Managing mass transit in a metropolis might not sound like a lot of fun in the real world, but Cities in Motion manages to make a virtual take on this ostensibly grueling task enjoyable. Developer Colossal Order has taken the SimCity theme and stripped out everything but the transit system, placing you in charge of making sure that Joe Commuter can get from home to work and back again. Outstanding attention to detail and cities with realistic traffic flows make the game an enjoyable if somewhat repetitious challenge.
Making commuters happy is not an easy task, though at least these angry folks don't riot and torch buildings.
Running the transit systems of four major European burgs from the beginning of the modern transportation era in 1920 through 2020 is the heart of Cities in Motion. So you get to shuffle commuters around in Berlin, Helsinki, Vienna, and Amsterdam via air, land, and water. Technology moves forward with the decades, so you gain access to bigger buses, better subway cars, and helicopter taxis as the years go by. A sandbox mode is also featured, along with an interactive tutorial that does a good job of walking you through the basics of gameplay. There is no multiplayer, although a map editor is on offer to provide added replay value for DIYers.
The presentation is simple and straightforward. Gameplay is totally focused on transit, so all you need to worry about is setting up profitable routes. There are no greater municipal concerns to get in between you and the roads, aside from some minor frills like being able to take out loans and run ad campaigns trumpeting your services. City maps are attractive but are lacking in atmosphere and are somewhat utilitarian, presumably to best show off the game's focus on roadways. The layout is a touch like a planning map, with all streets neatly squared off. The complete absence of weather effects and a day-night cycle adds to the sterile backdrop; the sun is always shining and birds are cheerily chirping away behind the honks of cars and the Simlish-styled grunts of pedestrians. It's all a touch eerie, mainly since you don't expect old European towns like Amsterdam and Berlin to look so clean and untouched.
The interface laid over top of these cities is very good, however. Transit lines are denoted in different colors, and various overlays and graphs can be called up to reveal detailed information, such as commuter satisfaction, wait times, profitability, the price of fuel, and so forth. There is micromanagement involved, although the interface lets you cut through most of it. The nitty-gritty involves going through the steps required to set up routes for your five forms of transit. Nothing is particularly soul-crushing, although the repetition gets stale after a while because you're basically doing the same thing when laying out routes whether you're running bus lines, drilling subway tunnels, or laying down tram tracks. You choose a route, plop down bus stops, tram stops, subway stations, and the like, and then go over everything again, ordering your drivers where to stop to pick up passengers. Finally, you close off the route loop, buy the vehicles needed, and then hit the streets in search of making a few bucks. Profit and happy people come next, if you've done things correctly.
You don't see Helsinki represented too often in city-building games. Makes a nice change from usual suspects like London and Paris.