I would have run the suggestion right off the road during the first SimCity 4 brainstorming session. There’s no way for you to convince me that marketing an expansion pack centered on traffic flow (of all things) would add up to anything more than a laughable proposition.
Of course, come employee evaluation time in the Maxis offices, I would have been passed up for promotion and duly sent out on a coffee run during the next meeting. Why? Because the idea worked. The Rush Hour team (not to be confused with Jackie Chan and Chris Rock) took a decidedly tedious aspect of SimCity and made it more accessible and, more importantly, more fun. Essentially providing two expansion packs in one, the game comes equipped with a fresh catalog of transportation and building options, and new U-Drive-ItTM scenarios.
Within SimCity, transportation networking had proven itself to be an enigmatic process. Beyond the somewhat dull cross-hatching of streets and country roads, I’d always found myself at a loss when trying to implement the myriad of other transit possibilities. I build bus stations: no one rides them. I build train stations: no one rides those either. I build subways and can’t even come up with a decent sandwich joke. But Rush Hour offers a quick and painless tutorial extension that ties in with a valuably hint-laced manual. There are three difficulty settings that will have your city either burgeoning with ready cash flow and rapid construction, or pushing your blood pressure toward redline.
Our favorite Maxis employees demonstrate the new traffic grid.
The perplexing world of mass transit can finally be grasped due in large part to a new Route Query tool. Click on a building and you’ll see the routes taken to and from that location. Click on any transportation network and you’ll see a rainbow of arrows indicating where, how, and even when your Sims go. Yes, the volume of traffic increases during rush hour. Even to the point where vehicle accidents become a serious problem if road congestion isn’t cleared up. The sign tool makes a welcome comeback from previous SimCity versions, along with an attractive map-labeling tool that would make Rand McNally proud.
Rush Hour introduces lovely four-lane avenues, and ground-level highways and t-intersections for your interstate-making pleasure. Ever experience the gut-wrenching realization you’ve taken a wrong turn down a one-way street? Recreate that feeling for your Sims by outlining one-way roads through particularly dense sections of town. Or if you’re short on cash but willing to lengthen commute times, throw in a toll booth for good measure. For the conductor at heart, they’ve added a grand railroad station, high speed monorails, and elevated railways. You can now head the design team for the next bridge to be built, or you can skimp on costs and establish a ferry system for passengers and vehicles. Leaning completely towards aesthetics, your mayoral powers now allow you to steer the architectural design of your city: Chicago circa 1890, New York 1940s, Houston in the ‘90s, or Euro Contemporary.And what SimCity would be complete without a lesson in anger management? Take the aptly named Autosaurus Wrecks out for a leisurely stroll through the town and see the sites. Do you think the movie Independence Day is overdue for a sequel? Call in an alien mothership that would send Will Smith running back to the safety of a fizzled rap career.
The action in Rush Hour plays out during the U-Drive-ItTM scenarios. If you’re no longer content to delegate from behind a desk then you can strap into the driver’s seat of 80+ missions that take you down to street-level. This is where we leave the simulation purists behind. Completing missions is now prerequisite for unlocking several newly introduced structures (like the Grand Railroad Station or the Space Port) but also for some more commonplace buildings (such as City Hall or a cemetery). For those with admittedly low hand-eye coordination, this will establish a seemingly needless barrier in fulfilling your city-building strategies. If you appreciate and comply with the change of gameplay, new popularity and money-making methods are at your disposal. Virtually every mission comes with two options: take the good guy route to have your mayor approval ratings boost and possibly unlock a new building; take the bad guy route (sponsored by the insidious Dr. Vu) and you’re given the opportunity to fatten the city’s treasury—if you don’t mind your inevitable drop in the public opinion polls. Of course, failing a mission will apply minuses to your popularity and/or cash account.
Taking on a mission let’s you truly appreciate (or wholly despise) the efforts you’ve placed into your transportation networking. While entertaining at first, this entire mode of gameplay is fairly awkward. Cars appear and disappear in front, behind, or on top of you. Navigating between tall structures removes the actual street from your line of sight, but has your vehicle coast along a superimposed route overtop all the buildings—which is in addition to the frame rate growing choppy at times. Since the missions zoom you all the way in, I hope you’ve taken time to fix the innumerable dead-ends that the auto road-building function creates. With a mini-onscreen map that is too small to be useful, you could find yourself running out of road quickly.
There are worthy additions to the building line up for your city, not just your transportation network. It is also fair to note that Rush Hour goes above and beyond the call of duty for a standard expansion pack by providing an entirely new gaming avenue. Unfortunately, the U-Drive-ItTM scenarios fall prey to a somewhat clumsy format. For those willing to get more interactive, that fact won’t deter this expansion’s attractiveness. But for the simulation purists, I recommend you steer clear from that section of Rush Hour.