Since its announcement, people have considered this release to be a direct competitor to Maxis’ SimCity. Let’s nip that in the bud right from the start, because whilst Cities in Motion 2 certainly is a sandbox environment within a modern metropolitan, it’s not a city builder in any sense of the word. If you’re concerned the game was rushed to capitalize on the SimCity craze: don’t be, because Cities in Motion 2 is doing its own thing. Hell, the original Cities in Motion was doing its own thing. Paradox Interactive by their very nature are doing their own thing.

Colossal Orders’ second Cities game expands on the original in every way. It has more depth, it has a bigger scale, and it has more polish. Whilst an expansive and vibrant city lives and breathes around you, you take no part in the economics and politics of it, focusing solely on the transportation. If you really want to lump this release next to SimCity, a good way to look at it would be as though the mayor of your Sim town as assigned you the head of transport. All you have to do is cater to the needs of the populous. That’s what Cities in Motion is about. The city is already there, you just need to keep it moving.

Cities in Motion 2 is a very technical game, so this review might seem a little dry and technical. But hey, you’re here, so you’re into that sort of thing, right?!

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The first thing you’ll likely notice coming from the original game, is that the cities really are cities. Whilst we don’t have the authenticity of real life cities over different time periods that we had in Cities in Motion, we have much, much larger and more dynamic areas designed to emulate real life metropolitan locations. I’ve to admit they all feel a little samey – seemingly different variations of New York’s Manhattan, but for what we’ve traded in authenticity we’ve been handed a much deeper experience.

This time, the city is in your hands 100%. You can build roads, demolish buildings, and there’s much more strategy to linking and joining each of the ‘hubs’, if you will, of residential and industrial building clusters. Whilst the screenshot above shows a city in its entirety, it doesn’t really speak for the scale of the operation. For instance, the bottom right corner features a fairly small cluster of buildings, but that cluster in and of itself – to be efficiently managed – would require perhaps two bus routes and three small buses. Perhaps that helps to elucidate the potential scale of planning an entire city’s transport.

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Starting, you’ll want to pick a slither of the city to focus on. You’ve finite resources – unless you’re playing sandbox with infinite resources checked – so trying to cover the entire city with a single bus route is a sure fire way to fail. Looking at the zoning information panel (you don’t zone areas yourself), you can get a sense of where the residential, industrial, leisure, and other areas are on the map. Each of these zoning areas are split into social classes. This is a European game, and we all know how taboo social structures are in Europe, so each ‘class’ is split descriptively, with ‘Blue collar’ townsfolk as the elites, all the way down to students.

For the moment, setting up a basic bus route from the green residential zones to the industrial work zones is a classless affair. To do this, we use the building panel in order to build one of two types of bus depot; each transportation type has two sizes of depot. Selecting the basic bus depot allows me to build a central hub for the cities bus transport, although you can have as many bus depots as you want. Now I’ve got that, I proceed to place bus stops from the depot location, spaces around the zones I want.

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This image depicts the class system with the area type zoning

In the screenshot, you can see small purple squares placed on the map. These are the stops. Cities in Motion 2 isn’t very clear in how it presents stops, since everything is so damned small. It’s incredibly difficult to keep track of your stops, and where you’re taking them, and this is worsened by a finicky system whereby, as in real life, stops placed on either side of the road dictate the direction of travel. It’s very hard to snap a stop in the direction of travel you want – it’s a matter of pixel perfect precision – and whilst you can zoom in on the map, map navigation is so fast using the ‘wasd’ keys that you fly all over the place. This has problems I’ll come to later.

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That aside, once you set up your bus stops, you create a new line using the correct panel, adding your line to the list of existing bus routes. Doing this is a matter of clicking “add new stop”, then chaining up the bus stops all the way back to the depot. If you misplaced some of the stops so they’re facing the wrong way, you’ll get a tool tip telling you there’s no route to connect the stops. This is infuriating to some extent, and it’d have been nice if you could have held to click the stop down, selecting the direction by moving the mouse either right or left. It really isn’t easy to tell where it’s going as you’re placing them.

Once you have your line, you purchase your vehicles. Most lines will require more than one vehicle, and you can pick out of about 2-5 variations. As you’d expect, the grater the expense, the higher quality the vehicle, and the more people it’ll hold. The class system plays a part in happiness, and as in games like SimCity, you can monitor the efficiency of your travel network by seeing how happy towns people are. Clicking on a passenger will give you an indication as to their contentment through a coloured face, followed by details of their discontent. If they had to wait, if the bus was too full, or if the stop wasn’t right, etc.

Placing stops isn’t as simple as plopping them down. You need to take into account class, to an extent. You can pick from basic pilon stops, to stops with roofs, and stops with benches and all of the above. They each cost maintenance, and the highest tier will be wasted on the lower classes. Becuase of this, it’s important to check your zoning, and check your class zoning on top of that. You can, if you wish, keep zoning on at all times by clicking “show when hidden.” I advise this for the most part, although it feels after a while as though you’ll develop retinal cancer from the colours.

