The Simpsons: Hit & Run
The Simpsons is a great license, with its wealth of content, depth of characters and writing talent at Gracie Films. It is therefore, a crime that not one videogame so far has managed to do justice to the TV series, including the latest offering, The Simpsons: Hit & Run. In its 2D form, The Simpsons‘ humour is incredibly rich – full of of sight gags, facial expressions, satire, pop culture and movie homage. From the licensed videogames we’ve seen so far, it appears that you just can’t replicate that in 3D. That’s not to say that Hit & Run isn’t an enjoyable game; it just fails to capture the full spirit and humour of the source material which we love so much.
There are strange happenings in Springfield. People are missing, crop circles are appearing and hidden cameras are exposed. When Homer notices a suspicious black van parked outside his house, he decides to investigate. What follows pans out to be an interactive episode of The Simpsons with the player controlling various characters from the series. There are seven levels to work through, with 56 missions in all.
Contrary to popular belief, The Simpsons: Hit & Run is not GTA: Springfield. Sure, you can walk around and drive cars like in Rockstar’s masterpiece, but this is no city. Each level is a part of Springfield, but the layout is more like that of a race track than of a town. Instead of the grid pattern of streets we see in the TV series, it’s merely one long looping road with a selection of recognisable Springfield landmarks dotted around. It would have been great to have a fully accurate Springfield where you could explore it fully, but alas, this is a game for younger players so it needs to be kept simple. Shame.
Most missions involve the player talking to someone to get a task, then going around the level from A to B collecting items, destroying other cars, etc. After a mission is complete, you’re free to roam around until you pick up the next mission. Sounds familiar? It’s not GTA, honest. Things are conducted a little more genteelly in Springfield; for instance, if you lose your car you can walk up to another one, press Triangle and instead of booting the driver out of the car, the view goes black for a moment and the camera re-centres on the car that you’re now in. No blood, no disgruntled drivers, nothing. There’s also more of a platforming element in Hit & Run, with money acquired through collecting floating coins rather than doing missions for cash. It’s quick to draw comparisons with GTA and Hit & Run much like it was with Crazy Taxi and Road Rage, but the differences outnumber the similarities.
The controls have been kept relatively simple, with the highly original combination of ‘X’ and ‘square’ operating the throttle and brake whilst R1 or ‘O’ operates the handbrake and ‘triangle’ lets you get in and out of the car. On foot the controls are equally straightforward, with the basic functions of jumping, sprinting (yes, Homer sprints) and entering vehicles set aside on the face buttons. The vehicles handle relatively smoothly, but on foot the unreliable camera frustrates.
Hit & Run‘s missions are fairly straightforward and so is completing them. Some become frustrating when you can’t complete them, but this is where one of the game’s best features comes in. Every time you fail a mission, it takes you back to the last checkpoint – usually the start of the mission – and lets you attempt it again. However, if you keep failing, then a ‘skip’ option comes up next to ‘restart’, allowing you to bypass the mission. Genius.
Graphically recreating The Simpsons in 3D has to be the hardest element of the game for developers and Hit & Run is a mixed bag in this department as I expected. The scenery and backdrops are fine, in fact anything that doesn’t move is just like you’d expect it to be, from the Simpsons’ house to the parked cars along the streets. However, some of the characters look nothing like the TV stars, while others are fairly well done. For instance, Marge looks just like her TV alter-ego, but Homer is bulbous and Lisa looks nothing like her 2D counterpart. The lip-synching is hit and miss, while the interior camera angles are dubious at best. It’s also a shame to see the humour wasted, with much of it losing it’s meaning and impact. There’s a few digs at the games industry – newspaper headlines reading “Survey: 90% of games start with an easy tutorial level” – but these are no consolation for the misuse of trademark Simpsons humour.
There’s plenty to do in Hit & Run, with collectable items and a ‘percent complete’ figure just like in GTA. The 56 missions will keep you busy for a while, but when you’ve completed it, there’s not much else to do since the looping levels can’t really be explored. For young Simpsons fans it’s worth a rental and possibly a purchase if the price is right. For the rest of us though, it’s just another inoffensive Simpsons game that fails to stand out amongst all the other licensed games. There’s a few decent ideas here and there, but the rest of it just doesn’t make the grade. The Simpsons: Hit & Run may be the best game of the series so far, but it’s too unoriginal and soulless to make us want more.