It's been about 15 years since the weekly television debut
of The Simpsons, and over that period of time, more than a dozen video games
have carried the license of the seemingly inviolable Simpsons franchise.
However, with perhaps the sole exception of Konami's 1991 arcade action game,
The Simpsons, none of these games have ever managed to really capture the sharp
humor and unique personalities of the Springfield universe, and none have really
even proved to be much in the way of fun either. Thankfully, this trend finally
came to a close earlier this year when VU Games released The Simpsons: Hit &
Run on all three console platforms. The game borrowed heavily from the recent
entries in the Grand Theft Auto series, and, in so doing, it did a spectacular
job of bringing the world of Springfield to life--with all the witty humor and
unique style of the show left intact. Now, VU Games has released Hit & Run
for the PC, and, despite a few hitches here and there, the PC version does its
console counterparts justice.
The story of The Simpsons: Hit & Run
is perhaps a bit convoluted in its design but seemingly in an intentional way.
At the beginning of the game, Springfield is being overrun by mechanized bees,
mysterious black vans and cars, and an insidious cola that is controlling the
minds of the city's residents. In the game, you'll take control of the four core
Simpsons family members (Homer, Bart, Lisa, and Marge) as well as resident
Kwik-E-Mart proprietor, Apu, to investigate the origins of and motives for all
these strange happenings.
As the game follows the same structure as the
GTA entries, much of Hit & Run involves a linear series of missions, with a
number of exploration elements to boot. The game uses a basic level structure,
with seven total levels, each with seven primary missions. Each level in the
game is assigned to one specific character. There's one for Lisa, Marge, and
Apu, while Bart and Homer get two apiece. Missions are assigned by interactions
with the city's various characters. They generally involve collecting and
delivering items to other people or locations, racing other characters, and even
getting into full-on car combat situations. In actuality, practically every
mission in the game is a direct clone of one of the GTA driving missions.
However, the lack of originality in the game's mission structuring is more than
made up for by the decisively original style of Simpsons humor. The end result
is actually very fun.
Each level also has one bonus mission and three
non-story-related race missions. Completing both the bonus missions and race
missions help you to unlock new and unique cars in the game. This is key, as
vehicles are the most important aspect of Hit & Run's gameplay. Hit &
Run has a bevy of different cars to choose from, ranging from the more generic
and standard looking cars, to a host of different, episode-specific cars that
fans of the show are bound to recognize. Each character in the game starts out
with his or her own car. Marge has her road-rage-inspiring Canyonero, Homer
drives the family sedan, and Bart drives Martin Prince's entry into the
Springfield soap box derby, the Honor Roller.
These are not the only
cars that each character can drive, however, as certain missions will require
them to purchase new cars from vehicle merchants located around Springfield. For
example, one early mission requires Homer to destroy Mr. Smithers' car before he
can get to the power plant to conduct Homer's employee review. So, to do this,
Homer purchases the massive Plow King from his good friend Barney. In a pinch,
characters can also borrow cars from passing motorists, though these cars are
all pretty generic. However, if you can find one of any of the numerous phone
booths strewn about the town, you can access any of the different cars in the
game. There is a seemingly endless number of different cars to unlock and
purchase in the game, from Homer's self-designed car (aptly titled "The Homer")
to Comic Book Guy's beaten-down jalopy to Professor Frink's futuristic hovercar.
All in all, the selection of cars should keep you plenty entertained as you
navigate the streets of Springfield.
The game's mapping system is
denoted by a GTA-esque circular street map that appears in the corner of the
screen. It shows where you are in relation to where you need to be.
Additionally, there's also a system that works by having arrows appear on the
street, pointing out the path you need to follow. In many ways, it's actually a
better arrow system than the one used in the GTA games, and it keeps you from
ever really getting confused while driving.
Driving isn't the only way
to get around Springfield, as you can opt to just run and jump around town, sans
vehicle, any time you please. Each character has basic jump, attack, and
jump-attack functions. Each can be used to destroy enemies and objects or to
explore hidden areas. You can even kick a passerby. Every character can also
double-jump, and each also has a unique jumping slam attack. Homer, for
instance, can land a pretty hefty butt-stomp when the occasion calls for it. The
game also employs an action button, which can be used to activate different
objects, like moving platforms and the like.