, Cities in Motion is one of the most detailed business simulation games ever created, sporting over a 100 different buildings that give each city a unique and authentic feel. The graphics engine allows the player to zoom in and rotate the view into four different directions. It does this smoothly even when you have a hundred vehicles on dozens of lines in a city crawling with thousands of travelers. All in all, it looks quite impressive.
The game introduces an economic system, the effects of which I’ve not fully been able to gauge even after days of gameplay. You are the only player on the map and there are no AI players vying for domination, and being a monopolist means people are condemned to your services, economic downturn or not. The same goes for the different social groups - of which there are 7 - that supposedly have distinct transportation needs but I could still rake in the money when I ignored them altogether.
Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that the beta build I have been playing has been available for quite a while and the developers have had lots of time to address these things. More importantly, playing Cities in Motion has been tremendous fun even in its beta state and I’m certain things can only get better from here.