Life is full of cyclical patterns; just take the Simpsons series of licensed games for example. It all started out quite nicely with the launch of the Konami Arcade game, but after that the quality of the games plummeted. Instead of getting high quality brawlers gamers were forced to play lame 2D platformer after lame 2D platformer. Then recently Vivendi released Simpsons Road Rage
, a Crazy Taxi
clone, for the PS2 and Xbox and the future for the franchise looked bright again. Now the company looks to continue that trend with Simpsons Hit and Run
, a game derived from the same vane as Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto
In Hit and Run players control some of Springfield’s most beloved characters as they complete various tasks in and about town. It works very much in the same fashion as GTA in that you can drive around freely and cause havoc when you’re too lazy to focus on the primary goals. When you’re ready to get your act together you can drive to the next mission point to get your objective. Usually the map will tell you to drive to a certain part of town in order to meet up with someone, when you meet up with that denizen you’ll get your next objective. Most of the missions have GTA-esque undertones but with significantly less violent themes. For instance, instead of whacking an important mob boss out for a Sunday drive Homer might have to prevent Smithers from getting to work so that he can’t write his employee evaluation.
I am evil Homer! I am evil Homer!
Hit and Run is broken up into seven different areas, each of which places you in control of a specific character in a specific part of Springfield. A negative aspect of this is that you can never actually drive through the full city of Springfield, just specific areas of it. So in the beginning when you play as Homer you’ll have access to the suburban areas of Springfield while the next episode features Bart in the downtown business district. Some of the areas seem a little simplistic in design and aren’t quite what I envisioned when I thought of what Springfield might actually look like. Most of the time there’s only one way to access specific parts of town and you’ll drive through the same areas over and over again. Not that this is a bad thing but it just seems odd that a town designer would layout the city in such a linear fashion.
There are plenty of missions for you to partake in, all of which feature briefings by members of the real vocal cast. For true Simpsons fans this is the major gem that they’ve been waiting for as they get a little something extra from their favorite characters. Nearly the entire primary and secondary cast is represented as well. From Marge to Cletus to Dr. Nick Riviera (Hello Everybody!), everyone that you’ve laughed at in the past decade or so is here in full force. The best part of it all is that each of the voices and personalities are true to their television counterparts. That is you won’t find Cletus asking you to whack Mr. Smithers for no apparent reason. Instead he’ll ask you to get into his truck and collect road kill so that he can deliver it to Krusty Burger.
While the company won’t win any awards for originality it definitely will win awards for creativity. It has effectively kept most of the intriguing elements of the GTA series while sustaining an air of tastefulness. Sure players can hop into any vehicle that they want but they don’t steal the vehicles a la Tommy Vercetti, they hop into the passenger seat while the owner of the vehicle drives. In essence you’re “borrowing” the vehicle, a very clever way to avoid GTA’s violent nature. You’ll also be able to run amok and beat up on Springfield’s denizens but you’ll only have a small variety of moves at your disposal. Instead of using chainsaws and machine guns you’ll be able to kick, punch and butt-stomp your way through crowds. While there’s physical violence it’s kept down to the cartoon minimum and in the end you can’t ever actually kill anyone.
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There are a few problems when it comes to maneuvering around the environments. The largest problem is the camera system, not the system in general but the problems that it has during the unnecessary platformer-style elements in the game. While moving your character along narrow ledges and making precise jumps is difficult enough with the sluggish controls, the camera pulls a Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness
and tries to saddle you with the worst possible angle at all times. Driving becomes a little better as the game utilizes a set of pretty competent physics. Most of the time driving feels like driving and you’ll be able to maintain a fair sense of control over your vehicle. Some factors such as momentum and inertia really aren’t given much consideration but since the game is of the cartoon nature one shouldn’t expect some ingenious vehicle physics. Not to say that the controls are bad as they’re tight enough for some of the game’s more demanding situations.
This is a pretty visual adept game. It’s still a little strange to see all of our favorite Springfieldians in their 3D states but the artistic designers did an admirable job of making them all look true to their 2D counterparts. Some of the eyes and limbs still look a little funky but the basic structure and design of each of the characters is present. Most of the town looks pretty nice and is comprised of unique looking buildings instead of the generic repetitive buildings that you may see in games of this genre. In fact, nearly every single building in the game is a reference to one episode or another. You’ll get lesser known ones such as the Springfield Community Center andthe massive presidential estate that resides across from the Simpsons home and of course, the Kwik-E-Mart and Moes. The bright and vibrant colors are also pleasant on the eyes. Some of the vehicles are a bit blocky but a few of them have nice little visual touches that make up for the structural ineptitude. In particular Cletus’ truck will send out papers from the back of the bed that will flutter and fall into the environment and if you’re paying attention it’s a pretty nice visual treat.
Since the game employs the vocal talents of the actual cast the characters all sound like their real life counterparts. What’s special for Simpsons hardcore fans is that all of the characters will say all-new lines when interacting with various characters. Most of the lines are laugh out loud funny and even the lines that miss are worth a listen or two. When driving around the city you’ll get some classic lines such as Homer’s “I’m a lean, mean driving thingie!” and Marge’s “It’s true, women really can’t drive.” They get repetitive after extended amounts of play but they’re pretty damn funny to listen to the first time around. What is
disappointing about the audio is the gameplay music. Instead of utilizing classic tunes from the series you’ll get some generic rock and techno tunes that don’t really complement the atmosphere.
One major problem with the game is that there just doesn’t seem like there’s enough to do at times. Most of the city is rendered but it seems plenty of corners were cut and many opportunities were missed. You can go inside the Simpsons household but only into the living room, the entire upstairs, the kitchen and the backyard aren’t accessible. This makes people who are looking to go on a virtual tour of their favorite Springfieldians’s go home unhappy. There’s not much interaction in the other indoor areas as well. You can go inside Moes and Springfield Elementary but again, you’re only given access to one area of both locales. It would be nice had you been able to use the jukebox in the bar to play classic Simpsons tunes such as songs by the B Sharps or tunes from that Simpsons musical episode.
Make no mistake about it; you’ll have to be a huge Simpsons fan in order to fully appreciate what Hit and Run has to offer. This doesn’t mean that casual fans won’t have an enjoyable experience it’s just that you’ll have to be a pretty avid watcher to get the most mileage out of this title. To cater to the obscure, there’s a collection-style game where you can collect memorabilia from various Simpsons episodes. These range from episode-specific getups for each of the characters to little collector’s cards that contain references to some of the best Simpsons episodes ever aired. This is a huge treat for anyone who is a huge Simpsons fan as it gives them more to do than just run around and finish up the missions. Of course the biggest treat of all for Simpsons fans is the ability to run around and interact with the citizens of Springfield themselves.
Hit and Run is truly the best TV-to-Video Game adaptation ever made. It successfully recaptures the feel of the hit television show without compromising quality or gameplay values. Even if it were to be stripped of the highly popular license it would still look and play like a pretty decent game; the fact that it’s actually a Simpsons game makes it all the better. No, it’s not devoid of gleaming errors or faults, but fans should be able to look past these small problems and see that Hit and Run is, in fact, an excellent title.