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The area a stop covers is indicated by a transparent circle on the map. You don’t necessarily have to make them over-lap, but that is the best way to maximize coverage. It isn’t necessarily cost efficient, though. Stop placement is shared in some cases between other transportation types, but metro stations and water bus stations are, of course, separate.

For the most part, although I’ve used buses as an example, laying out transport for the: bus, trolley, tram, metro, and water boat are largely the same. As soon as you figure out one, you can pretty much figure out the others – aside from the metro, which I’ll come to in a moment. Choosing the right mode of transport of the job is a large part of the game, because they vary heavily in expense. You might be tempted to put some mid-tier transport in the highest blue collar area to appease them quickly, but in doing so you’ll waste space to be used on some of the larger more cumbersome types later in the game, which have the potential for much higher density and proficiency.

Planning your route is central to the games equally important mechanic: data sheets. Whilst Cities in Motion 2 isn’t just a maths and numbers game, there are a wealth of data panels that allow you to change everything from the price of tickets, to the time-tables, scheduling, vehicle breaks (as in how long they have to rest), and a number of graphs showing you how economically efficient each line is, and how much money everything is making or losing. These aren’t overall graphs – unless you want them to be – you can look at every cog in the city individually, cutting out inefficiency with an iron hammer. Yes, this is a game for you, Mr OCD.

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Things get pretty complicated when you start tinkering with the metro. If you’re not the Japanese, who basically just copied the entirety of London’s underground system point to point, you’ll want to plan your own network. If you’ve ever seen an underground map, you’ll know how complicated this can be. In Cities in Motion 2, this is so potentially complicated that the developer had to create a YouTube tutorial which they later updated and remade. 

Creating a metro is the most expensive albeit most efficient system of travel. You can achieve high speed travel between one city point to another, even under the water in between. To do this, you plop a metro station somewhere in your city, and begin to lay out one of the four types of metro track. Pressing page up and down will lower roads and track, automatically building bridges and tunnels as you go. The lower or higher you go, the more money you spend. Once you chained up a simple or intricate metro system, you place your metro stops, which will plop one station under ground, and another above ground, quite intuitively.

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You can see the underground station meeting the metro entrance above

All roads and rails bend naturally and intuitively as you place them, and it really is a zen experience to map your city in this way. Whilst the bloated visuals of Cities in Motion 2 makes it so consistently difficult to see what’s going on, everything is so vibrant and realistic that I wouldn’t have it any other way. The visuals are beautiful, and I’ve never seen such a realistically rendered city in any game before – including Cities XL. It’s clear that Colossal Order had all the knowledge and tools they needed to build a city builder proper, but they kept to their plans and stuck to what they knew they could excel at.

You can lay tram rails along any of the existing roads, down the middle or either sides, joining them at inter-junctions, and even using the bus-stops as stops for them if they cross at any point. Looping, joining, and weaving a travel network as you plans and desires grow is a genuine thrill, and following all of your vehicles around the life-like city gives you a sense of return on your investment. It’s a very rewarding experience.

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Hidden away in the game, there’s even a map editor. This allows you to – I’m not even kidding – create your own city. Whilst there’s no economy management, and it really isn’t a substitute for any city builder, this easy to use editor allows you to use all the assets in the game to create your own stencil for yourself, or others, to play on. If you’re someone who’s interested in city building without economy management as an artistic venture, then Cities in Motion 2 is worth picking up just for this. Once you’ve laid all your roads, you can automatically, realistically, generate buildings around them. This is a genuinely excellent tool.

The game also features a campaign, which offers you a series of scripted events and occurrences, like quests. Cartoon portraits will ask you to help them out, and offer you incentives for doing so, which gives you a sense of much needed purpose when you’re first starting out. It also offers a boring but incredibly necessary tutorial. The campaign really emulates the sandbox experience, but it gives you some nice activities along the way. In this rare case, I would actually recommend the campaign over the sandbox, if only because it’s nice to be given tasks to fulfill to keep things interesting.

Cities in Motion 2 also features multiplayer, where you can either work together with a friend, or work to compete in your business ventures. This isn’t something you’ll want to do with strangers because of the amount of time needed, but working with a friend to achieve an efficient transport system does give the game another level of depth. It gets things flowing much faster, and having differences about what you both think is the most efficient method keeps a dialogue going, and presents another sense of context to the whole thing.

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When I start thinking about criticisms for this installment, and remember they’re only asking for £14.99, I can’t help but think how astonishing that really is. The game excels at what it tries to do, and whilst fans of games like Transport Tycoon will heavily  criticize this because of how locked-down it feels compared to that, it’s really not trying to go for the same thing. Whilst it feels quite difficult to fail per se, Cities in Motion 2 is a game that makes you feel bad about not being as efficient as the Germans. It doesn’t matter if you’re financially stable, if one little thing looks out of place, you feel as though the developer is standing behind you, mumbling to themselves grumpily.

If you’re someone who likes to get things right, and enjoys lengthy, sandbox experiences in a very niche environment, then you’ll cherish how polished and beautiful this title is. It’s enjoyable, technical, and absolutely zen. Cities in Motion 2 is priced like a game that knows its place in the current gaming climate, but developed like a game that knows it deserves more than its RRP. I absolutely recommend this to people intrigued by the concept.