October 13, 2003

The Simpsons: Hit & Run

My god! For the first time in 14 years, it's a really good Simpsons game! As with most Simpsons games before it, The Simpsons: Hit & Run blatantly steals its formula from a successful game that came before it. But this time, it works. The setup for Grand Theft Auto is an absolutely perfect one for a Simpsons game, because ultimately what you want from a Simpsons game is to be able to expore Springfield, interact with the hundreds of supporting characters the fans have grown to love, and in general exploit the license as much as possible. It's not the most technically impressive game on the block, but it succeeds in spades when it comes to delivering on these things.

First off, let me say this: I'm not crazy about the graphics. I still think cel-shading or some such technique would be more true to the show, and look better, to boot. Also, the engine isn't exactly fantastic, sometimes suffering from camera problems and you-can-see-the-repainting sync issues. And although the animation used when you run over people looks ok as you're driving, the same animation is used when you punch someone, and it looks downright weird. That said, however, they are certainly good enough to not really detract from the game they simply don't really add to it. Thankfully, all of the characters are rendered fairly well and have a bevy of animations, so that's a saving grace.

The real reason to get the game, though, is the amazing number of references contained within it, which easily overshadow the technical limitations. For example, in the first level alone, you'll drive over the Springfield Tire Fire, through Tomacco plants and the Stone Cutters secret tunnel, and under such landmarks as the Lard Land Donuts boy and "Don't eat beef eat deer" billboards. And it's not merely references; there are plenty of funny new jokes, such as the newspaper on the loading screen for level one that has the story "Fact: 90% of all video games start with easy tutorial level." It's Simpsons humor by Simpsons writers; what more could you want?

Moreoever, the game is simply loaded with dialogue from the real Simpsons voices, providing just tons of laughter. Sure, some of them are a bit repetitive, but they're so good overall you won't even mind. Make Homer run too much and you'll get, "Must...never...run...again!" Run over some random pedestrain and you'll hear, "It's a bad day for generic bystanders everywhere!" You get the idea; it's good stuff. Even better, although it's not advertised on the box, the Xbox version really seems to have Dolby Digital 5.1 support, which makes the audio all the better.

The gameplay is extremely similar to GTA3, which probably comes at no surprise. It works pretty well if you're going to copy a game completely, copy a great game. And the beauty of it is that it really lets you experience Springfield, which has always been the goal for a Simpsons game, I would think. You get to interact with all the characters and see all the places as a backdrop for the game. It's exactly as a TV show based game should be. As far as gameplay, it's pretty much straight GTA3. So you have races, "destroy the other car" missions, "find these item" missions, and so forth. Navigation is made simpler by arrows inlaid on the road, but other than that, you're getting pretty much the GTA3 experience with a Simpsons skin. And that is more than fine with me.

The bottom line is that it's fun gameplay that will consistently have any Simpsons fan grinning from ear to ear because of the clever dialogue, funny jokes, and simply incredible number of references. There are so many, and some are so subtle, that I couldn't help but be blown away. No, it's not perfect, but taken as a whole, this is the game Simpsons fans have been waiting for.

This video game review was posted at 06:11 PM