Though Maxis' post-release support for Sim City 4 was initially poor (the promised multiplayer facility took months to appear), the game was eventually patched with bug fixes, performance improvements and features that would have been nice out of the box. But is Rush Hour, potentially the first in a line of SC4 expansions, enough of a game out of the box, a glorified patch, or just an excuse for EA to print some more shiny DVD covers and banknotes?
RRljkgjcg welcomes you
Truth be told, none of that mattered to me at first. I was just glad to be given another chance to sit down and spend some more time with one of my favourite games of the year, although I was a little cautious dusting off my mayoral robes, worried that I'd left the burgeoning community of RRljkgjcg [he wears his creativity on his sleeve, this one -Ed] in something of a state.
Fortunately I hadn't, and things seemed to be doing all right. The town was young and ripe for expansion all along its glorious coastline foothold. I was welcomed back, and my mayoral control panel was just as I remembered it; all the familiar knobs and dials seemed to be in place, the charts and graphs dotted about ready to let me know who needed what, and my advisors perched in their boxes, ready to chirp up whenever I wasn't paying attention. So far, everything seemed comfortably familiar.
However, investigating the interface a little further revealed a few new surprises. First, there's a button tucked away conveniently offering me instant feedback on current affairs from the citizens themselves. Another displays a handy overlay detailing the common traffic routes of individual households, or the origin of traffic on particular roads. Very nifty, and certainly a massive boon to the planning of future road improvements, particularly these new-fangled one-way streets, double-wide avenues and enormous ground-based freeways we now have at our disposal to cut down on congestion.
Thankfully, and as we all should know, the solution to congestion issues does not always mean more expensive laying of tarmac. Rush Hour offers the opportunity to create a fancy elevated rail transport system, too, which can be seamlessly integrated into any existing subway network via a transitional track piece. If you'd like to keep it completely overground, then you can go all Disneyworld on your city and build a monorail system to get your commuters to work.
You can even leave dry land completely and build ferry terminals to ship your workers to and fro between islands and other cities. The combination of the route query tool and the vastly expanded, more creative transport options really does open up the possibility for larger and more spacious cities, as well as connectivity with others.
The seamlessness with which the new transport additions have been integrated make the Rush Hour installation feel less of an expansion and more of a natural progression. Once you're used to the few interface changes and how they work, you don't even notice Rush Hour is there, perhaps even missing out on some of the lesser additions, like the new modern European building set - you'll just start loving the whole Sim City 4 experience all over again.
In the driving seat
There is one major alteration that Rush Hour brings that stands out on the landscape, however. The U-Drive-It!(�) feature allows players to clamber into a wide variety of vehicles at will and take a trip around the city, either at leisure or to fulfil a mission briefing. Never did I imagine that Maxis would incorporate an arcade action title into Sim City, but here it is in a sort of simplified, isometric version of the original Grand Theft Auto [if only Rockstar North and Maxis could have little Sim GTA babies, eh? -Ed].
The feature works by indicating which vehicles currently driving about the city have a mission for you. When you click the appropriate icon, you get a brief outline of the task and its rewards. Should you click on a police car, for example, the mission might be to pursue and catch a carjacker and gain a healthy boost in your mayor rating for your efforts. You may well be offered an alternative though, like assuming the role of the carjacker and escaping across the border with some cash. This would obviously result in some damage to your mayoral rating, but you'd end up with a tidy sum of money to compensate. Mmm, dark side points.
Rewards are not always monetary either. Completing many missions will unlock new buildings, some with extra vehicles to play with. Completing a certain number of ambulance missions, for example, can unlock the deluxe medical centre with a helipad, which in turn enables you to take the helicopter for a spin and unlock even more vehicles, and so on.
Breaking the Speed Limit
The vehicles are simple to control, using WSAD for directional movement and additional controls depending on the vehicle and its special features, like the sirens on a police car or the water cannon on a fire engine. Amongst the missions, particular favourites included a military themed one in which you have to pilot a missile-laden helicopter and destroy the nefarious Dr. Vu's secret lair (and half the city with it).
U-Drive-It is a feature that serves as a neat little diversion to all the serious municipal management, but one that dishes out real rewards and is a valuable asset to boosting the coffers or getting the people back on your side in dark times. The only issue I had was that the fast pace of most of the missions doesn't quite suit the sluggishness that the Sim City 4 engine is famous for, but it's something I got past pretty quickly.
So, less of an expansion, then, and more of a natural development of the game. At times, yes, it does feel as though most of this stuff should be available on the website along with the rest of the free extras, but the impact the pack has on your creations can't be ignored and, for the Sim City obsessed, they're actually quite essential. U-Drive-It is the only bold move to distinguish the pack from the original title, sadly, but is entertaining enough to prop up some of the lesser additions.
An Expansive Dilemma
After an agonising period of deliberation, my mayoral instincts have led me to conclude that Rush Hour is "one for fans". At Ł20, it's not tremendous value for money (especially as the yanks get it for $10 thanks to a cheeky EA rebate deal), but if you're a dedicated city planner like me, then you'd be foolish not to consider it.