Cities In Motion 2 review
Oh, but it’s annoying when technical gremlins attack a new game. It’s as if you’re reviewing a film, only to find that the editor’s accidentally chopped the last half hour off. Sure, it’s incompetent, but it can be fixed, right? That half hour could be dynamite.
We weren’t best pleased with the bugs in the first Cities in Motion, but it needs to be said that, unfortunately, Cities in Motion 2 is suffering from the same problems out of the gate. I’ve had frequent crashes exacerbated by failed saves, both of which seem to boil down to the game being an enormous memory hog.
Still, PCs are temperamental beasts, bugs can be fixed and good games can get away with it.
So – does it?
Cities in Motion 2 is all about getting people from A to B, concerning itself with trains, buses, trams and boats rather than the management of the whole city. That’s not to say that the maps are lacking in detail: each citizen can be tracked to their place of work and accommodation and cities feel much larger and more organic than in the first game, having been liberated from a grid-based structure.
Some character, however, has been lost. The cities are now generic New York-style concrete canyons rather than being based on real places like Amsterdam or Vienna and the only time period is the present day, as opposed to the 1920-2020 time span of Cities in Motion.
It’s tempting to look at this lack of variety as a backwards step, but as you play it becomes clear that the development of this sequel has been about overhauling the mechanics rather than applying polish. A new day/night cycle and the introduction of detailed timetable planning challenges you to maximise rush hour profits without burning money on pointless 4AM services that don’t go past nightclubs. It looks good too – watching the city light up when the sun sets is surprisingly pleasing.
Perhaps the biggest touted improvement, though, is that the cities will grow dynamically. If you build affordable transportation, middle class homes and businesses might pop up, and snazzier services will bring about more affluent construction. It’s a tantalising feature with the potential to make a sandbox game much more involving.
Delays on the Central Line
However, there’s a reason why that last paragraph reads more like a preview than an actual judgement. I’ve no idea whether the dynamic growth really exists, because Cities in Motion 2 is grindingly slow. The fact that passengers don’t swarm to new lines, instead taking their time to adapt to new transport, isn’t the problem – that actually underlines how dedicated the game is to complex simulation, rather than easy money-making.
The problem is with the passage of time itself. Even on super fast-forward life in the city trundles by, with a single day still taking quite some time to pass. In a game where a day/night cycle was something simply aesthetic, this wouldn’t matter, but rush hour revenue is so vital to Cities in Motion 2 that the slow pace denies you from learning whether your lines are going to be successful or not unless you’re willing to go and do something else for a while. Even if your lines are raking in the cash, it’ll be a long time before your bank balance is sufficiently replenished to allow you to expand your business empire, unless you get in debt with the banks.
Trial and error gameplay can be enjoyable; in many other games I hugely enjoy grappling with the mechanics, dragging myself into a fail state and having to start the challenge again. In the excellent Crusader Kings 2, for example, whilst learning the game, I could declare war with impunity, safe in the knowledge that once my backside was handed to me on a plate ten minutes later, I could reload and try a new strategy. Developer Colossal Order needlessly lengthens a similar learning process in Cities in Motion 2 simply by having the time pass too slowly.
Engineering Works Required
If this was the game’s only issue I might be willing to wrestle with it for longer, but more fundamental problems prove damaging. The UI is messy and the lack of feedback makes me long for Transport Tycoon-style ‘ker-ching’ sound effects and floating profit numbers above vehicles. A key pillar of the game, the seven social groups – blue-collar, pensioners and so on – seems to dominate to excess, with money to be made shipping people to work and back, but city centre lines lying empty.
Then there’s construction. Building bus services is easy enough, but adding tram lines or wires to the road network is a fuss, requiring you to join each individual line together at every intersection. Worst of the lot are train services, as building underground is a nightmare: you can set the depth of the track at varying degrees, potentially allowing for layer upon layer of tunnels, but the concept is wrecked by awkward controls and a camera that can only has two settings, above ground and below.
All of these issues come together to give the impression of a game overextending itself. Cities in Motion came away with a tidy score when we reviewed it and it’s still arguably a better game than its sequel. There’s plenty to commend Colossal Order for in Cities in Motion 2, and it’s good to see a studio willing to take risks, not with features at the periphery but with the core game itself, but they just haven’t pulled it off. Once the bugs are fixed, this will be an interesting game to play, but whether it’ll be a satisfying one is much more doubtful.