Gamestyle Archive Intro: older formats were littered with poor licensed titles and I do remember this Simpsons cash-in having limited appeal; it certainly wasn’t too bad compared to what we were used to. This review dates from December 2003 and is from Gareth.
In recent memory, The Simpsons’ licence has been tacked onto just about any old piece of tat going – from the ‘alleged’ ripping-off of the Crazy Taxi formula to rubbish wrestling games. In fact, the last time The Simpsons got a proper run-out into the world of gaming goodness was way back in the day of 8-bit gaming, with platformer Bart vs. The Space Mutants.
The latest effort comes in the form of a Grand Theft Auto-inspired game (Simpsons’ Manhunt anyone?), which on the surface may seem a strange choice (and a fair few changes have been made to keep everything from getting too violent). So, GTA without the violence in a PG-rated Simpsons’ world… dear lord, what have we let ourselves in for? The Simpsons: Hit and Run may well be a copy of yet another popular and commercially viable formula (with a tacked-on gimmick), but it would be harsh to dismiss the title out of hand. In reality, Hit and Run only borrows certain things from GTA, but otherwise bears little resemblance to Rockstar North’s classic title.
The game sets players a number of missions in prescribed areas – driving from one place to another – and driving somewhere else is generally all that is needed to complete these tasks. There is little in the way of the on-foot sections found in GTA, and even the driving missions are only recognisable in an abstract sense. Each area of the game has players controlling one of The Simpsons brood, as they go about their driving tasks. Once a set number of missions have been completed, it’s onto the next area where a different member of the family does much the same. While there are things to do apart from the main missions, the freedom offered by other titles in this genre really shows up Hit and Run; indeed, apart from looking for collectible cards and the odd hidden gag event to trigger, there is not much else worth aimlessly wandering the streets of Springfield to find. This hampers the long-term appeal of the title, as the missions will only take the experienced gamer a couple of days to get through. However, for what the game strives to do, it does relatively well.
The Springfield environment is well represented, with everything more or less where it should be – and recognisable characters from the series all make themselves available at one point or another. The handling of the cars is very much in the realms of arcade-like, but the vehicles handle well and generally do what you want them to. At least this time around the basics have been delivered in a competent fashion – something that cannot be said of almost every other Simpsons’ title in recent years. Unfortunately, there is just not enough to make the game a worthwhile purchase in its own right. After the first few areas missions begin to feel repetitive, and moments of trademark humour come far too infrequently to keep players wanting to press on and see what happens next. This, coupled with the fact that most missions seem to have nothing to do with the overall plot (and that the plot is so dull that you do not care anyway), only pulls the title further down into the realms of the exceedingly average.
For fans of the series, there is the odd bit of replay value – new costumes and vehicles can be purchased, and there is always the hope that the next gag event will actually amount to something more than simply falling over or blowing up. For truly diehard fans, there is an unseen episode of the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon to be bought – once all the collectible cards have been found. Apart from these odds and sods, there is little else here apart from the samey missions; even going on a wild spree of knocking down innocent people holds little reward as the cops simply come and fine you (before letting you loose again). Also, due to the licence needing to have ‘gratuitous’ violence removed, there are no guns to be found – so, unless you want to go around kicking people along the pavement, it all wears thin rather quickly.
Overall, The Simpsons: Hit and Run is both a surprise and a disappointment. It is nice to see a Simpsons game that is finally worth playing – unfortunately, it is only worth playing for a few hours because anything after that sends the player tailspinning into a cul-de-sac of repetition. The basic gameplay and dynamics have been implemented well, but is that really enough in this day and age? Well, critically it isn’t – but it does bring hope that one day a truly great Simpsons’ game will come crashing through the creative barriers. Until then, it’s back to Bart Vs The Space Mutants on the old (8-bit) pavement… or Bart’s Escape from Camp Deadly (on the Gameboy).
Gamestyle Score: 5/10