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The Simpsons: Hit & Run

Review By:  Josh Fishburn

Developer:  Radical Entertainment
Publisher:  Vivendi Universal
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Driving/Adventure
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  11-11-03

I may not be the best person to review this game.  I watched The Simpsons when I was younger, when Bart Simpson spouted words not yet heard from a prime-time doodle’s mouth, when my parents reluctantly allowed me to hang an “Underachiever, and proud of it!” poster in my bedroom.  But now I play far more games than I watch TV and The Simpsons has lost its magic.  That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the show, I just don’t go out of my way to catalog each episode in my memory.

Then there are the games.  Oh, the horror of the games!  Developers have consistently abused the Simpsons license with only a few bright spots to speak of.  One of them is a simple arcade beat-em-up from Konami that succeeded primarily on atmosphere, which is exactly what makes Hit & Run so successful.  It’s about time somebody put the same kind of care into a game that goes into the show.  What The Simpsons: Hit & Run treats us to is a driving/action game with GTA-like elements and the writers, characters, and voices from the show.  It nails The Simpsons look in 3d, controls well, and has a ton of extras.  All of these things make it tempting to heap high praise on the game and leave it at that.  It does do a lot of things right, but Hit & Run doesn’t have enough variety in the actual gameplay to really separate itself from the pack of mission driving games.  What many people will find much more critical is whether it separates itself from past Simpsons games.

Thankfully it does escape from the curse of the previous games, many whose sole purpose was to leech off of the Simpsons license.  Why was it so hard for previous developers to find a winning formula?  It’s anyone’s guess, but something tells me that they chose the license before the game.  So, why not stand on the shoulders of arguably the most successful game of the past few years: Grand Theft Auto 3Hit & Run does exactly this, essentially mapping the Simpsons universe onto GTA.  You can drive around, switch cars (by becoming a passenger instead of ejecting the driver a la GTA), walk around Springfield, pick up items, and enter certain buildings.  Even with all of the parallels this game is able to retain its own feel.

Driving the cars feels very natural and walking around is, well, walking around…it’s pretty tough to screw that up.  The few platforming areas are well defined and easy to get through; I never felt cheated by a jump.  I did feel cheated often by the driving.  Especially in later levels, I noticed a car or two inexplicably swerve into my path as I approached.  This became a pattern and I had a groundbreaking realization: The developers did this on purpose!  I understand the game has to be tough, but in later levels this happens with almost every car.  To top it off, it is frequently level ending in a chase mission.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is fair or not.

The story revolves around alien affairs in Springfield.  Playing as Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and Apu it is your job to investigate the happenings.  The story is passable, but more than anything it is an excuse to involve as many of the characters as possible.  You’ll talk to Flanders, Principal Skinner, Grandpa Simpson, Millhouse, Chief Wiggum, Smithers, Mr. Burns, and Comic Book Guy to name a few.  The game is divided into levels and then subdivided into missions, with you controlling a different character for each level.  Although many of the mission concepts are amusing (imagine reviving Grandpa with caffeine pills), they quickly lose their luster because they bounce between three themes: race a car, destroy a car, or collect some items.  After playing for a while I stopped caring whom I was racing, destroying, or what the items were that I was collecting.  All this does is take the surprise out of the missions and puts the burden on the writers to come up with funny one-liners, which coincidentally is exactly what they did.  The dialog is often hilarious, with voice acting on par with the show.  I just wish the actual gameplay reflected the same creativity as the writing.

Seeing those voices come out of 3 dimensional Simpsons characters is rather odd at first, but I got used to it thanks to the good graphics.  I recognized tons of locations from the show, but I wasn’t clear if this game holds the entire city, or if the “entire city” of Springfield had ever been mapped out before.  Regardless, the city contained on this disc is huge and diverse.  The animation of the characters is good and the graphics get the job done in general, just don’t expect to be blown away.  The huge levels harbor lots of secrets.  Aside from the regular missions, you can challenge certain people around Springfield to races or even go on bonus missions for them, like running errands for Principal Skinner while his mother barks insults at him.  You can also buy new cars and outfits for each character; sometimes this is actually necessary for a mission, but for the most part it is purely for amusement.  Cards that highlight certain episodes of the show are hidden throughout each level and even contain choice quotes from the episode.

Highs:

  • Amusing writing and dialog
  • Huge city to explore
  • Successfully represents the Simpsons in 3d
  • Cool extras relating to the show
  • Great control
  • Excellent sound & music

Lows:

  • Disappointing mission variety
  • Annoying AI

Final Verdict:

But will you be motivated to play through The Simpsons Hit & Run?  For Simpsons games, it represents an evolution in dialog, story, and gameplay.  If you are a fan of the show I recommend it, unless you have an aversion to driving games.  If you’re not a fan you might still get a lot of enjoyment out of it.  It plays well, looks and sounds good, and brings Springfield alive like no other Simpsons game before it.  To avoid the wrath of gamer Simpsons fans everywhere, I will simply say that I liked it, but that it is really lacking in mission variety.  If you can get over that and just enjoy the story and characters you will find a lot to like.

Overall Score: 7.5

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