Reviewed: October 18, 2003
Released: September 16, 2003
Without a doubt, The Simpsons is one of my all-time favorite shows and apparently the rest of the civilized world agrees with me since this animated epic has surpassed all other TV sitcoms in years running and episodes made. Naturally, when you have a successful franchise, especially an animated one, the obvious course of action is to license that property to the video game market. The Simpsons have spawned as many games as Star Trek and they both share in a long line of failures.
When Fox and VUG finally decided to make a “good” Simpsons game they went to Radical and The Simpsons Hit & Run is the end result. Not only is Hit & Run one of the best (if not the best) Simpsons game ever made, its just a plain good game even without the Simpsons license – something you can rarely say about a licensed product since most rely solely on the power of their license.
Much of this game’s success comes from its simple premise, a premise borrowed from Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series only toned down to a Teen level and even that seems a bit extreme. Basically, if you allow your kids to watch the show then by all means let them play this game. It’s totally harmless.
Hit & Run blends in a lot of gameplay elements from all sorts of games. You play as a variety of Simpsons characters, but regardless of whether you are Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa, or someone else the fundamental gameplay is all about driving around Springfield performing various missions to advance the story.
The underlying story is a bit thin. Basically there are these giant wasps flying around town that have cameras attached to them. It’s no huge spoiler to learn that Mr. Burns is behind this Big Brother invasion of privacy, but it will take the entire Simpsons clan and several hours of gaming to figure out the entire sinister plot.
The game is divided into chapters and you control a specific character in each chapter. Each character has a default vehicle with more becoming available as you complete mission objectives. You also have the ability to “borrow” any vehicle in the game, but in a kid-friendly way. Rather than yanking the driver out of the car and busting his kneecaps you hop into the passenger seat and have them chauffer your around town. You actually control the car but the original driver is shown behind the wheel.
Controls are super-easy and Bart guides you in the basics with an ongoing tutorial that tells you where to go and what to do. Icons for interacting with objects and people appear onscreen indicating what button you need to press to do something. It doesn’t get any easier or kid-friendly than this.
Violence is virtually non-existent. While you can run over pedestrians they simply roll down the road a short ways then get back up and continue along their way. There are no weapons and the most violent thing you can do in the game is kicking somebody, which in some odd way is almost therapeutic.
When you aren’t tooling around Springfield in one of the many unique vehicles you can explore on foot. There are plenty of pick-ups and things to smash like crates and vending machines. The two most popular pick-ups are wrenches (to fix your car) and coins that you can spend to unlock goodies like new cars, costumes and mini-games. Coins are everywhere, lying around, or inside items that you must kick open. Basically, anything you can smash or run over turns into some coins.
The “hit and run” aspect comes into play as you perform “not so nice” actions and your wanted meter slowly rises. It depletes almost as fast as it rises so you have to be really naughty to trigger the cops. Once the cops are alerted they will pursue you with reckless abandon, often destroying themselves before they even get close. If you are caught you pay a 50-coin fine and go on your way.
Learning the lay of Springfield is critical to planning your optimum routes and winning a few of the racing challenges, but the city is fairly massive. Nothing close to the size of Vice City but certainly larger than you would expect in a game like this. One of the coolest realizations is that you are playing in and around locations from the show, so you will recognize everything and finally learn how all these place relate to one another. Ever wonder how long it takes Homer to drive from the Power Plant to Moe’s or back home? Now you can find out. The designers even took the time to include several specialty locations that dedicated fans will certainly recognize from their favorite episodes.
Hit & Run suffers from its fair share of problems but nothing as detrimental as any Simpsons game that has come before it and certainly nothing that isn’t overshadowed by the quality gameplay and strict attention to authentic Simpsons goodness. Most of the problems are camera related and usually have to do with the camera getting stuck on objects, mainly walls.
The AI can also get a big erratic and perhaps even dishonest. There was one mission where I had to race Smithers back to Mr. Burns’ mansion. I would have this huge lead on him and he would magically catch up and beat me every time. I finally learned that if you bump him out of the race near the end the AI doesn’t have time to cheat and get him back in.
Hit & Run is a 3D game based on a 2D cartoon so it takes a bit of getting used to when you first start playing the game. Those of you that remember the episode where Homer goes inside the computer and the episode is rendered out in 3D will have a good idea of what to expect.
The overall presentation is totally “Simpsons” starting with the opening them (even the Gracie logo), then you watch from a Wasp/camera-eye view as the wasp flies in to annoy a napping Homer who promptly swats the wasp and returns to his nap leaving you in control of the icon-driven interface disguised as the family room.
The cars all look great and many are based on favorite episodes like the giant snowplow. The waypoints are clearly indicated with glowing bubbles and the path is shown with a series of green arrows painted right on the road. This might make it a bit too easy for older players but its great for kids as young as six or seven.
Each of the characters looks fantastic in their 3D form and you can outfit them in all sorts of wild costumes taken from key episodes from the series. The massive city is rendered out in detailed yet simple animated form, full of unique buildings, random traffic, and is sectioned off by integrated objects that open up as the story progresses. Interior sets are equally as authentic ranging from the Simpson’s home to the power plant including Homer’s control room to the Quick-E Mart complete with frozen old-dude (Viking) in the freezer.
It will probably be argued for a long time to come whether this game should have been cel-shaded rather than 3D. I supposed both styles have their merits, but after playing Hit & Run for nearly 12 hours I can’t imagine playing it in a non-3D world. The HDTV 16x9 support is an added bonus for those of you with wide screen TV’s.
The sound presentation is truly stunning and captures the very essence of The Simpsons. From the moment the CD spins up you get the classic Simpsons theme and throughout the rest of the game you are treated to some wonderful music that all sounds familiar but is quite original. Even more surprising is that even after 12 hours of gameplay I can’t recall that much repetition. I’m sure it was looping but it is so seamlessly integrated into the game it just becomes a part of the experience.
The entire cast was assembled to reprise their roles from the show and no licensed game has ever sounded better. You can tell the cast had a great time reading their lines, and it’s very apparent to hear how much easier it is for people to act into a microphone that do it every week versus, say the cast of Star Trek dubbing their computer game counterparts. The game comes off just like another weekly episode with all the polish and flair of the TV show. Even the script is witty and perfectly read with plenty of one-liners and humorous dialog.
Teens and adults can enjoy about 15 hours of original gaming with Hit & Run while younger kids will have fun walking and driving around as their favorite Simpsons character for 20 hours or more. Those of you who must unlock and collect every last item will find getting all the costumes and vehicles will take a bit of work. The mini-games are a nice diversion and consist mainly of races around the city, either against the clock or other players and these modes even support up to four players. It’s not as substantial as Mario Kart, but it still makes for a fun little party game.
The Simpsons Hit & Run has finally broken the curse of the bad Simpsons game franchise. This game oozes with the same quality and professional presentation values as any episode shown in the past decade thanks to quality writing and an outstanding performance by the original cast.
Whether you love the Simpsons, are looking for a non-violent alternative to GTA, or just want to play one of the better games of the year, you won’t want to miss out on Hit & Run. It’s witty, it’s charming, it’s fun, it’s The Simpsons.