The Simpsons: Hit & Run

News ID: 355
Date: 2003-08-28

BY DOUGLASS PERRY Let's face it, Fox Interactive has had a rough time as a publisher. I'll just skip the details for brevity's sake, but now that it has synchronized its interactive entertainment division with Vivendi Universal Games, things have slowly changed. The Simpsons: Hit and Run is a startling example. After snookering gamers with weak, hollow titles such as The Simpsons Wrestling on PlayStation, The Simpsons Road Rage and The Simpsons Skateboarding on PS2, Fox and VU Games have swiped a third noticeable game formula to give the Simpsons a proper place to live. This time, however, it worked.

Take the best ideas from Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series and plunk down the Simpsons into a virtual Springfield and low and behold, a surprisingly fun game has been born. Perhaps it's because Radical is growing more and more into a respectable developer again, or perhaps it's because the marriage of The Simpsons and Grand Theft Auto delivers everything that one would want from a Simpsons game: The show's distinct humor, a huge variety of missions, six playable characters, and the ability to explore a living breathing, virtual Springfield. Or, maybe it's because the fundamental gameplay ideas in Grand Theft Auto are so appealing that any franchise laid on top of the GTA formula would work. Whatever the case, Simpsons: Hit and Run is a blast to play.

The basic story is classic. The introductory movie displays from a first-person perspective a bee flying down into the Simpsons home, whereupon Homer wakes up on the living room couch and smashes it dead. The bee, however, is not just a bee, it's a video camera, controlled by space aliens. The show's aliens Kang and Kodos want to create an intergalactic reality TV show using the townspeople of Springfield, but they do it in secret. The result of their clandestine actions creates such trouble that the Simpsons and Quick-E-Mart owner Apu realize they must put a stop to it.

Players begin as Homer and find themselves able to walk out the door of the Simpson's house, run around jacking cars, running things over for money, getting chased by the police and smacking into people. The incredible thing is that nearly all the characters from the TV show appear in some form (in fact, more than 50 characters from the show appear), and they all have at least one, if not more, funny things to say. The interactive world of Springfield is relatively big, though not quite as big as say GTA: Vice City, and it includes everything from the cemetery, the Simpson's home, the power plant, Moe's, the Quick-E-Mart and more.

Players get the chance to take on the roles of other characters besides Homer, such as Bart, Lisa, Marge, Apu and a few other secret ones. Each has a vehicle of some kind he or she is best apt to drive. And hey, guess what? Players can indeed walk out of the cars and inside select building structures. Wha-hey! They can drive any car they can stop on the road, and by collecting money (by basically breaking or running over everything in Springfield), players can buy new outfits, vehicles and more. Watch out for the cops, too. Because if you run over or attack enough people, Springfield's finest will come blazing after you in their cars to fine you.

The game is filled with a surplus of collectible items from car wrenches (to repair your car) to coins (to buy stuff) to Cards (each of which recalls a special Simpson's episode). It's got characters with which to speak -- from the Comic Book Guy to Flanders to Willie to Lenny, etc. -- and areas to explore. The levels are set up so players can instantly cause havoc by driving like a madman through the town, crashing into and destroying trees, mailboxes, phone booths, and moving cars (all which actually give you money), and you can literally jump out and jack any old vehicle you want.

Lovable characters such as Millhouse and Nelson stand around representing mini-games, such as car races through the city or lap races for cash. And not straying from the GTA "formula" even a little, the missions are very, very familiar. Players are essentially playing GTA here in a Simpsons landscape with a Simpsons story. So, on the one hand you're hearing funny one-liners and jokes from the authentic voice-over cast, while on the other you're burning down the street, running people over and destroying public property. Yes, it is a strange, happy and somehow satisfying melding of two seemingly paradoxical franchises, but it works.

The characters all have their own missions, but the control scheme remains the same for each. Characters can walk, run, jack cars, kick things, interact with other people, open doors, etc., but to my knowledge (at least as far as I have gotten in the game) there aren't major weapons. So, no flamethrowing missions, or gang-related frenzies. Just good healthy Simpsons-related craziness. But they are a decent amount platforming elements built into the game to keep the out-of-car experience entertaining.

Many little things from the show appear to give fans that extra loving touch. For instance, players can pilot any car in the game, but special vehicles, such as the rocket car or Barney's plow are in it. Players are automatically bailed from their cars when the vehicle is about to explode without retaining too much physical damage. And once the car is burned to a crisp, players can actually hop back in the blackened remains of the chassis and drive it screeching -- sparks flying and metal grinding -- across the street just for the heck of it. When players enter the Quick-E-Mart, they can see a robbery going on in the back, and the characters never appear out of place or say jokes that aren't theirs. When Homer finishes a mission at his office, Mr. Burns says "OK, slave workers, you can now go home and to face your ugly families." (Or something like that.) The game is filled with other classic Simpsons humor too, and the humor deepens the adventure aspect in a smart way. Everyone wants to hear what the characters have to say, right? My very first instinct was to drive around and hear what characters were around and what they had to say, and so, just like in GTA when players wandered around to see what kind of trouble they could get into, they can do that here, but in a more "Simpsons" way of doing things.

The city is designed to explore. Players can "discover" secret coins, cards and wrenches lying around in backyards, parks and parking areas, and the street layouts even enable the equivalent to GTA's "Bonus Jumps" -- with applied movie perspective -- to deliver that cinematic feel. The cars are simplistic in feel, however, and don't come close to those found in similar games.

Everything looks relatively similar to the TV series, although the game is shown in full 3D, which means that the normal, almost primitive animation and shading from the show transforms into a midway point between the regular 2D show and that one episode where the whole show appeared in 3D. It's a little weird and awkward at times, but for the most part it works without too many visual hitches. The city opens up to show bigger and bigger segments too, giving players more terrain to cover and various kinds of environments to see.

In all The Simpsons: Hit and Run, like so many Simpsons games before it, uses (or you could even say "borrows" or "steals") a familiar, tried-and-true gameplay formula. It's not an original game by any means. But the application of the Simpsons world imposed onto the GTA formula has not only been applied well, it's been simplified, tuned, customized and tailored to the Simpsons universe with style, care and an amazing amount of genuinely fun gameplay. I know it's hard to believe that The Simpsons: Hit and Run is any good at all, but I had to play it to see for myself, and I'm digging it. In fact, many editorial folks walked over to my desk to simply watch the game in action -- A statement in itself. Check our new movies of the game to see exactly how much fun you can expect when this game hits the PS2, GameCube and Xbox September 16.

GAMES: Simpsons: Hit & Run (The)
PEOPLE: No people tagged
DEVELOPERS: Fox Interactive