Genre: Arcade Racing
Developer: Sniper Studios
Release Date: August 7, 2007
Every so often, a game comes along that makes us take a second look at the way we feel about a particular genre. Some of us never went in for puzzle games until Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo made the scene. Some of us were never fans of fighting games until the release of Marvel vs. Capcom. Me, I was never much of a racing fan, for a very long time. Drive in a circle forever? Yawn. Along came Crazy Taxi. Now, here was a car-based game I could get into! There was no need to decide what kind of lugnuts your wheels used or worry about petty annoyances like "physics" or "pedestrians." Here was a game where I could really cut loose, and, as long as I didn't mind the context of picking up and dropping off passengers, I could just do what I wanted to do. Crazy Taxi was, in my eyes, a breath of fresh air that the genre desperately needed. That was back in the ancient, long-forgotten days of 1999, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and we were all worried about Y2K, so imagine the joy in my heart when I heard that this long-forgotten relic was finally being moved to a portable gaming system in the form of Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars! As it turns out, this one needed to go back into the oven for a little while. It wasn't quite done.
For those who are new to the game, allow me to sum it up. You are a taxi driver. A crazy taxi driver. Yes, I know it sounds like a plot to some Halloween thriller, but stay with me on this one. Your job is to pick up passengers and drive them all over town, dropping them off in a timely manner and gaining money. Your money is your "score," and in the arcade mode, if you drop them off quickly enough, you get seconds added on to your time. Despite an initial allotment of only 60 seconds, a skilled player can get more gameplay out of the arcade mode than the fixed 10-minute mode. Now, any sane gamer will be thinking to himself, "Okay, that sounds ... intensely dull." Allow me to explain why it is not.
- Your car? It's invincible.
- It's souped up with dash moves, drifting, etc.
- Did I mention that your car is invincible? Completely invincible.
That's right. No matter how many times you plow into other cars, drive off of cliffs, flip cars over or catch crazy air that would make Tony Hawk turn green with envy, your car comes out of it smelling like a rose, and so do you and your passenger. Your goal is to get your customer to his or her goal and let nothing — and no one — stand in your way. Coupled with a pretty decent soundtrack (Offspring, your music was made for this kind of game), the console versions have been works of art.
Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars has some wonderful new additions that really bring a new spark of life to this waning franchise. Allowing players to bring in their own MP3 files as background music (courtesy of the PSP's memory stick technology) is an extraordinarily good idea, and including both Crazy Taxi and Crazy Taxi 2 on one UMD is a great way to add value to the purchase of this title. The addition of competitive multiplayer, with features such as the ability to steal fares right out of your opponent's cab, is a very welcome addition, and it provides a brand new source of replayability that can linger for hours. No, the problems with this title are a bit more about fundamentals than extras.
As any person who has played the originals will tell you, you are going to hear a small assortment of sound files whenever a fare gets into your taxi, is pleased with your driving, dislikes your driving or is dropped off. The voices from the original games made even the most patient gamer grind his teeth after repeated exposure, but the shoddy sound work is nothing compared to the toe-curling, eye-squintingly bad sound that Fare Wars has to offer. Virtually every male character has apparently been voiced by Jimmy Stewart, summoned through the mists of time and returned to life for nothing more than the chance to use him as cheap zombie labor. The screeching of your tires isn't terribly pleasant, either; I've been playing this game for close to a decade now (wow, that's depressing), and there's a reason that using the Crazy Dash never did more than make your engine rev a little bit louder than normal. The first time your tires peel against the ground in Fare Wars, you'll wonder what it was. The fifth time it occurs, you'll resent it a little. The 47th time, you'll long for some way to turn it off.
The control scheme is difficult at best. A player needs immediate, frequent and easy access to four buttons during gameplay: Accelerate, Brake, Forward and Reverse. Would it be possible to find an effective configuration so that the game would handle a little more closely to the player's intentions? Absolutely, I've already thought of how I would do so. Does this title give you that opportunity? No. You are given two control setups to choose from, each one with the same problem as the other: No matter which you choose, three of those buttons are going to be too close together for you to handle your car effectively.
Worst of all, Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars possesses a grievous flaw: The system is unable to handle the graphics requirements of the title. The first time I was driving back into town on my way back from the hillside, the surroundings just vanished. Suddenly, my car was flying! There was blue sky above me, around me, beneath me .... because the game was unable to actually process the buildings and road passing by me, so it simply dropped the entire affair and went for a little drift through fluffy white clouds. We are not amused. I assumed that it was just a quirky little glitch, but it lasted until the second time I played the game. During a leap that makes up one of the very first accessible parts of the game you, the ground beneath me and the sides around me turned jet black, causing me to miscalculate what constituted the road and what constituted the side of the building. In a game where the ability to quickly reply to visual stimuli with good reflexes is absolutely crucial, this is a severe and unforgivable problem, a cardinal sin, because it prevents me from effectively playing the game.
Fans of the series who absolutely must own every Crazy Taxi game will find several new ways to play on this UMD, and the music substitution feature is a welcome usage of the hardware's abilities. This does not redeem the game's flaws; no matter how shiny the car's wheels, no matter how diligently you clean out the ashtray and how often you wash the exterior, it's just a big lump of metal unless you've got the engine running smoothly, and Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars fails in that regard. I had such high hopes for this title, but it just ran out of gas.
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