Review: The Simpsons: Hit & Run (XB)

Game: The Simpsons: Hit & Run
System: X-Box
Genre: Mission-Based Driving
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: VU Games
Release Date: 9/16/03

The Simpsons video game franchise has never really set the world on fire. I mean, do YOU claim to play Virtual Bart or Simpsons Pro Wrestling on a consistent basis? Well, do you?

The good thing is that Simpsons games are getting steadily better. The Simpsons: Road Rage was just the start, offering a nice parody of Crazy Taxi. Then came the Simpsons’ spin-off of the Tony Hawk genre with Simpsons Skateboarding. While not as widely accepted as Road Rage, it still held its own.

And now we come to The Simpsons: Hit and Run. This time, the series rips off the Grand Theft Auto games. However, it takes the engine, adds a platformer-like aspect, and molds them both into a unique entity. And it does it quite well, if I do say so myself. But is this weird mesh of engines worth your cash? Lets look into it, shall we?

STORY

Something has gone terribly wrong in the town of Springfield. Mysterious black vans have appeared, and seem to be spying on the townspeople. Flying cameras in the shape of wasps have also been spotted, doing the same. To make matters worse, crop circles have begun to sprout through unknown means. And to top it all off, the new Buzz Cola is having strange effects on those who drink it. (Whew) That’s a lot of plot for a Simpsons game. So to piece it together, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Apu go all over town to search for answers.

This is easily the most complicated plot of any Simpsons game created. The plot flows well, but seems a bit predictable as you go forward. However, for once, Mr. Burns is NOT the main villain.

Story: 8/10

GRAPHICS

This is easily the best-looking Simpsons game I’ve ever played. Once again, the Simpsons have been rendered in full 3D, and they look as clean as can be. They still look a bit odd, but not as odd as they were in past 3D incarnations. The overworld is incredibly bright and colorful. Driving through each level will fill your senses in ways the GTA games could never do. And each environment contains famous landmarks the Simpsons universe. Springfield Elementary, the Duff Brewery, Krusty Burger, etc.

The game runs at a solid 60 FPS, with very little cases of slowdown to speak of. There are some clipping instances where part of a car will get lodged into a building, or you’ll jump through an object, but those are few and far between.

The camera, for the most part, functions well. There are a few cases where it will do a super zoom-in when you hit a corner. Other than that, there are few problems.

Graphics: 8/10

SOUND

It wouldn’t be a Simpsons game without Simpsons voices, now would it? Well you’re in luck, because this game contains hours of voice-overs for dozens and dozens of Simpsons characters. Most of these belong to the Simpson family and Apu. During your missions, they will spout tons of dialogue stemming from past episodes of the series, and some original ones to boot. Another good feature is that most of these quotes don’t repeat endlessly. Well, not often anyway. I still laugh whenever Homer says “He used a cheat code!”

The game’s music took my completely by surprise. It’s constantly changing to fit whatever mood the game is currently in. Each character has their own theme songs while walking and driving. During missions with high actions, high impact orchestra music kicks in that really adds to the action. During humorous missions, wacky music will begin. It’s incredible to hear such a diverse selection of music from a Simpsons game, AND to have it fit. Bravo.

Sound: 9/10

GAMEPLAY

Welcome to the most complicated Simpsons game ever conceived. There are so many features here, I don’t know where to begin.

We’ll start with getting around the city. Controlling your character outside a car is rather interesting. The control stick lets you run, the A lets you jump, and the X button lets you punch. Holding B allows you to run (while adding hilarious dialogue to boot). And the Y button lets you get in and out of vehicles. Hitting the attack button in the air lets you do a drop-down attack. Pressing A twice will let you double jump. Getting around on foot is essential to the game because there are several platform sections to explore. They come few and far between, but they are there.

However, the main focus of the game is the driving aspect. In fact, you’ll be spending about 90% of your time behind the wheel of a car of some sort. The controls are easy to learn, as told to you by Bart himself during the in-game tutorial. The A button accelerates, the B button brakes, and the X button is the emergency brake. The brake and accelerate functions are also relegated to the L and R triggers.

The difficulty of driving around town really depends on what you’re currently doing in the game. If you’re in an easy mission, or in between missions, driving is easy. There aren’t that many obstacles, and turning is a breeze. But when you get to a hard mission where hairpin turns are a must, the task becomes increasingly harder. You’ll find yourself sliding all over the place, missing your marks, and crashing constantly. It’s really up and down as far as that is concerned.

