Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: September 16, 2003
It seems that it has been a very long time since there was a really good game based on The Simpsons license. It's a great license; no doubt. The show is zany, full of action and humor, and has great characters with lots of personality. It would translate extremely well to a game (and, of course, sell very well), so it's no surprise that developers have been trying to adapt the series into a good game for years. Unfortunately, it seemed their luck would never change, and nearly every game that came out with "The Simpsons" in the title was doomed to a number of flaws.
Thankfully, that curse seems to have been broken with this latest title. The Simpsons Hit & Run is great fun. The game takes on a structure largely based on that of games like Grand Theft Auto III, in which you walk or drive around the environment, taking on various missions in order to progress the story. Here, you'll take part in a number of missions as one Simpsons character in one section of the city, and move onto another citizen of Springfield in another section of the city. It works pretty well, and the pace is nice and comfortable so you don't get frustrated, but never get tired of repetitive work, either.
Easily the best element of the game is getting to cruise around beloved Springfield in all its glory. The designers didn't take a lot of creative liberty in making new buildings so they used almost entire locations that were, at one point or another, featured in the show. Since the show largely takes place in a single town, the developers were able to make cohesive maps that are full of things to do and see that actually make a lot of sense in the Simpsons universe: Moe's Tavern, Evergreen Terrace, Mr. Burns' mansion, the power plant, the harbor, the Kwik-E-Mart, Krusty Burgers, and so much more are here for your viewing pleasure. Compared to games like GTA and Crazy Taxi, the few areas of Springfield are a bit small, but they are comfortably large and so jam-packed with secrets in their nooks and crannies that you will be finding new things long after you've completed all of the missions for that level.
Obviously, a fair bit of time went into making sure the controls were well-done. I had no trouble controlling it, and I have watched several people who have barely ever touched a controller sit down and have fun with it. The on-foot controls are extremely simple and consist mainly of using the analog stick to move around and a button to interact with objects or get into vehicles. You can jump and kick things, too, which is fine, but I do have one gripe: you have to hold in a button to run at full speed. It's not usually a problem, but it does make running feel a little stiffer than it probably should. The camera isn't perfect either, and while you can easily fix it by adjusting the right analog stick, there are some instances where it presents problems. It's nearly impossible to adjust it after you've been thrown out of your car because you've pushed your engine to the point of no return, and you're trying to make a mad dash away from the fuzz. It's a rare thing, but it does happen now and again.
The driving controls are simpler though and work almost perfectly. There are buttons for acceleration, a handbrake, and reverse - that's it. It's so extremely simple, yet there is a nice level of depth hidden beneath. There's an amazing amount of vehicles of which you can take the driver's seat. You'll be able to use the family's pink car, Bart's Honor Roller, Barney's Plow King, Moe's beat-up sedan, Professor Frink's Hover Car, and Otto's schoolbus - just to name a small number of them. Each automobile has different stats; there is a maximum of five points to attribute for acceleration, top speed, toughness, and handling. Powerslides are possible and extremely useful, especially when using the heavier vehicles that don't turn as quickly as others. Physics in the game seem almost perfect. All of the vehicles feel like they have the proper weight to them, and controlling them just plain feels natural and fun.
You'll use them to partake in the missions, of course, which usually consist of collecting or blowing up certain things within a certain time. You might need to help Cletus the redneck round up twenty ketchup packs in two minutes to help his family survive the long hard winter, or help Chief Wiggum follow a donut truck and collect the pastries that fall out of the back. You might need to smash up mysterious black cars or stay within a certain distance of others. There are also optional missions in each area (usually races), and you'll be rewarded with a slick car every time you complete a few. These challenges are actually really tough, balancing out the fairly-easy missions in the first half or so of the game. Though a lot of the objectives are similar, everything is mixed up enough so that things never get too tedious. The game's biggest fault is that it doesn't add much that we haven't seen before, gameplay-wise, but when everything is so well put-together, it's hard to complain. The spirit of the show is here in full uniform, and that's definitely a good thing.
The graphics are really nice. In the strange occasion that you see a closeup of the character models, you'll find that textures a bit plain and the Simpsons do look rather funny in 3D, but 90% of the time when the action is zoomed out a bit, everything looks great. Colors are everywhere, no two of the same structures seem to be found in any given location, and animation is really nice. Almost every object you'll come across is breakable, from trees to stop signs to glass advertisements. You can also, of course, ram right into any pedestrian that your heart desires. No one dies, but watching the funny yellow people bounce and roll all over the road and yelling obscenities when you smack them is easily as satisfying - if not more satisfying - than the violent deaths of GTA. All in all, it really does simply feel like you are taking part in the cartoon, and driving around Springfield has never been more fun.
Cutscenes do look a little hokey, which is unfortunate; they tend to consist of two characters standing around awkwardly. However, they're only bad in the visuals department. Sound is another one of the game's great points. Each of the cutscenes sports great writing that is really funny, and the actual voice actors from the program bring each of their lines to life beautifully. Music is mellifluously excellent, extremely fitting, and helps set the mood of each mission. Some missions feel very funny and lighthearted while others are very dramatic, and the music plays a big part in this. These tunes have been stuck in my head on more than one occasion after powering down the game. A great, great effort, overall, in this department.
What it all boils down to is this: The Simpsons Hit & Run is a good, fun game that really does make great use of a great license. Springfield is great, the characters are great, the writing is great, the vehicles are great, and there are so many references to things from the show that fans might explode on contact. Yes, the game could have tried a little harder with creating some new, innovative missions, but when everything else is so good, there's no reason to complain. If you're even slightly interested, give it a rent. If you're a diehard Simpsons fan, this should be at the top of your list of things to get. Even if you've only seen an episode or two of the show, you're bound to have some fun with it. This is the Simpsons game we've all been waiting for, and if you have the slightest interest in it, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Score : 8.7/10