Another Take – The Simpsons: Hit & Run

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I used to consider The Simpsons my favourite TV show and although I haven’t watched it for close to a decade, it probably should still hold that title as nothing since had quite the same impact. I watch very little television these days and it is amazing to me that the show is still on especially with the significant dip the show took in quality around the turn of the century. As with the show the Simpsons videogames are of varying quality. The original Konami arcade game was great fun and is still fondly remembered. The console games released during the height of the show’s popularity were generally pretty bad. In the last few years I regularly watched the show, two video game releases were developed by Radical Entertainment; The Simpsons: Road Rage and The Simpsons: Hit & Run.

The Simpsons: Hit & Run was released in 2003 at a time when Grand Theft Auto III was considered one of the must-own games on consoles and PC and many publishers were looking to bank on that success. Using the open-world design for the zany town of Springfield makes so much sense so it isn’t surprising that the game was made. Hit & Run is a little different in that Springfield is segmented into three large parts and the game is further divided into seven levels meaning two are used twice and one three times. At the time of release, it was amazing to see the town created in a virtual space that can be explored. I recall the layout of the town being inconsistent on the show and there are certainly differences with the game but generally, speaking it looks as it should. All the famous (and notorious) places are there including Evergreen Terrace, the Kwik-E-Mart, Moe’s Tavern and Springfield Elementary.

It isn’t enough that the buildings be there if there is no character and the greatest strength of The Simpsons: Hit & Run is the character. Most well known townspeople can be spoken to and are used in missions and are voiced by the cast of the show. The generic townspeople make comments, and cry out when you plow through them during and outside of missions. There are also objects to interact with that relate to gags from the show which are also collectables in the game. With traffic everywhere and a catchy soundtrack, it really does feel like you’re inside Springfield and that’s almost enough of an achievement to recommend the game.

Being a video game though, the game part needs to be good to and overall it is. Hit & Run is based almost entirely around driving even when playing as Bart and Lisa who both remind the player they are in fact too young to drive. The mission types vary from driving somewhere in a set time, driving and collecting items, chasing, escaping from or destroying other cars and races. Most have a time limit if not other conditions that have to be met for success. There are a few missions where you’ll have to collect items or do something outside of a vehicle but these are few and a vehicle will still be required to get to the mission.

If the above paragraph makes it seem like the game lacks variety then you would be absolutely right. The entire game is a series of errands and challenges and this applies to the side-missions in the game as well. This isn’t necessarily a criticism though as with few exceptions, the missions are a lot of fun. When missions get boring, the city can be explored and there are plenty of collectables to find and things to be explored especially for fans of the show.

The major weakness of the game is not the lack of mission variety but various bugs and some control issues. Bugs and glitches were and are still common to the open-world genre partially because of the scale of the world and freedom for the player to explore. I often had issues getting stuck in geometry which is made a much worse problem when you’re in a race or on a time limit. This even occasionally happened to vehicles I was chasing and it turns the challenge to frustration. The game isn’t difficult and the only difficulty I had was related to a game bugs. These bugs can sometimes work in your favour such as a pursuing vehicle getting trapped but it is far more often the other way around. Thankfully, it is easy to retry missions and you’ll rarely lose much progress.

There are a few other issues. Some missions require certain vehicles to be used which are difficult to control. I remember one mission in particular driving a school bus which had very heavy steering and was difficult to keep on the road. For most missions you’ll want a vehicle with a good balance of high speed and toughness for the many crashes that will happen. The others relate directly to control. Driving controls are generally solid but there is no full rotation with the camera so it can occasionally be hard to look around. The controls on foot are also generally not as responsive as when driving.

The Simpsons: Hit & Run is very much a game of its time but the license and surprisingly high quality makes it worth looking at. Despite the issues I had with the game, I actually consider it to be the best Simpsons game ever made. That is even when compared to the original coin-op eat em’ up and the more recent The Simpsons Game which released around the same time as the movie. Some of the references and lines are overdone or overused and the limited plot wouldn’t make a very good episode but it has the feel and the fun of the show at its best and that makes it worth playing. If you’re looking to play the game today, it is relatively inexpensive and was released on the PS2, Xbox, GameCube and PC. I was interested to discover that the PC version has support in the mod community. It hasn’t had any re-releases and due to the license, it is unlikely to again. Thankfully, original copies aren’t hard to come by.

October, 2016

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