The Simpsons: Hit & Run takes players on a trip through the colorful streets of Springfield in a mission-based racing game with the ability to continue objectives on foot. Something is amiss in Springfield, as strange crop circles have been reported and people are suddenly disappearing. After Homer notices a mysterious satellite-equipped van parked outside his home, he takes it upon himself to discover the truth behind these unsettling events. A total of 17 characters are available for the mission-based driving sequences, with Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Apu able to leave their cars and enter such buildings as Moe's Tavern, the Kwik-E-Mart, Kamp Krusty, and the Springfield Power Plant. To lend a degree of authenticity to the game, the animated show's original cast recorded the voice-overs for their respective characters.
The Simpsons has supposedly declined over the past few years, but it remains one of my all-time favorites; in fact, it's one of the few TV shows I still watch at all. I was thrilled to see that someone had finally made a great Simpsons game with the release of The Simpsons Hit and Run, which I devoured on the Xbox when it was released a little over a month ago. I'm now on my second tour of Springfield with the PC version, and am happy to say it's a top-notch translation, in some ways better than its console brethren.
At its core, The Simpsons Hit & Run has remained unchanged for the PC version. Part Grand Theft Auto and part Midtown Madness, Hit and Run takes place in a virtual Springfield. It's all here: the Simpsons' house, the Quik-E-Mart, Mr. Burns' mansion, Krustylu Studios ... you could spend hours just driving around checking out each of the three main areas. The plot, split up into 7 chapters, is a silly mystery involving black vans, mechanical wasp cameras and Buzz Cola, all leading up to a finale that would be right at home in the show's annual Treehouse of Horror.
During each chapter, you take control of one of show's key characters (Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa and Apu) and undertake a linear series of missions that, which the exception of a rare few, revolve around driving. One early mission pairs Lisa up with the Comic Book Guy in a race to acquire a rare comic book and return it to the Android's Dungeon before it loses its mint condition. Another tasks Marge with tailing a black sedan across Springfield and collecting meds for Grampa. Some missions require big cars useful for smashing up enemies; others require the fastest cars you can find so you can get from point A to point B as fast as possible. You build up a collection of vehicles as the game goes on, but you can carjac... err, hitch a ride with nearly any car in the city simply by walking up to it and pressing the action button.
The missions themselves are a great deal of fun, if a bit on the easy side. The cars handle extremely well, especially if you're using a gamepad with dual analog sticks, and the difficulty ramps up nicely as you get access to better and better cars. Like the recent Grand Theft Auto games, there are tons of side missions and other diversions available in each chapter that can result in unlocking special cars or other bonuses, so players who take their time may find later missions a bit easier. There were only a few missions I found frustrating; the majority are pretty easy to beat once you've tried them a few times and know what to do.
My biggest question going into the PC version of Hit & Run was how much care would be put into translating the graphics. That question was answered the minute I loaded up the game and was greeted with amazingly crisp textures, menus, and loading screens. Unlike many console-to-PC ports, it's clear that the developers loaded up the PC version with as much high-res art as possible, which looks even better than the Xbox version. I played nearly the entire game at a resolution of 1600x1200, which was not only a joy to look at but extremely playable on my machine.
The main problem with the PC Hit & Run is the same as it was on the consoles: it's a bit awkward to get around while on foot. The camera doesn't always go where you want it to, and although you can control the camera manually, you don't always have full control, especially near walls. The few missions that involve running around on foot to collect items are easily the most annoying in the game, but thankfully there aren't more than a handful.
Other than that, there's not much to complain about -- the main characters tend to repeat the same phrases over and over, which can get annoying after a while, and you'll burn through the main 49 missions, 7 bonus missions and 21 side races so quickly that you'll probably find yourself wishing for more. There are seven collector cards available throughout each chapter, which when acquired opens bonus races played from a top-down view (note: on the consoles, this allowed for 4-player multiplayer, but while we've unlocked the tracks in the PC version, it appears it's geared more towards single-play than multiplayer). There's a special Itchy and Scratchy movie that's unlocked when you find all 49 collectors cards, and enough gags and in-jokes scattered throughout each level to keep Simpsons fans busy long after the main missions are finished.
I was really impressed with Simpsons: Hit & Run when I first played it on the Xbox, and was equally impressed with the care taken in bringing it to the PC. It's not a hardcore epic like Grand Theft Auto and it's not a serious driving game, but it's definitely a lot of fun and a game no Simpsons fan should be without.
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