There are a few natural laws in the video game universe, and one set of them I like to call "The Rules of Suck."
1) Army Men games will most likely suck.
2) Most games based on movies will suck.
3) Any game based on The Simpsons will suck.
Before I get a ton of reader mail, yes, the arcade Simpsons game from Konami was good, albeit a little strange. But with Simpsons Wrestling, Simpsons Skateboarding, Simpsons Bowling, Simpsons Road Rage, Bart's Nightmare (known as Bart no Fushigi na Yume no Daibouken in Japan) and numerous others, it's easy to lose track of that entertaining arcade game. Why didn't they just port that to one of the home consoles instead of the rest of that crap?
In any case, Rule #3 has finally been broken, and the perpetrator takes the form of The Simpsons: Hit and Run, a fun, open-ended Simpsons game chock full of geeky references and excellent humor. In the vein of other recent Simpsons software, Hit and Run takes an existing game and modifies it for the Simpsons universe. Many people have referred to this game as Grand Theft Auto: Simpsons, and the description is very apt. Though not as polished as the game it is based on, great writing and decent level design make this easily the best Simpsons game ever. Of course, it helps if you say that last line in your best Comic Book Guy accent.
The gameplay is exactly what you'd expect from a GTA 3 clone. You get missions by talking to different characters scattered around each level. There are Story Missions, Race Missions and Bonus Missions, which you can play in any order. Unlike GTA 3, you can't actually kill anybody in Springfield, no matter how much Ned Flanders deserves it. There's even a Bonus Game that you unlock by collecting special cards in the game, which plays a lot like Championship Sprint and is a nice way to add a little multiplayer to a game that otherwise wouldn't have it.
You play as one of five characters: Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and Apu. Why Apu? Well, if you had octuplets, you'd do anything you could to get out of the house. The game is a linear one, with each character starring in a collection of missions set in one giant level apiece.
The story is rather convoluted and involves cameras, surveillance vans and an old billionaire who yearns to destroy the sun (I wonder who that could be). The story unfolds in proper Simpsons fashion, with plenty of things going on that have absolutely nothing to do with the central plot. Mr. Sparkle, anyone?
The reason the story is so good is that they actually got writers from the show to work on this game. To top it off, they even got all the voice actors to record TONS of new dialogue. From Barney to Ralph Wiggum, everyone sounds perfect. Though some of the audio events do get repetitive, the overall sound is fantastic.
As are the Simpsons references. As an avid fan, I've seen every single episode, so recognizing the solid gold house or the billboards touting the wonders of venison were easy as floor pie. The references are so plentiful that I found myself occasionally pulling Comic Book Guy moments: "No, the house across from the Simpsons is bigger, as seen in Season 7, Episode 3F09: Two bad neighbors, when George Bush moves in across the street and Disco Stu makes his first appearance!"
I can't believe I just wrote that.
The references aren't just in the locations, either. Numerous areas have events that you've seen in episodes. From Frostilicus hanging out in the Kwik-E-Mart freezer to the Flanders clan hiding in their bomb shelter, fans will be greatly rewarded for exploration. In addition, different cars and character outfits from the series can be bought at different locations, allowing you to relive your favorite Simpsons moments. This, of course, meant the first thing I bought was Homer's muumuu. I mean, I didn't want to look like a freak.
Still, not everything is rosy in Springfield, as The Simpsons: Hit and Run does have its issues. Basing a game on GTA 3 means that comparisons are inevitable. Unfortunately, The Simpsons: Hit and Run just can't hold up to the aforementioned blockbuster.
Obviously the voices get a bit repetitive, but the gameplay gets repetitive as well, at times following GTA so closely that it gets awkward. Instead of jacking cars, you hitch rides. You can get out and run around on foot as much as you like, but beating people up (or running them over) only manages to raise your 'wanted' meter. If that tops out, the cops appear from out of nowhere and chase you down. After a while they'll go away, but even if they catch you, it's no big deal – you just lose some coins, which are incredibly easy to come by.
As the game goes on, you feel like you're doing the same thing over and over, just with different characters. The humor does hold up throughout the game and it tends to cover up the redundancy, but the lack of gameplay innovation really does hurt this game.
The lack of polish hurts it, too. In all three console versions (which are identical), A.I. glitches aren't uncommon and the on-foot camera tends to get persnickety. The game looks and plays better while driving. The graphics are pretty good throughout with the Xbox version boasting the best of the three, though it's a little freaky watching the 2D Simpsons wander around in 3D. But it really looks like Springfield, and it's cool getting to see the world come to life. Finally fans can get a handle on the town geography.
So though it's nothing you haven't seen before, The Simpsons Hit and Run takes a known gameplay setup and gives it the proper Simpsons touch. Full of humor for all and geeky references for some, this is a solid game that's sure to entertain. For the avid fan, this game is a definite winner, while for the rest of you it makes a fine rental. It might not be as good as BoneStorm, but it's way better than Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge.