SimCity 4: Rush Hour Updated Impressions

We get another look at the expansion pack for SimCity 4 at Camp EA.

It's only been a couple of months since we last saw SimCity 4: Rush Hour, but it's clear that the developers at Maxis have been hard at work adding new features to the game since E3. At yesterday's Camp EA event, Maxis representatives showed off a number of new transportation types, including ground-level highways, elevated rail, and a monorail. Ground-level highways allow you to have high-speed roadways that are cheaper and don't elevate off the ground, which is useful for connecting areas separated by large expanses of empty land. The elevated rail stations don't interfere with street-level traffic and can connect to subways, mimicking many real-world light-rail systems such as the Bay Area's BART system. The monorail is another type of elevated rail that includes trains that are much faster than those running on standard elevated rail.

Rush Hour also features a few different options for getting your commuters across water. At E3, we saw ferry buildings that could transport cars and people across bodies of water. Yesterday at Camp EA we learned that Maxis has added a second type of ferry that is cheaper but only transports passengers. We also saw several types of new bridges that covered almost every architectural style you could think of. Cantilever, suspension, stone arch, steel arch, and cable stayed are just a few of the many choices you'll have when erecting a bridge.

The new vehicle control system introduced in the E3 build of Rush Hour has been expanded. There will be 50 to 70 possible vehicle-control missions in Rush Hour, with many of the vehicles having special functions. The police car, for example, has a siren that will actually cause surrounding cars to pull off to the side and clear the road for you. You'll also be able to control a fire department aircraft that can dump water on fires to douse flames. Build an army base and you'll have access to a tank that can drive off-road (only certain types of vehicles have this capability), turn its turret, and fire its cannon. You'll even get to fly an attack helicopter that shoots missiles.

Special train missions have also been included that allow you to drive any of your city's light-rail trains. Many of these will be timed missions where you must attempt to navigate the city. You'll be able to easily control track switches simply by clicking on them, as well as control the speed of your train. If you start going too fast, you'll see your train cars start to wobble--ignore the danger signs of excessive speed, and you run the risk of derailing the train. Other types of dangers have been simulated in Rush Hour, such as traffic accidents. In areas of high congestion, you'll likely have to deal with random car crashes and pileups that can block key traffic arteries in your city.

Additionally, Rush Hour will give players more options and flexibility with the My Sim feature included in the original SimCity 4. Now you'll be able to choose the type of car your sims use, based on their income level. Poor sims can buy only economy cars, while rich sims can choose from swanky luxury automobiles or sports cars. If your sim is a pedestrian commuter, you still have a few options, including inline skates or skateboards. You can also select which part of your city your sims will live in and where they work. Getting feedback from your sims is also easier in Rush Hour. Whereas SimCity 4 forced you to open up the My Sim interface to read their thoughts, your sims will now throw out thought bubbles that are visible in the map screen. These thought bubbles feature color-coded symbols (red for bad, green for good) that let you know at a glance what your sims think of the areas they live and work in.

Finally, Maxis has responded to requests from fans of SimCity 4 and added larger versions of civic buildings. Instead of having to build multiple iterations of police departments, schools, and water pumps to service areas of high density, Rush Hour will allow you to build one or two large versions of these structures to service your sims.

With all the new features planned, fans of the original SimCity 4 should be looking forward to the upcoming expansion pack. Those who prefer a more hands-on approach to managing their city will most likely enjoy the vehicle control missions, while players who manage cities with lots of waterways will certainly appreciate the new ferry and bridge options. SimCity 4: Rush Hour is slated for release this fall.

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