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Review: The Simpsons: Hit and Run

Started: 2004-07-11 21:24:56

Submitted: 2004-07-11 22:10:09

Visibility: World-readable

After acquiring my GameCube in January, this game was the first (and so far, only) game I acquired after renting it first. It is also (as of this afternoon) the first game I've actually beaten.

The game is essentially a driving game in the same vein (so I've heard) as the Grand Theft Auto series. In addition to the main plot (which matches the randomness and hilarity of a normal episode of The Simpsons), the game includes bonus missions (which provide access to vehicles when they're completed) and a number of objects one can collect from around town. Collecting can be done at any time (although it doesn't make sense to collect when one is on a mission, since the missions are all timed) to give one a break from the main story. Handy green arrows on the street tell the player where to go next and a little map in the corner of the screen shows the roads and where to go, but it doesn't show the shortcuts, some of which are critical to completing the missions.

At first, it took me a bit to get used to the idea of having a binary acceleration control (the A button goes forward, the X button breaks and reverses, although one can use the R and L buttons for those purposes, which are analog), but once I figured it out, the controls made sense. I started out following normal traffic rules (staying in my lane, stopping at stop signs) but quickly abandoned the rules in favor of driving crazily around the roads, narrowly (or not at all) avoiding hitting pedestrians, vehicles, and mailboxes. Many road-side objects can be easily destroyed, providing coins (necessary for buying more vehicles or clothing, some of which are critical to missions), but every hit pedestrian, vehicle, and object causes one's mayhem indicator to go up. When it passes a certain threshold, a flock of police cars worthy of Los Angeles will chase the player and deliver a 50 coin ticket.

There are seven levels, each featuring a different cast member the player controls (Homer and Bart each get two levels; Marge, Lisa, and Apu each get one) on one of three maps. Each level gets its own music (Apu gets Bollywood and sitar music; the final level features spooky rock organ music when, in a scene straight from "Treehouse of Horror", the dead walk -- and drive -- the earth) which contributes to the mood and humor.

One of the best parts of the game (after the story) is the original cast voice-overs. Mission-explaining cut scenes feature three-dimensional Simpsons characters and voice. In addition to the principal cast, Cletus, Principal Skinner, Snake, Comic Book Guy, and Professor Frink play important supporting roles, and everyone else in the Simpsons cast can be found wandering the streets, usually useful for at least one mission. While driving (or walking) around town, incidental voice-overs let the player know what the characters might be thinking. When his vehicle hits something, Bart complains "Ow, my skull, my beautiful skull." When the mission requires borrowing someone else's vehicle, they contribute incidentals as well. Random characters on the street complain when they're run over. Apu responds, "Do not worry, you will be reincarnated in the next life." All of the incidental voice-overs are funny the first time, and most of them the fifth time, but they tend to get old by the tenth time.

As is common in third-person 3d games, the camera is occasionally frustrating. Most of the time, the camera automatically does what makes sense, but when there's a wall nearby, especially when the character is walking, the camera starts to behave erratically, sometimes refusing to go where one really wants it to be. This is the only real blemish on an otherwise-perfect gameplay experience. The second half of the seventh and final level involves essentially running the same mission four times in a row, which is frustrating and could have been done better.

I loved The Simpsons: Hit and Run. It made a worthy addition to my game collection and to the Simpsons franchise.