Making public transport surprisingly interesting
I don't have a driving license, and, strictly speaking, can't drive. I had lessons over a decade ago, but I never really saw the point. The narrow roads and strict speed limits in the UK prohibit one from truly enjoying the act of driving -- at least in cities -- and if I have to deal with traffic jams and moving at a snail's pace, I'd rather do so while playing my DS on a bus.
Despite years of extensive use of public transport, I can't say I ever truly appreciated it. It was merely a service that I used a lot. But riding on the bus this morning was a completely new experience for me; I was contemplating the profits made from ticket sales, the efficiency of the timetable, wondering how long the entire route was, and what the running costs of the vehicle itself would be. Undoubtedly this made me the most boring man on the number 44, heading into the city center, and I can only blame Cities in Motion 2.
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Cities in Motion 2 (PC)
Developer: Colossal Order
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Released: April 2, 2013
I'm a big picture sort of fellow. When I see a simulated city laid out before me, I want to embark on a large construction project, practice a spot of social engineering, and generally act like an -- albeit limited -- urban god. Cities in Motion 2 gave me the big city to play in, but only let me mess around with the grotty world of public transport.
Chewing gum on seats, hand rails smeared with the germs of hundreds of unwashed plebs, timetables -- how can this possibly capture my interest, I wondered. I was given a massive urban playground and all the fun parts appeared to be locked away. For a good few minutes, I'm willing to admit, I was in a huff.
Then I constructed my first bus route. I saw content citizens hop on my lovely new bright-red road hog, travel from their homes, get off at the stop nearest their place of employment, and start their day on time and happy. I facilitated that. Without me they are nothing. I am God.
It's hard to express why crafting an efficient transport network is so damn fulfilling. There's a surprising amount of artistry to it. One can't just plonk down a massive route surrounding the city and call it a day, as passenger waiting times would become extremely long and nobody would get to their destination on time, creating dissatisfaction. Besides, how do you think the cleaning staff would feel when they keep discovering the bodies of dead, malnourished workers who got stuck on a bus for three days?
Every individual in the city falls into one of several categories, from students and tourists to blue and white-collar workers, and all of them have specific destinations they need to get to. The menus and city layers are not the easiest things to navigate, but they contain an absurd amount of information that allows players to fine tune their transport network meticulously.
Seeing where particular demographics tend to live and where they are most likely to work is imperative when constructing new routes, and one can focus the microscope even more by selecting individual buildings, be they homes or workplaces, and find out who is inside them, and what their main destinations are.
So, like the voyeur I am, I can click on a new factory, select Mr. Cecil Harrington, factory owner and cigar connoisseur (yes, I make up back-stories), and discover that he lives a fair distance away in a lovely little villa on an entirely separate island. Even though my city has full coverage, he doesn't have a direct route from his home to his place of employment.
If I want, I can alter an existing route by adding more stops and connecting them to said route, or I can make a brand spanking new route. Perhaps, because I'm a flashy transport tycoon, I'll build a water bus depot and some piers, transporting Mr. Harrington straight from his fetching villa to the front door of his factory by water.
The wide range of transport options -- with different costs, levels of efficiency, and required involvement when it comes to building the routes -- can be a tad daunting. Experience turns them into wonderful tools, however.
Buses are the simplest to employ, needing only roads (most of which will already be built) and bus stops, but they can't hold many passengers. A tram system might be more expensive, and will certainly necessitate substantially more construction, as one lays down tracks as well as stops, but more people can be crammed inside them, which means more tickets and, potentially, greater profits.
What initially might look like a mess of confusing roads and grids; brightly colored route markers; player defined, color-coded zones; spheres of influence; and constantly changing numbers soon becomes a highly informative, logical map. The menus might be ugly and somewhat obtuse, but the details on the city view offer up easily discernible information that allows transport managers to rapidly spot problem areas, new opportunities, and exactly where every vehicle in the burgeoning armada is going.
While Cities in Motion 2 isn't a city builder, one can still influence the urban environment. Laying down roads and helping to build up a town's infrastructure will cause new buildings to pop up along transport routes, more people will visit or move to the city, and more businesses will appear. It's a nice touch that gives subtle feedback and shows that one is having a tangible impact on their environment.
So, in both the planning and outcome phases, Cities in Motion 2 is a delightful experience, suitably deep and rewarding, but it's let down by everything in the middle. The actual construction of routes and paths is frustrating, arduous, and finicky.
Take the tram system, for example. You begin by placing a tram depot, either a small one or a large one, and that's easy enough. Even if there's no room by a road, you can just place it on top of another building, so you never find yourself constricted by limited space. But then it starts to become irritating.
The first order of business once the depot has been placed is to lay down some tram tracks. Zooming all the way out gives you the best view for doing this, but that also makes it impossible to see what roads are one-way, and if you've already got a bus route or another tram route on the road, the brightly-colored representation of that route obscures your new tramline, making it difficult to see if you've placed it correctly.
The whole time one needs to zoom in and out, constantly checking to make sure the track is going the right way and each segment is connected. Frequently, I would discover that there were gaps in the track because I'd clicked just a tiny bit too far away from the previous segment, but because I wasn't zoomed in right to street level, or because an existing route covered the road, I wouldn't notice this until I was trying to connect the new route between every single tram stop that I just had to place.
There's also a dearth of content when it comes to purchasing vehicles. Transport geeks will likely find the tiny selection of buses, trams, trains and what have you rather disappointing. I personally didn't find it to be too much of a problem, as I can barely tell the difference between these vehicles other than their vital statistics as described in the menu, but Cities in Motion 2 will undoubtedly appeal to those who are far more knowledgeable than I.
It's worth noting that Colossal Order is a small developer, and I certainly can't fault it for not providing dozens of different buses, but, if the original Cities in Motion is any indication, the business model for the series is very much one focused on a plethora of premium DLC. That may be a sticking point for some.
Though these issues hamper the overall experience, Cities in Motion 2 is a jump in the right direction, and is a significant improvement over its forebearer. It's more polished, though the occasional minor bug cropped up from time to time, and Colossal Order cut the chaff while adding in new, oft requested features such as the timetable system, which allows players to tailor the departure times of vehicles to cater to demand -- or lack of demand -- during certain times of the day, like the morning or evening rush hour.
Adding to the longevity of the title is a detailed editor mode, which allows players to craft their own cities, and a competitive multiplayer mode. The latter usually boils down to trying to screw over your opponent, however, instead of inspiring two players to make profitable transport companies.
I didn't expect the game to grip me in the way it did, and I certainly couldn't have predicted how excited I would become at the prospect of getting people to their jobs in time. Cities in Motion 2 takes a mundane and, frankly, boring subject matter, and makes it genuinely compelling. It has made my dreary real-life bus journeys a tiny bit more interesting.
Cities in Motion 2 reviewed by Fraser Brown
A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score: The Destructoid Reviews Guide