Reviewed: October 8, 2003
Released: September 16, 2003
“The Simpsons” and gaming have been together for quite some time. From the earliest Simpsons game, titled “The Simpsons” and released to the arcades by Konami in 1991, to the latest game to carry the license, The Simpsons: Hit & Run. The library of Simpson games is extensive, twenty distinct games covering seventeen systems. If you’ve bought a console in the last ten years, odds are there’s a Simpson’s game for it.
So the Simpsons have a long history of licensed games, that much is certain, but how about “quality” Simpson’s games? THAT list isn’t quite as impressive. The vast majority of Simpson’s games have put their hopes on the license, instead of the gameplay, to move copies. While this strategy has worked to a degree, the franchise is the worse for it. Now don’t get me wrong, some games have been better then others. I, for one, enjoyed “Road Rage” even though it didn’t light the gaming world on fire. The fact it’s in the “best selling” discount series for all three systems seems to suggest many people liked it even though it got a lukewarm reception from some critics.
Hit and Run’s story was penned by the same writers that work on the Simpsons cartoon. The basic story is not particularly clever; in fact, there is a South Park episode that basically covered the same idea. The gist of the story is there are numerous robotic, camera-carrying, wasps littered around the city. The Simpson family takes it upon themselves to find out who is behind this sinister scheme, and the story is delivered in bits and pieces, often through pre-rendered videos, as you travel from stage to stage. Will Hit and Run build upon the somewhat rosy reputation left by Road Rage? Will it mark a new start for the franchise as a whole, or is it another blunder that again places Simpsons games near the bottom of the proverbial pile of licensed schlock?
Many people will immediately look at Hit and Run and proclaim it’s “The Simpsons meets GTA.” This is not entirely accurate; the better description would be “The Simpsons: Road Rage, only with the ability to commandeer other vehicles.” Apart from the car-jacking aspect, which, it should be pointed out, is a misnomer; you only “borrow” cars, not steal them (the person behind the wheel remains the driver, but you have control of the vehicle.)
Apart from that, GTA and Hit and Run don‘t have all that much in common. With that out of the way, you control a total of five characters throughout the course of the game. The regular Simpsons family, plus friendly Indian “counter-jockey” Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, round out the main cast. Maggie was left out, even though she has taken the wheel on several occasions during the cartoon’s fourteen-year run.
Other important characters also aid you on your journey, Professor Frink, Grandpa, etc. Over 90% of the games missions take place in vehicles, the on-foot part, as far as beating the story-proper is concerned, is just there so you can get from vehicle to vehicle. You are also allowed to enter a paltry number of buildings, and even then you don’t have that much room to maneuver. While on-foot, your arsenal is limited to a kick and a jump attack. Both are used when you need to destroy those evil, spying wasps. Those wasps are the only enemies that you fight without the aid of your vehicle.
While on the subject of vehicles, the game is loaded with them. If you’ve seen a car in a Simpson’s episode, it’s probably in the game. Although licensing concerns might prevent a “few” vehicles from being present, those of you that wanted Adam West to chauffeur you around in the 60’s Batmobile are going to be disappointed. The only notable exception is Marge’s station wagon as she, as in Road Rage, gets saddled with the Canyonaro. But from Homer’s high school ride, to Professor Frink’s hover bike, many do make an appearance. If you’ve purchased a car, you can go to a phone booth and request the car be delivered to your location.
The car control is a little spotty, even cars with high handling ratings control too loose for my tastes. You often make turns and have to overcompensate, so you don’t spin wildly out of control. Otherwise, the control is generally good and precise. You get some nice air off small jumps, though the huge jumps switch to a rather “floaty” camera perspective.
The physics perform rather well, kicks causing people to trip and fall. The Canyonaro can be tipped over if turned at high speeds, just like real SUV’s. Most other cars are neigh impossible to tip over, tights turns that should have the car rolling over, merely extend the wheels, often to cartoonish lengths, to keep the car level. This was most likely done so that action would be kept fluid.
There are only about four kinds of missions total, races, gathering, destruction, and evasion. These are often mixed together during the course of a single mission. You might have to get an item and then evade someone trying to stop you from getting it to a certain location. The missions are often fun and not that aggravating, a few tend to cause some repetition until you get a pattern down, but it’s almost always your fault and not the game’s.
If, through the course of your adventures, you hit too many things or people (“Hit and Run indeed.”) Springfield’s “finest” will begin hunting you down. As with the police presence in GTA, they can be avoided if you outrun them and don’t continue to break the law. The police are the highest “the man” becomes involved, Springfield isn’t going to call in the National Guard, regardless of how much destruction you cause. If the police catch you, they fine you fifty coins and then send you on you way.
Coins are used to buy new cars, or new clothes, for your character. Coins can be collected through “stunt” jumps, destroying wasps, boxes of Buzz cola, Buzz cola vending machines, or you often find them just laying around. Scattered throughout the stages are a variety of things to keep you playing the game even after you’ve completed the story mode.
Cards, if all seven per stage are collected, allow you access to one of seven (there are seven total stages) bonus tracks. These bonus tracks can be played by up to four people through the use of a multi-tap. The bonus tracks themselves showcase racing, though of the top down variety. The entire four playing racing segment is very reminiscent of the old arcade game “Super Off-Road” in both form and function. The bonus tracks can be played with a single player, the computer will staff the other slots. All cars you’ve unlocked in the game are available for use on the track.
