Shortly after its console release, the mission-based driving game set around everyone's favourite cartoon family has made its way to PCs worldwide. Players follow an action packed story line as they take on the role of each the Simpsons characters in a game which offers a cartoon alternative to GTA Vice City.
The story goes that strange things are going on in Springfield and the player's task is to investigate the situation, exploring the town by foot and by wheel, travelling through and around pretty much all of the well known locations from the show. The PC iteration is pretty much identical to the console version, with only a few slight adjustments and alterations.
Players can walk or drive around the city as they wish, going anywhere they like. However, to progress in the game and get the chance to visit newer locations, missions must be completed. The game is split up into seven levels, with over fifty different missions in total, starting off with very basic tasks to let the player adjust to the game. In each level players will get the chance to play with a different Simpsons character, starting off with Homer. In the introductory mission, Marge asks you to nip down to the grocery store and then on to the elementary school to hand Lisa her school project.
Navigating the town of Springfield is easy. If your task is to head to a certain location, there are likely to be green arrows flashing on the roads to point you in the right direction. In addition, there is a Vice City-type mini map in the corner of the screen that shows you where you are and where your desired location is. The tasks become somewhat more challenging as the game progresses. Typically missions include racing alongside well known towns folk, or picking up or destroying items which are scattered across the map in a time limit.
One of the major flaws in Hit and Run is that in the missions, although the characters involved or the surrounding areas tend to vary, the basic ideas are pretty much the same. Since the ideas behind many of the missions are repeated, after a while you feel like you've done it all before. For example: in one mission you must race one of the nerds to the comic book store. This is followed shortly afterwards with a mission where you must race another nerd to another location. Although there are a variety of types of missions on offer, they are still far too repetitive than they should be.
Luckily the fact that the game is set in the hometown of The Simpsons helps to make the repetitiveness more than bearable, especially for fans of the show. There are so many references to the TV show that Simpsons fans could have a field day just exploring the town.
Even if players aren't completing the missions, the town is scattered with coins. You can spend money that you collect on new outfits for your character to wear, such as the Chosen One outfit for Homer, and police uniform for Marge. Coins can also be spent on cars for the characters to drive, and there is a host of famous Springfield locomotives on offer which fans will most definitely recognise from the series. Vehicles include the Mr Plow truck, the school bus, Marge's Canyonero, and the Malibu Stacy car. In addition, the characters can "borrow" any of the cars which they see driving around town by simply walking up to it and jumping in - the family friendly alternative to hijacking.
Adding to the replayability of the game, there are many bonus games scattered around the map. Optionally you can take part in these special races to win new vehicles. There are also many different collector cards distributed evenly throughout the game, each one containing a memorable moment from the show. These cards are hidden in different places in town, one for example on the head of the Jebediah Springfield statue. The concept of knocking off the head to collect the card should mean something to most Simpsons fans alone? Collect all of these cards and you will be rewarded with a very special bonus? namely a multiplayer option. However, since this is a hidden bonus (or at least was until now?) I chose not to rate the multiplayer mode in the review.
The controls are one of the only major obvious differences to the console versions of the game. Navigating around the town is made very easy, probably much easier than it should be considering the level of interaction that can be achieved. Moving around both on foot and in vehicles is done using the assumed keyboard controls, and then most other actions can be done simply by clicking the left mouse button. This includes entering a building or a vehicle, or talking to one of the characters.
The actual character movements can be slightly awkward. This is mainly noticeable when you are trying to jump on to a small ledge to collect a coin or a card. The positioning can take some time and some patience. Sometimes it seems as if Homer just doesn't want to go where you want him to?
In my opinion, the developers have done a fantastic job of bringing the town of Springfield to life, and most importantly presenting it in 3D form. The first thing you notice when you start driving around the Evergreen Terrace area in the first level is how beautiful they have managed to make the town look, complete with crisp textures and menus. Locations such as the Kwik-E-Mart and Springfield Elementary don't look randomly placed on the map, but fit in to the world well. Clearly a lot of time has been spent getting the graphics right. You can move around the town smoothly and with ease. Most of the landmarks are very well rendered and highly detailed. The less-detailed mouth movements of the characters are the only sub par element of the in-game graphics.
Springfield looks like a living town with pedestrians walking the pavements and cars driving through the streets. These aren?t just for show, but you can interact with each one. Walk up to a car and you can hop in for a ride, or walk up to one of the towns folk and you can carry out one of your moves on them if you wish. That leads on nicely to the all important matter of the Springfield Police Force. If you need an extra bit of cash it is easy enough to mow down a few trees or drive into a couple of phone boxes. However cause too much chaos in the city and you will find Chief Wigam and the rest of the cops speeding after you. If you get caught you will get BUSTED and all of your cash taken off you. It's not game over, but it is a kick in the teeth if you've collected up a small fortune worth of gold coins.
One of the real let downs for me was the insides of the locations in the game. Although well detailed, the interiors were far less extensive than they could have been. Don't get me wrong, Moe's Tavern and the Kwik-E-Mart look great both inside and out, but you just don't get the chance to explore as much as you can when you're outside, and you can't even jump whilst roaming the inside of a building. I couldn't help but feel disappointed when I walked through the Simpsons' doorway and appeared in the living room. In my opinion the opportunity of walking around the entire house from room to room would have really helped to make you feel like you could go anywhere you wanted to go, with no limits or drawbacks.
From one disappointment to a major thumbs up, one of the stand out features in Hit and Run is the sound and music which feature in the game. The full cast from the TV show provide the voices for the characters in the game, and do a great job in bringing it to life. Although voice repeats can be heard eventually, there is definitely a much larger selection of voices compared to the previous Simpsons game, Road Rage.
The music soundtrack to the game is superbly done with different musical scores for different missions. The backing tracks, which are often based loosely around the Simpsons theme tune, are far from distracting and fit in to the game very nicely.
To sum it up, Hit and Run is by far the best Simpsons video game so far, and for this reason alone deserves one of those well recognised Gamer's Hell awards. The obvious audience for the game is viewers of the show. Having been a fan of The Simpsons for many years the gags and references alone were enough to keep me happy, and the main game itself was great fun. If you find that the missions are becoming too repetitive, simply take a break from the challenges and take stroll around the town to collect a few goodies.
The actual mission based gameplay itself does not - as you would probably expect - equal to the diversity of that in GTA Vice City, but there is definitely as much entertainment to be had from this game. It is unlikely that Radical were setting out to create direct competition for that game. Instead they have created a fun, light-hearted alternative that will appeal to pretty much all gamers.