Developer: Supersonic Software
Release Date: April 15, 2008
The year was 2000, and the Sega Dreamcast was still living large, innovating within the home console market and really shaking things up with titles like Soul Calibur and Jet Grind Radio. The racing game genre had been well and truly plumbed, with two camps generally making up the bulk of the audience; there were the specialists who wanted to tweak every little thing and gravitated toward Gran Turismo, and there were the people who just wanted to get out there and gravitated toward Ridge Racer.
Suddenly, along comes a title where crashing had no actual consequences; you could hit as many people, cars and objects as you wanted, if you didn't mind a bit of a slowdown, and this was principally because, whereas other titles had been linear and pitted you against other vehicles, the new Crazy Taxi was an exemplary example of what a free-roaming title could be. With an exceptional soundtrack and adrenaline-pumping, physics-defying maneuvers, players could suddenly become invincible tanks that took the taxicab business to a whole new level. It is a true shame that the title never really hit its stride in terms of game sales, but this hasn't stopped a few other companies from trying to follow the example that was set forth and attempt an open-world gameplay style. To date, no company has managed to assemble an offering with quite the panache of the original title, and Emergency Mayhem for the Wii is a perfect example of a valiant attempt gone horribly, horribly wrong.
To truly understand why this title fails, one must first understand what made its predecessor a success. First, the graphical elements were sharp, crisp and clear. Sure, there was the occasional clipping here and there, but the layout of the city was distinctive and well-designed, and you never really wound up wondering what the heck that was in the distance. Emergency Mayhem fails rather soundly in this category; with a city entirely too congested with buildings, most of which serve absolutely no purpose other than to obscure your view of your surroundings and otherwise get in the way, the designers of each city would have been well served by simply following the classic acronym: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Throw in the fact that almost all pedestrians are virtually indistinguishable from one another and the frequent inability to tell what the game considers the barriers of an obstacle to be versus the actual visual parameters of the object in question, and it rapidly becomes clear that Emergency Mayhem isn't what it should have been; the fact that power-ups are readily visible and identifiable simply is not enough to rescue this title from its visual doldrums. The worst offender in this regard is the arrow at the top of the screen that points the player to his next goal or mission. While the arrow is clearly discernible when pointing to either side, it can become difficult to determine which direction it's facing if it's aiming directly toward or away from you, costing precious seconds and causing no small amount of irritation.
Carrying the comparison a step further, the iconic predecessor actually used professionally produced songs from well-known groups such as Offspring and Bad Religion. While it was true that passengers tended to have irritating voices, your driver had a voice that he used to talk back to them. On this count, too, Emergency Mayhem drops the ball and subsequently trips over it. Where the original had up-tempo, high-energy music that fueled the player's adrenaline rush, the makers of this title apparently couldn't pull together the cash to license anything well-known. While the soundtrack isn't abysmal, it's also not very recognizable, and it lacks both the lyrical substance and the energy to keep the player's finger on the gas pedal. The true complaint here lies in the voice of the dispatcher, who sounds like one of those recorded voices you hear on the telephone when telemarketers call — if the person doing the recording had enjoyed 16 cappuccinos that morning. The energy with which she lauds your successes feels more than a little phony, and heaven help you if you should fail in any of the missions you undertake. At that point, her voice rapidly turns into a mocking tone that tells you what a loser you are (among other such digs). It's worse than fingernails on a chalkboard and makes you scramble for the mute button on your television.
The real offender here is the lack of gameplay variety. While the original really only had one goal — pick up passengers and drop them off at their destinations as quickly as possible — it performed that goal with an exemplary flair that kept the experience fresh. On the other hand, Emergency Mayhem is little more than a series of minigames, and the three different play modes of police officer, medic and fireman really don't do an adequate job of differentiating themselves from one another. Those choosing to play as our boys in blue will find themselves endlessly pumping up flat tires, fixing traffic lights, and doing other mundane jobs that are too dull for comprehension, much less worthy of being put into a title intended to entertain. Firemen will complete such enthralling tasks as putting out trash fires, and ambulances will find that citizen after citizen has swallowed a fly, which must be guided out of the victim's body without touching the walls of their stomach. Apparently, the occupants of Crisis City have transformed into vandalizing, trash-burning frog-people, because these tasks will be performed over and over and over again, ad nauseam.
Of course, each mode has its "get to this location as quickly as possible" mission, as well as its "get to this location without hitting anything" mission, the latter of which is made all the more annoying by the visual difficulties mentioned earlier. Each mode also gets its own targets to run down: Policemen apparently have to commit vehicular manslaughter on criminals, firemen are required to plow through "minkees" (was the word "monkeys" copyrighted?) to capture them, and — in one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I've seen in quite a while — ambulance drivers actually have to run over escaped patients to rescue them. Seriously, you can't make up schlock like this. (Well, I suppose you can, but ... wow.)
The overall feeling given by Emergency Mayhem is that of a game that tries entirely too hard to mimic the most successful title in this genre, and fails rather badly on all counts. From the poor game design and repetitive minigames to the dispatcher who rapidly becomes so cheerful that you want to gag her with duct tape, Emergency Mayhem fails to deliver on every count that made Crazy Taxi such a brilliant title. Reduce the mayhem in your life, and give this one a pass.
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