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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Simulation    Expansion For: SimCity 4
Min OS X: 10.2.8    CPU: G4 @ 700 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 2000 MB    8x CD-ROM    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM

SimCity 4: Rush Hour
September 29, 2004 | Michael Yanovich

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SimCity in the Information Age
A big part of the expansion pack is an increase in information flow. First up is the Sign & Label tool. These are very nice touches, which allow you to name anything from streets to entire neighborhoods or regions.

Also available in the information area is the new Microphone tool, which gives you a direct connection with the VoxPop (man on the street) crowd. In this mode, you can get an idea of what your Sims want. Of course itís in difficult to decipher icon form, a language they didnít quite teach at my high school, but for the most part their graphically depicted needs are pretty clear and understandable (green for good, red for bad) and can range from a desire for more schools in the area to frustration with the heavy traffic on their commute path.

And speaking of commutes, feel free to try them out for yourself! SC4RH finally gives you the ability to get behind the wheel and drive around the city. You can borrow one of your Simís vehicles, assist in a police chase, race a fire truck to a towering inferno before the flames spread, or break up a worker strike by driving the mayoral limousine to the site and throwing wads of cash at the protestors.

Well, actually, that last one doesnít work. Itís a bug thatís been inherited from the PC version, and Aspyr isnít allowed to fix it until EA has fixed it on their end. But most of the missions I tried were very doable. Best of all, successful missions have rewards. Catch enough fleeing bad guys in a police cruiser and youíll unlock the ability to build a super police station. Or you can use the cop cars to shake down local businesses. Your mayor approval rating will suffer, but youíll also get a healthy cash infusion to help fund your city.

These ďU-Drive ItĒ missions are a fun new aspect, but donít expect a high-end driving simulator. In general, cars in SimCity have never represented individual vehicles, they represent moderate to heavy traffic in a certain area and the driving simulator has to deal with this unorthodox anomaly. It does this by making traffic icons act as individual cars (for the most part, anyway) during driving missions. Even if the icons tend to fade in or out at the ends of streets, rarely making turns onto other roads. Also, the driving physics engine isnít meant to be state of the art. You can pretty much hit any vehicle on the road and overpower them, pushing them off to the side of tarmac or making them burst into flames while you car forces its way through, unaffected. This would be a horrible bug in most racing games, but itís a great feature in SC4RH. Having to deal with realistic traffic in this game would be an unnecessary burden, so the lightweight approach is much appreciated. Do keep in mind that if you get in TOO many collisions your car will be destroyed as well, but you almost have to intentionally ram every vehicle in your path to fail at a mission in this way.

To handle the driving missions, SC4RH has a new, 6th level of zoom detail built in. The graphics are a bit fuzzy at this magnification, but are certainly good enough for the driving portions of the game. Otherwise, the graphics are pretty much unchanged from the SC4 engine (and at high, CPU-straining resolutions, they can be quite amazing indeed), though a new European building style has been added which can give your city a more eclectic appearance over time.

One last note on the U-Drive It missions. The game has a tendency to start your vehicle off facing in the wrong direction. Gotta drive north? Youíll frequently start off facing south. This is a pain in most cars (ugh, limousine U-turns on two lane roads), but itís devastating in the train missions. YOU try turning a train 180-degrees around on a track! Clearly, some game designer had either an ďoopsĒ moment that wasnít caught by the testers, or there are a group of sadistic programmers over at Maxis. Having known many gamers over the past 30-some years, Iím not quite sure which theory Iím subscribing to at the moment.

You know what? I really like the music in the past couple of SimCity titles. There are some really cool jazzy tracks that work well with the game, and SC4RH ships with even more audio delights.

But in case you get tired of the mellow vibe and feel like unleashing some destructive forces on your unsuspecting urbanites (disasters have always been available to SimCity mayors, and two more options have been added in the expansion pack), sometimes you need to be able to access some rockiní Pixies. Or maybe you want to crank Blue Oyster Cultís ďGodzillaĒ while you watch a bipedal lizard spew fire in your downtown section.

Luckily for you, Aspyr has added iTunes support to the Rush Hour expansion pack. Have the game randomly select tracks from your entire library, or limit it to a playlist or two. Itís a small touch, but a great one nonetheless. I hope other games start adding iTunes functionality soon!


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