Facebook is taking over the world of casual citybuilding and transport games. Cities in Motion isn't the saviour of the genre, but it will stave off the Farmville plague for a while.
You take charge of transport in a major European city – like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, except you're restricted to playing about with buses, digging tunnels and staring at graphs rather than revolutionising bridge-building with an amazing beard. You place route-stops then create routes for five types of vehicle – buses, trams, metros, ferries and helicopters – which you then buy.
Sadly the city maps are static, only changing layout depending on the era and city you're playing in. There are four – Amsterdam, Vienna, Berlin and Helsinki – which you explore over four eras, ranging from the 1920s to the 2020s. There's a campaign mode that takes you across those maps through the 20th century and a variety of simple scenarios. Colossal have really captured the style of central European cities and it's definitely thematically consistent and a welcome change from Sim City or Cities XL. The Euro jazz-techno music, the detailed city life, the frankly amazing traffic system, and the amount of data squirrelled away, remind you that someone has lavished love on this.
But there are large problems for potential urban planners: even on the easiest difficulty, it's tough to avoid being bankrupted when you make changes to your layout. You're losing money on a route because the buses are unreliable or petrol prices are high. If you pause, you can work out the problems from the endless graphs, charts and data; but solving them can be pricey. Replacing buses is expensive, upping their maintenance is expensive, but cancelling the route means you lose your investment and annoy customers. You might wait until the economy picks back up, so you can crank up your ticket prices and the newer bus models are cheaper, or shift your route to go through an area with a different social stratum. Tire of this long-winded nanomanagement though, as I did, and you'll go bust – and also find yourself without much to do.
Moreover, the most expensive transports, the city railways, are a nightmare if you vary from a simple underground route. In several games I ran up a huge debt (you can take a limited number of loans out) by endlessly rebuilding an elevated railway in vain attempts to connect to an underground station, while the rest of my transport empire went to pot. There's a disconnect between the information supplied, mainly demographic data, and the information you need, such as the projected costs and profits from a given route, which makes routeplanning a complete gamble.
And while Cities in Motion is financially tough, you don't want the challenge to be merely budgeting; Transport Tycoon had AI players that added welcome variety, competing with you for routes and rewards. That sense of competition is necessary, otherwise you might just stop and rake in the cash from your monopoly and build no more, like you can here. The scripted quests are well-written, but the fixed map incentives don't work as well as, say, random new factories in unlikely locations would.
It's attractive and robust, but the limited variety of maps, transport methods and the need to concentrate on tiny details means I won't be making a return journey.
A transitory pleasure that polishes up nice. But it lacks variety and competition, and is just a little bit too difficult.