For more than 14 years, the town of Springfield has provided television viewers with one of the greatest social commentaries ever created, The Simpsons. Much more than a cartoon (as many misinformed critics initially dismissed the series as), the dysfunctional family has survived the treacherous waters of television by humorously tackling issues that everyone can relate to. This formula has resulted in a number of Emmys, innumerable products and a record as the longest running animated show on TV. However, this success hasn’t really transferred over to video games, with previous titles featuring lackluster gameplay and production until now, with VU Games and Radical Entertainment’s The Simpsons: Hit and Run truly doing justice to the show’s trademark humor in an unexpected way to create a very pleasant gaming experience.
If the plotline of Hit and Run sounds like something you’d actually see in an episode of the show, it’s because the script behind the game was created by the writers of the show. In fact, the amount of contribution to this game by the staff of The Simpsons shores up the gameplay immensely. The game starts on a typical early morning in Springfield, with Homer stretched out across the couch in the living room. Unbeknownst (no pun intended) to the drooling patriarch of the family, he’s spied upon by a large metallic bee, which Homer promptly smashes upon waking up. While Homer isn’t the brightest man in the world, he is smart enough to know that insects aren’t made of cameras. Add to that the appearance of suspicious black vans all over town and the arrival of a wildly popular soft drink, and you have the basics for a massive Springfield-wide conspiracy that would rival any Treehouse of Horror tale.
Players start the game off as Homer, but later levels will have them control just about every member of the Simpson family (with the exception of Maggie) and a number of townsfolk, including Apu, Cletus and Chief Wiggum, amongst others. While there is a degree of linearity in missions, Hit and Run takes a page from the Grand Theft Auto series, providing a large amount of open-ended play that allows gamers to fully explore the town of Springfield. If you’ve ever seen the show, you’ll probably recognize many of the more popular locations, such as the Kwik-E-Mart, Nuclear Power Plant and Springfield Elementary. You’ll also run into areas like the Tomacco fields, Krustylu studios and Moe’s Tavern as you navigate the streets of the city. These landmarks aren’t just for looks; characters can actually enter some buildings and interact with the characters inside.
In fact, talking to characters provides much more than tasks to complete. Hit and Run is packed with hidden gags derived from some of the funnier moments from the fourteen years of the show. These include classics like Rod and Todd Flanders hiding in the family tornado shelter awaiting the rapture. This is augmented by collectors cards that are scattered throughout the seven levels of Springfield, also pulled from numerous moments from the show, which allows players to unlock a hilarious hidden feature if all the cards are found. Finally, to complete the Simpsons immersion, a ton of costumes from the cartoon’s episodes have been added to Hit and Run, including Homer’s muumuu, Marge as a police officer or Bart’s infamous Bartman outfit.
Of course, with a title like Hit and Run, you’d have to expect some kind of vehicular transportation. You can’t expect Homer to run around Springfield on foot; in fact, he’ll let you know that he’s not in any condition to do that. There’s two different ways to solve this little health problem: The first is by buying a car with coins collected from around town or successfully completed tasks. The second way is by another feature of GTA that’s been tweaked somewhat, because Hit and Run allows your characters to “carjack” any vehicle by hitching a ride with any driver. This allows you to control just about any car in the city limits. While it’s been cleaned up considerably, borrowing these vehicles doesn’t preclude you from being a terror to the population. You can drive through trees, mailboxes, or even townsfolk, just as you can run up and slap around a pedestrian on the street (and receive money for it!), but expect to pay somewhat of a price. Raise your menace meter too much, and the cops will quickly descend on your location, fining you $50 for your transgressions.
Hit and Run has made the town of Springfield look just as vibrant as it does on the TV every week. A huge, highly detailed city, Hit and Run presents a very large town which grows in size and scale as players progress through every level. Like I said earlier, fans of the show will constantly say to themselves, “Hey, I know that place!” or “So that’s where that is!” This is an impressive achievement. The characters themselves have made the transitions from the 2D world to the 3D world decently, with some smooth animation and details on each model. There are some detractions, however, that complicate the great environments. The first, and possibly most glaring, are the camera issues, which sometimes gets hung up on the corners of buildings or other objects. This can really be complicated when you’re trying to navigate through a level and you find the camera won’t track you as well as it should, even though you’re supposed to be able to control it on your own. Even worse, there are some serious clipping issues that will arise seemingly at random. Finally, the frame rate for the game can be particularly unstable, primarily around burning cars or exploding boxes full of coins, causing very noticeable slowdown.
If it’s a Simpsons game, you expect some kind of solid sound clips or at the very least some decent delivery during cutscenes. Hit and Run far surpasses any previous Simpsons title, with a huge dedication by the cast of the show. Every actor has provided their considerable talent to the dialogue for the game, culminating with hilarious one-liners, cutscenes and other effects. Musically, many pieces from the show have been included, and, at times, remixed to give a very lively, dynamic feel to the soundtrack. In fact, the only downside that I can truly see is that the number of one-liners that are delivered seem to repeat themselves a lot. Every now and then, a character will say something at random, but you can only hear the same line so many times before you want to hear something else.
While it’s not perfect, The Simpsons: Hit and Run is easily the greatest Simpsons game that’s been released. A solid script, good gameplay and a huge dose of humor makes this game stand out as a nice platformer. Unfortunately, technical issues prevent this game from truly standing out as exceptional. But, if you’re a fan of this long running show, you owe it to yourself to pick up and play this game.