Developer: Colossal Order
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Category: Business simulation
How many times have you taken a bus or the subway to work? For those of us with the daily commute, that number is probably higher than we’d even want to count. But how often have you thought about the kind of time and dedication it takes to establish and maintain a public transportation system, and keep everything running smoothly on the most highly-optimized schedule? I had never considered this before, and after playing Colossal Order’s Cities in Motion 2, I’m not sure I really ever want to consider it again. A direct sequel to 2011’s Cities in Motion, Cities in Motion 2 lets us assume the role of a public transport coordinator once again, but now with better graphics and a few new shiny features thrown in. The game is a fairly solid effort, but then again, creating bus stops and organizing a public transit schedule seems like one of the most tedious and confusing jobs I can possibly imagine: so why would a game that simulates it be any different?
Cities in Motion 2 features an impressive scale and depth, with simple controls that really make you feel like you’re always in charge of the camera. You can zoom in close enough to see the citizens of your city make their daily commute to work, and zoom out far enough to see the molten lava underneath the different layers of the earth. Of course, the closer you position your camera to the city streets, the faster the game loses its graphical shine, as you begin to take notice of all the design flaws or programming shortcuts. Citizens will walk in fixed paths with clunky animations, and more often than not pass directly through each other, as if the city has no boundaries to one’s own physicality.
This is even more noticeable for the unpopulated areas surrounding your cities, which are usually more sizeable than the cities themselves, and the most visually uninteresting parts of the game. While each city is full of skyscrapers, Malmarts, baseball stadiums and basketball courts, the surrounding openness beyond the city limits are as barren as can be, with the same exact blurry pine tree duplicated over and over again. There’s also little sense of elevation here, as almost everything appears on a single flat plane. One thing I didn’t quite understand is why the developers made each map so sprawling beyond the featured cities and residential areas, if they didn’t have the imagination or commitment to fill it in with interesting details and landmarks.
Like its predecessor, Cities in Motion 2 tasks you with creating a more efficient system of public transportation for your city, and making sure that everything runs like clockwork. You accomplish this goal by building bus depots, creating new lines through placing bus stops all around the city, and establishing a timetable to keep the transportation running smoothly. In addition to buses, the game’s construction menu offers a nice variety of other transportation assets for you to consider, from all sorts of expressways and toll roads, to trolleys, metro, and waterbus schedules. Unfortunately, the diversity of things you can build is not enough to save Cities in Motion 2 from its most glaring weakness: the game is just boring, and lacks any sort of personality.
The 18-step tutorial is densely presented, and made me feel more like I was taking an exam, or trapped in the middle of a confusing assignment at work, rather than learning how to play a fun new simulation game. Each step of the tutorial is presented in a big block of text that describes multiple actions for you to perform, so I had to carefully read each one line by line, as if unraveling a multi-layered word problem in math class. Cities in Motion 2 might be a complicated game to get into, but I think there is a clear difference between a complicated concept and a user-unfriendly interface. Maybe the tutorial would not have been so bad if the game utilized some voiceover work to make the player actions more engaging, but the text is so dry at every turn, that it could just as easily have been written inside the instruction manual for the new toaster I bought. The lack of personality is a reoccurring theme throughout the campaign, and the different citizens who give you objectives to complete all speak in the same monotonous and instructional tone.
Speaking of sound, Cities in Motion 2 lacks plenty of it, and any city ambiance effects that might have been included are all but drowned out by an unnerving synth-pop track that seems to be stuck on repeat, and gets incredibly droning after only a few minutes of playing. Of course, that’s not to say the game is completely void of any interesting or worthwhile features. Players will have an opportunity to morph and shape their city at every turn, by either bulldozing specific buildings for a minor fee, or automatically adjusting the city’s layout just from building new roads. One of my favorite parts about the sequel is the nifty map data view mode, which highlights your entire city in bright neon colors to let you analyze different data points like buildings, traffic and transportation coverage. However, each one of these actions requires a new control box to pop up on your screen, and if you aren’t always on top of managing these menus, your interface can quickly become cluttered in all sorts of charts, graphs and timetable points.
In addition to the main campaign mode, Cities in Motion 2 also features a more traditional sandbox mode, which throws you in the middle of a bustling city with a cool $1 million to get those people moving. Personally, I would recommend playing sandbox mode over the main campaign, because at least sandbox mode doesn’t force you to slough through a tutorial, and the overall leash is held a little looser. All in all, Cities in Motion 2 boasts six different cities for you to improve, including the smaller “Tutorial Island,” but if you’re ever growing weary of these districts, you can always hop on the map editor and create some custom cities of your own completely from scratch.
The map editor can be a little overwhelming at first, as the sheer size of your blank canvas and the hundreds of objects you can put into it are very intimidating for new users. But the editor is actually pretty simple to use, and with a ton of city-building options, if you spend enough time on it, you could build massive metropolises that rival those of the actual game. Also new to the franchise in Cities in Motion 2 are a number of competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, which lets players work alone or in teams to meet various city-building objects. The multiplayer is about what you would expect from a game of this nature, and while it’s not strikingly different from the single-player game modes, it does make a good excuse to boost that replay value.
In the end, while Cities in Motion 2 is a middling game by definition; the whole experience leaves a lot to be desired. If you put in the time and dedication to learning all the ins and outs of establishing and managing a bus depot or a trolley service, then you might be rewarded in the long run; but even then, there are still large portions of the game that just seem kind of pointless, and the lack of any clearly defined long-term goals to work towards quickly shatters any motivation for the player to WANT to learn all of these complex and intricate concepts in the first place. For a game that is all about motion, Cities in Motion 2 crawls along at a sluggish pace, where the slow and monotonous gameplay is only second to a severe lack of personality. If you enjoyed the first Cities in Motion game, then you can expect to find more of the same in this second installment. But for newcomers to the series, there is very little to argue in choosing Cities in Motion 2 over any other number of city-building and time management games.
Story – 4/10
Graphics – 7/10
Gameplay – 5/10
Music – 3/10
Multiplayer – 7/10
Replayability – 7/10