The Simpsons Hit and Run is a difficult title to review, not so much because it’s a complicated game, which it isn’t, but because people are going to have two very different opinions on it. Simpson’s fans, like myself, are going to see it as a kind of whimsical driving game filled with characters and voices, little gaffs and jokes, and a generally good time. Non-Simpsons fans, though, I suspect will find it pretty thin, vaguely monotonous, and kind of pointless. It’s certainly no Grand Theft Auto, though clearly S:HAR borrows heavily from that (only without the realistic violence), and it doesn’t blow the graphics doors off like the latest Need for Speed Underground, instead pushing for a similar look to the TV series, but as I see it they’ve put themselves together a happy, jolly, Simpson-y title.
Nuts and bolts, it’s a driving game. Starting off fairly simply (90% of all games start with an easy tutorial level!), Springfield is being overrun by odd mechanical bee cameras and mysterious black vans, and what’s with the crop circle shaped like Bart’s head? Clearly some strange things are afoot, and this looks like a job for Homer! He starts with a single car – the family sedan – and just driving around town seeing the sights is something of a pleasure. There’s Springfield Elementary, and the Retirement Castle, the Springfield Tire Fire, the Nuclear Plant, and the Kwik-E-Mart. You’ll see Krusty and Nelson and Lenny and Smithers – just about everyone makes an appearance. One of the most amazing things to me was the architecture of Springfield, including Squidport, the trailer park, and the Stoncutters’ lodge. Without ever having really seen all of Springfield in an episode, the game chains all these places together to feel like a whole town. As missions are completed, other cars are unlocked including The Homer, Mr. Plow, the Honor Roller, the Canyonero, and dozens of others. Cars can also sometimes be purchased with coins that you get by destroying stuff – it’s a bizarre sort of economy, but there always seems to be plenty of coins around. The cars are ranked by speed, acceleration, handing, and toughness, and some missions definitely require you pick up a tougher or a faster car before it can be completed. If driving gets dull, you can always get out of the car and run around town a little, though most of the buildings are just shells and can’t be entered.
Like GTA, missions are assigned by interacting with characters around town. The game overall is divided into seven missions sets, two each for Homer and Bart, and one each for Marge, Lisa, and Apu (how did Apu end up in here?). Totalling fifty-odd primary missions, they are more or less all races against time or against another car to get from point A to point B, or to collect various items and get them to someone, and there are a couple in which you smash up other cars with your own. Also scattered around the town are other races and missions and little joke Easter eggs snuck into nooks and crannies. The game is just chock full of series trivia and bits, and non-Simpsons people probably aren’t going to care a whit for any of it. If you’re devoted enough to collect all of the little trivia pieces, I’ve read that you unlock an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, but I kind of found myself wandering onto other things before I found them all. I also managed to unlock a bonus track at one point, but never managed to actually find it. There’s more stuff slipped into this game than I think most gamers will ever find.
The sound effects and voice work in the game are perfect. Each character has their own musical score, Lisa’s punctuated by saxaphone riffs and Apu’s highlighted by sitar. The graphics are, as expected, cartoonish, looking greatly like the 3D halloween episode of the Simpsons. There were a few instances in which the graphics tore badly, allowing me to see into buildings and at one point through the roadway into the “underside” of Springfield, but a moment or two later as my perspective changed, the holes would cover themselves over. Worse I found was sometimes the camera ended up looking in entirely the wrong direction, caught around a corner or on the other side of a wall from my character. Very little of the action is life or death, but there are some tricky jumps to make and the camera work wasn’t helping things any.
Frankly, sitting here now writing about it, it feels like S:HAR is more of a Simpson’s comedy experience than just a driving game. Few of the missions are very difficult, and most take only a couple of minutes to complete, but there are more than fifty of them, so just getting through those takes some time. It’s really all the extras that make this game enjoyable, and they’re all Simpson’s extras, so if you’re not a Simpson’s person, you’re probably not going to care for it.