Gameplay is heavily based on the GTA series. In order to progress, you’ll need to talk to people on the street and get missions from them. The missions themselves stem from one of five possible types: race someone, destroy someone’s car, collect things with a car, collect things on foot, or destroy things on foot. Missions don’t really deviate from these basic types, and might leave you feeling like you’re simply doing the same tasks all over again.

Unlike GTA, however, there are seven separate levels to go through. Each level has a different part of Springfield to drive in, including seven main missions apiece. Also included in each level are one bonus mission, three racing missions, and a “gamble” race, where you can bet coins in hopes to win more.

When you start the game, you’ll only have one car: the Simpsons family sedan. But as you progress, you can buy more cars to drive with better statistics. In fact, you’re going to have to at certain points during the game if you want to proceed. You can acquire new cars several different ways. You can buy them from Gil when you find him, buy signature cars from certain characters, completing a level’s bonus mission, or completing all three racing missions in a level. Only some of these cars are needed to proceed. The others are simply to round out the roster.

Also, you can buy various costumes for your characters. All of these are taken from various Simpsons episodes, such as Chosen One Homer, Officer Marge, All-American Apu, Bartman, and other classics. You can purchase them from various floating hangars with dollar signs around the level.

But you can’t buy these things without money, can you? Luckily, there are many places you can score some quick cash. There are wasp cameras that litter the level. Destroying one will give you plenty of coins. Coins can also be found by destroying Buzz Cola crates and vending machines. Plus, every object you knock down while driving will net you one or two coins. The process of collecting these coins gets tedious after a while, though.

Speaking of collecting, there’s an extra incentive for the Simpson fanboys out there. Each level contains seven “cards”, featuring famous objects from past Simpsons episodes. They don’t serve much of a purpose outside of accessing a huge secret, but they’ll bring back a ton of memories.

At the bottom of the screen, there’s a meter that will slowly fill up when you engage in the destruction of property. when it reaches its max, you enter “Hit & Run” Mode. Here, you’ll have to outrun the cops, just like in the GTA games. The only difference is that if you get caught, you get slapped with a 50-coin fee.

Overall, there’s a lot here to make this game very enjoyable.

Gameplay: 8/10

REPLAYABILITY

Going through the game once is joy for any Simpsons fan. And when you’re done with the main story mode, you can go back to any level you wish. There’s always more stuff to collect, like the costumes and cars you missed. Don’t forget the episode cards! But once you have all of that done, there’s nothing really left to do, outside of running your car into people, places, and things. And too be honest, it’s not exactly worth it to continue collecting everything. The only things that are worth it are the cards, and that’s only to see the secret animation. Other than that, the collection aspect is tedious.

Replayability: 6/10

BALANCE

The missions in the game range from very easy to impossibly hard. Because of this, the game can end up VERY frustrating at times. You might go through a string of easy missions, but then get hit with a difficult mission out of nowhere. Not only that, but you’ll end up spending more time on missions like these than most easy missions combined. This trend goes through the whole game. Even in the final stages, the scale remains so. At least until you get to the final four missions, where you do the SAME TASK over and over again.

Balance: 5/10

ORIGINALITY

The game borrows a lot from the GTA games, as stated before, so the overall engine isn’t too original. However, the story and platforming elements help bring this score up quite a bit. By staying away from the hardcore violence aspect and replacing it with cartoon violence, there are a lot of new things to see.

Originality: 7/10

ADDICTIVENESS

When you begin the game, it’s very hard to put down. The humor level is top notch, and the missions are EXTREMELY fun. However, as you go from level to level, the humor goes down, and missions get more tedious. By the time you control Marge in the fourth level, the content becomes real bland and repetitious, with only a few moments of humor sprinkled throughout. Even when you control Homer again in the last missions, it doesn’t really pick up.

Addictiveness: 6/10

APPEAL FACTOR

Unfortunately, this game was built squarely for Simpsons fans. The game may be based on the Grand Theft Auto engine, but casual and non-fans may not be able to get all the references, in-jokes, and the other hidden easter eggs included. It is unfortunate, but the fan base is clearly defined here.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

MISCELLANEOUS

There are a few odds and ends to keep players coming back, but not very much. There’s a four-player driving game you can unlock, and that provides some entertainment. But once you’ve collected all the cars, costumes, and cars, there’s no real reason to come back.

Miscellaneous: 6/10

THE SCORES

Story: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 9/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 6/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 6/10
Total: 6.5/10

REVIEWER’S TILT: 6.5 (ABOVE AVERAGE)

THE 411: We have a pretty good game here. This game is extremely fun at the beginning, but loses momentum near the middle that it doesn’t reclaim. It’s definitely rental material here, and a recommended buy for the hardcore Simpsons fan. For everyone else, however, please be wary.

FINAL SCORE: 6.5