SimCity 4: Rush Hour Impressions

The first expansion pack for SimCity 4 adds a ton of new features.

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No, the latest expansion pack for EA's SimCity 4 won't include Jackie Chan or Chris Tucker. What it does is add a ton of new features to the original game that focus on the transportation infrastructure of your cities. We got a hands-on look at Rush Hour at E3 2003.

The first feature demonstrated to us allows you to control cars and other vehicles on the streets. The driving abilities are tied into little missions that you can accept. For example, a dialogue box may pop up telling you about a carjacker trying to escape the city. You can hop into a police cruiser and use the arrow keys to steer your car through traffic and even off-road to try and catch the suspect before he leaves city limits. If you're successful in the chase (the mechanics of which are not unlike the original Grand Theft Auto), you'll reduce the crime quotient in your city by a bit, increase your mayoral rating, and get a reward of a deluxe police station. The new building includes an attached helipad with a flyable helicopter that may be used in similar missions. The helicopter even has a little searchlight that you can switch on and off.

You can also take on criminal missions that will reduce your mayoral rating. One example demonstrated to us put you in control of a getaway car trying to leave the scene of a bank robbery. Escape the city limits safely and you'll get a nice kickback of cash, at the expense of your mayoral rating.

The use of sims has also been bolstered in Rush Hour. Like in the original game, they'll still give you feedback on the living conditions in the area of the city they live in, but the expansion pack lets you dispatch your sims to other areas of the city and ask for their feedback.

Maxis has added a query feature in Rush Hour. Using this tool, you can point at any building and get information on the number of commuters going to or from the particular structure, and you can also query roads to get an idea of traffic volume and direction, which is useful for helping you plan out new roads or infrastructure projects. Speaking of infrastructure, another feature we saw was a new meta map that gives you an overview of the landmass you're working with and all the cities on it. On this map, you'll see how each of your cities is connected by rail or highway, as well as the positions of each of your airports and seaports.

No SimCity expansion pack is complete without new buildings. Rush Hour includes new bridges with a few different architectural styles. For more cost-conscious mayors, you will be able to add ferry buildings that let your commuters get over bodies of water at a much lower initial cost than constructing a bridge. Fans of mass transit will get elevated railways that you can build over existing roads without having to tear them up. You'll also get other high-level structures in Rush Hour, like a space shuttle launchpad that provides a lot of high-tech jobs, but causes a great deal of pollution. Building style control has also been added in Rush Hour. The original SimCity 4 included three different building styles that cycled with time--1890s Chicago, 1940s New York, and 1990s Houston. Rush Hour adds a fourth style, European contemporary, and lets you choose which styles are in the cycle. You can even control how many years you want to elapse before your city undergoes a style change.

Finally, some new disasters have been added to SimCity 4. The one demonstrated to us was a UFO attack, and it proceeded with a huge flying saucer hovering over the city, casting a large shadow over dozens of city blocks. The saucer started by firing a suction ray, which pulled dozens of cars up off the road and into the saucer. The alien ship then fired an Independence Day-style beam at the ground, demolishing a couple of city blocks. Then, the large UFO unleashed a few smaller UFOs that fired thin red lasers at random buildings to vaporize them.

Fans of SimCity 4 have a lot to look forward to in Rush Hour, and those who missed out on the initial release of the game may find themselves motivated to buy both SimCity 4 and the expansion pack to try out all the great features. We'll have more information on SimCity 4: Rush Hour as it becomes available.

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