Maxis' latest SimCity game was released at the beginning of this year, and, like its predecessors, it lets you play as the virtual mayor of a town full of sims--the same gibberish-talking computerized people that star in Maxis' other popular series, The Sims. SimCity 4 featured a powerful new graphics engine and a host of new city management features. The upcoming expansion pack, SimCity 4: Rush Hour, will add even more elements, including the one requested most by the series' fans: enhanced transportation. The expansion's "U-Drive-It!" mode will let you take control of more than 30 different land, sea, and air vehicles. You can use them to take on more than 80 different missions, including "good" missions that can earn you a higher mayor rating and "evil" missions that can help you earn some quick cash...at the expense of some popular support.
Rush Hour will have many different vehicles that you'll be able to unlock after constructing various types of new buildings in your city, and, interestingly, by successfully performing vehicular missions you can also unlock higher-level buildings that add to your mayoral rating. Each vehicle will have at least one special ability. For instance, if you neglect to maintain your city, you can use the mayor's limousine, a handsome luxury sedan, to disperse the crowds of angry sims by tossing piles of money at them as you drive past. You can use an ice cream truck to gather the children of SimCity around you and make them all happier, or you can take control of a skywriter plane to compose a pattern in the sky for a commission fee. If you're not feeling especially generous, you can also visit Area 5.1, one of the expansion pack's new prestige buildings and home to the insidious Dr. Vu--a misanthropic evil genius who pays you lots of money to wreak a little havoc on your own city. The doctor may hire you to drive a tank off-road, and then he may ask you to use the tank's rotating turret to blast a building to smithereens. He may hire you to fly a UFO into the middle of town so you can abduct sims (and their cars) with a tractor beam. Dr.Vu may ask you to go on a bombing run with a military helicopter, or he may even ask you to use his most diabolical creation yet--a robotic whale that launches rockets from its blowhole. Interestingly, Rush Hour will feature an enhanced physics model, partially gleaned from Maxis' previous game, SimCopter. You can expect vehicles to handle realistically, though they'll still be easy to control. Although Rush Hour's vehicles can sustain damage--up to the point of bursting into flames, no sim will ever die from a car crash or similar vehicular disaster.
In addition to letting you control individual vehicles, Rush Hour will also let you keep better track of the flow of traffic in your city with a new traffic volume map (an enhanced version of the congestion map in the original game) that shows all traffic volumes and types, for both day and evening traffic. You'll also be able to diagnose traffic problems more quickly by simply mousing over a specific road, which will show a route query complete with how many commuters use that road and by what means. You'll also be able to shunt traffic away from congested areas by implementing new one-way roads and faster-moving off-highway avenues for city commuters. And as far as travel on the outskirts of the city goes, you'll have an easier time of laying highway, as the expansion lets you place offramps before building the actual highways. The original game let you direct freeway traffic by using four-way clover-leaf intersections, and, in Rush Hour, you'll also be able to use T-intersections as well as ground-level highways to move your motorists.
For those motorists who don't want to travel by car, Rush Hour will provide alternate transportation in the form of passenger ferries that provide slower, low-capacity transport at a much cheaper municipal price. You'll also be able to build a network of trains using the expansion's new monorail engines. You can run these trains across Rush Hour's new elevated train tracks, which can be built over freeways and do not interfere with regular traffic. You can even build parking structures and shuttle buses near your train stations to create your own miniature public transit system. However, since the expansion lets you add tracks and lets you redirect trains at junctions with a single click, Maxis expects that some players may use the new train options (and SimCity 4's powerful 3D terrain editor) to turn the game into nothing more than a glorified train set--if they so choose. In fact, the developers at Maxis fully expect SimCity fans to make use of Rush Hour's many different building options--which will include larger versions of civic buildings and a brand-new Euro-contemporary architectural style--to essentially create many different "games within the game." One such "game" that has been popular throughout the life of the SimCity series is building up a bustling city only to raze it by unleashing a terrifying disaster upon it. Rush Hour will feature all-new disasters for this purpose, including the colossal Autosaurus Wrecks, a dinosaur-like robot composed of wrecked cars that could very well have escaped from a monster truck rally.
It's clear that Rush Hour will make many additions to and improvements on the original game, and, thankfully, SimCity fans won't have long to wait for the expansion, since it's scheduled for release later this month.