Like the rest of the Simpsons games, the game is polygon based, with no cel-shading. While cel-shading might have made the game look more like the show, I’m not broken up over their loss. The graphics do a fine job of presenting the Simpsons in a 3D landscape (Homer almost looks as good as his show incarnation did, eight years previous, in “Homer^3”)
The generic townsfolk seem to be a little less impressive then the “main” cast, but the difference is not as staggering as was the case in GTA3, and it’s not unexpected in a city driving game such as this. The main cast is well rendered and look just a wee bit better then they did in Road Rage.
Unfortunately, the voices and the mouths don’t synch. We have yet another case of “flap-jaw.” In all fairness, the mouths do try to match when speaking, if the character pauses between sentences, so does the mouth. But every character (outside of the pre-rendered ones in the videos between missions) has the same mouth movement regardless of their speech or pitch. If they are boastful, angry, frightened, etc the mouth continues to open and close. The facial expressions are also static. A lot more effort could’ve gone into the expressions.
The town, like the cast, is rendered beautifully; the graphics look better then “Road Rage” and draw distance is so large as to be a non-issue. The game does wildly go between frame rates. Sometimes it plays buttery smooth, while other times it’s merely smooth. The frame rate also drops in moments of extreme action (a chase through a large group of traffic for example.) But it seldom dips so low that it interferes with your driving ability.
The camera was pretty good; it could be controlled and re-directed almost at will. Some parts I would’ve liked to change the camera around, but the game wouldn’t let me. Still, there was never a part where the camera became seriously problematic. The cars are well constructed. Some even have neat little graphical effects to complement them. Cletus’ truck has chicken feathers flying out the back of it, the plow king truck drops salt as you drive around, etc.
The team should also be commended for the seventh stage, which has a “Treehouse of Horror” motif. They left the basic town structure standing, but changed almost everything else. Cars leave “ghost” smoke and instead of just throwing up dirt when you brake on grass, it also throws up bones. Some buildings are completely different and almost everything was changed in some way. They even went so far as to have different cars on the road. It looks like a lot of effort went into to this part, and it’s one of the most visually impressive, not to mention my favorite. It just oozes atmosphere all around.
The game has the same voices you would find on the TV show. From Dan “Homer” Castellaneta to Nancy “Bart” Cartwright, they’re all here. The voices are all imbued with life, and it never sounds flat or wooden. The background music is the standard Simpsons theme, and it does get somewhat monotonous after extended playtime. The phrases the characters say are a mixture of both old and new. Some you’ll recognize from episodes (though it sounds like it was re-recorded for the game.) Others, most obviously the ones that deal with “game-playing”, are new.
The dialogue is often hilarious, even some of the short quips. The real comedy comes from some of the mission briefings and the pre-rendered “transition” videos. The generic townsfolk only spout off a few phrases each, so if you go around hitting them, you’ll hear a lot of the same stuff. The tutorial is voiced by Bart, and even manages to work in a couple jokes while still being informative. The voice work, on average, is exemplary.
Hit and Run is a pretty long game. Not RPG long, but still pretty thorough for a driving/action game. I’d wager you’d get about 8-10 hours out of just the story mode, playing it on and off, at a leisurely pace. A straight run through might take you five hours total. Keep in mind though, that’s just for the story mode. There’s a wealth of stuff offered to keep you coming back.
You could collect more coins to purchase more cars, or how about some different character outfits? You could do a bonus mission for each stage. You could collect all seven cards on all seven stages to completely open all the bonus tracks. You could complete all special races in each stage. The game designers didn’t want the experience to end after the story did, and they did make it interesting enough you’ll want to keep playing until everything is unlocked.
One should look at Hit and Run as basically a “quasi-sequel” to “Road Rage.” The on-foot part is not utilized enough to have it compete with GTA. The game basically boils down to “Road Rage 2” with more stuff to do and earn. This suited me just fine; the driving was great, though a little too loose. The little walking that had to be done was well executed. The coin gameplay mechanic ensured longer playtimes, and not at the expense of frustration. The voice acting, camera, and graphical effects were all good, and a lot of little Simpsons visual gags worked their way in, though I think “Road Rage” had more little “in-jokes” a long time fan would pick up on.
The game itself is solid and not lacking in any key areas. It is, by a wide margin, the best put together Simpsons game that’s ever been released to the public. It fixes most of what many people found lacking with “Road Rage” and added new and better things to drawn in as wide a demographic as possible.
A must buy for any serious Simpsons fan, and I’m pretty sure EVERYONE has some platform to experience it on (A PC port is coming in November, with a probable $39.99 price tag.) If you enjoy driving games, I’d also advise you to give this game a try. As a Simpsons game, Hit and Run is stellar. Strip away the license and you’ll still find yourself with a great game.
And no, Neither Disco Stu nor Rainier “McBain” Wolfcastle are present in the game. Disco Stu’s name is mentioned, but that’s about it. You’ll just have to be satisfied with the Comic book guy and playing the best Simpsons title currently available.