Cities in Motion is a game in the mold of Railroad Tycoon, but with an urban setting. Four European city maps are provided with the game -- Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, and Helsinki (the developers are Finnish), along with a map design tool, so one presumes other cities will become available over time. You represent a private transit monopoly, apparently, since profit is the goal but there's no competition.
You may build five sorts of transit routes: buses, trams, subways (metros), ferries (water buses) and, oddly, helicopters. Thirty vehicles historically used in European cities are modelled, each with its own game stats. Bus routes are the easiest and cheapest to build; you simply place bus stops, link them together in a route, and purchase some buses to serve them. Trams require you to lay rail at street level first; and metros can be built at grade, underground, or as elevated lines.
As is typical in a sim/tycoon game, the map is alive with people -- pedestrians, people in cars and other vehicles, etc. -- and you may click on any to find out where they are going, what social class they belong to, and how they feel about your transit services. In other words, there's a complicated engine below the surface, chundering away as it manages the paths taken by thousands of individual people.
Buildings are in 3D, and the view may be easily rotated with the arrow keys (essential for track laying to prevent buildings from obscuring what you're doing). The graphics are very nice, in a subdued, urban sort of way, and city architecture evolves over time; the earliest scenario begins in the 1920s, and you can play up through the current era. At maximum zoom-in, the view is an engaging, even beautiful view of an urban setting, but you will most often be at maximum zoom-out, when it transforms to an overhead view, in order to be able to see as much of what's going on as possible.
While a tutorial teaches you the essentials quickly, this is far from an easy game to play. Even at 'easy' setting, it is quite difficult to achieve profitability, which is essential for survival beyond a few years. This is, indeed, a flaw; the game would work better if early scenarios were simple, and later ones tougher.
One reason for its toughness is that your buses and trams often get stuck in traffic, since they have to share the roads with the game's algorithmically moving motor vehicles. Even if you ensure that a line has sufficient equipment to serve the customers waiting at stops adequately, you often find that traffic is bunching up your vehicles and turning what ought to be a reasonable route into a bottleneck with many angry customers. It's essential to route trams, whenever possible, across parks and pedestrian plazas, avoiding the streets (and particularly avoiding tram stops in the streets at high-volume locations, such as the railroad station). Even so, you will likely fail many times before you are familiar enough with the problems of the system to achieve consistent profitability.
Games of this type appeal for two reasons: First is the appeal to the "model railroader" mentality. It's cool to build and operate a transport system, even with no real game attached. (Indeed, I wish 'easy' were easier, so you could simply play the game as a trainset and not worry too much about its other aspects.) But they're also interesting as business sims, in which you grapple with difficult problems in order to achieve and sustain profitability.
Cities in Motion is, despite its harsh learning curve, quite nice on both scores, and definitely worth checking out. I should note, though, that it does have (infrequent) crash bugs, and no autosave, so you do need to train yourself to save frequently.
One disappointment is the paucity of content; while the "campaign game" has twelve scenarios, they are unlocked only in order, and there is only one campaign. Each of the four cities can be played in 'sandbox' mode, but this is not recommended for early players, because it's hard to know what to do without the 'missions' provided in the campaign game. And, of course, four cities seems like a bare minimum; the lack of US cities is particularly unfortunate, although, to be sure, games of this type tend to sell better in Europe. It's also true that, outside the Northeast (plus San Francisco), few US cities have the density of European ones, and would be harder to model in Cities in Motion.
The cities themselves are representational rather than realistic; the layout, in terms of rivers and harbors, corresponds to reality, but do not expect an urban model that corresponds to the real world -- you won't find your hotel in Amsterdam here, and you'll search Berlin in vain for the Reichstag. But this seems a necessary simplification to make the game achievable.
While this is definitely a game I'll play again, it unfortunately does not satisfy the core fantasy with which I approached it. I have an interest in transport policy (one of the blogs I follow is StreetsBlog), and what I really wanted was less a sim/tycoon style game than a game of integrated urban transport and street design. That is, transport improvements are not simply layered atop an existing streetscape; they mold and reshape it. Trams sometimes share the street, and sometimes a lane is dedicated to them; bike lines are often used to tame traffic as much as to supplant it; the extent of transit availability affects the volume of car traffic; and so on. There's a lot I'd like to see that isn't here -- bike lanes, bus transit with dedicated lanes, curb cuts for bus stops, light rail as well as tramways, and so on. In other words, what I really want is a game that lets me be an urban transit planner at a deeper level -- and perhaps one that can let me take a nightmare city like LA or Atlanta and try to bring it into the post-peak oil world.
Still, it's somewhat unfair to judge a game by what it is not, and what Cities in Motion is, is a well executed urban transit sim/tycoon game, with nicely modelled vehicled and cityscapes, and pretty engaging, if tough, gameplay.