"Take one of the best games of the last five years. Add one of the best television shows of the last ten years. You should have yourself a pretty fine game, should you not? Such is the thinking behind The Simpsons: Road Rage. The basic idea is that it's Sega's superb driving game Crazy Taxi, only with Simpsons characters and locales instead of the near-real life locations and over-the-top taxi drivers. However, The Simpsons have had a... shall we say unfortunate history in gaming - basically, Sim..."
Take one of the best games of the last five years. Add one of the best television shows of the last ten years. You should have yourself a pretty fine game, should you not? Such is the thinking behind The Simpsons: Road Rage. The basic idea is that it's Sega's superb driving game Crazy Taxi, only with Simpsons characters and locales instead of the near-real life locations and over-the-top taxi drivers. However, The Simpsons have had a... shall we say unfortunate history in gaming - basically, Simpson-themed games tend to suck. Thankfully, though, the Road Rage team picked a good game to steal from.
Monty Burns is up to his old tricks again. Using his vast fortune he's bought the entire Springfield public transportation network, replacing the regular buses with nuclear powered death-traps. But Springfield's finest are not beaten yet - and bizarrely enough it's Homer that's developed their scheme to bring Burns down. Setting up their own taxi service, everyone's favourite yellow people are out to reclaim their public transport. Yeah, the plot's a little on the weak side, but it at least attempts to give a reason as to just why Homer, Bart, Otto and co. are taking to the streets.
If you've never played Crazy Taxi, the concept is simple. You drive around the various areas, picking up fares, getting them to their locations with the help of some over-the-top driving and try to make money, all the while battling against the clock, and Mr. Burns, who is also driving around the map, trying to upset your scheme. Road Rage plays exactly to this formula, and while plageristic, the cartoon-style action fits very well into Matt Groening's universe.
At first only the five members of the Simpson clan are available for selection - Homer in the family's car, Marge in the Canyonaro, Bart in his rocket-like soapbox cart, Lisa in an electric-powered car and Grandpa in his car. However, with the fares you earn, there are a total of seventeen vehicles that can be bought, such as Otto's schoolbus, Frink's flying car and Snake's Lil' Bandit. The limitations and strengths of each vehicle are pretty standard - Frink's car is as fast as a bullet but hard as hell to control, while Willy's tractor handles very well, but moves with all the speed of a large brick heading uphill through a pool of particularly thick and sticky tar (that's not very fast, for those of you who've never tried it).
While these cars are quite exciting and fun to drive, they won't keep you occupied for long unless you have a few different areas to drive in. At first you can only take to the roads in the Evergreen Terrace stage, which is basically the residential zone in the game. Here your fares generally want to be taken back to their homes, and although there is some variety provided by more exotic destinations such as the school or the Retirement Castle, this stage feels a bit dull. However, your hard-earned cash can be used to buy new stages as well as new drivers, with there being a total of six in all. The highlight of these is probably the entertainment district - this area is literally packed with recognisable locations, such as King Toot's, Moe's Tavern or the Krusty Burger, and there is far more fun to be had by the average Simpsons fan (surely that's most of us) in tearing up the streets around here than around houses that could, in all honesty, belong to anyone without the player being any the wiser. If you are to truly master these areas, though, you'll want to take time to explore and locate the multitude of shortcuts and back alleys that cut through the maps. This is where the Sunday Drive mode comes in to play - here there is no time limit, so you can just drive around the areas at your leisure, seeing what you can find. It's also possible to pick up fares in this mode, again free of a constraining time limit, and while you get no money for doing this, it helps point out where some otherwise obscure locations are (this is especially useful in the Evergreen Terrace map).
If you want a bit of a break from the taxiing, though, there are ten short missions included in the game, which provide a nice distraction. Early on these missions are very engaging, giving you tasks such as getting Homer back to work before Burns spots him, or using Barney's snow plow to run down the town's mascots. However, since so many of the missions involve getting somewhere that can only be reached one way (within the time limit at least) or destroying a set number of something, they do start to feel repetitive, and it becomes clear that they were tacked on as an afterthought in an attempt to bolster the game's longevity.
The game is also sadly not without some very noticeable flaws. Firstly and most severely, the collision detection in the game borders between being merely passable, and being extremely annoying - you'll all too often hit a car that you had clearly avoided - albeit by a narrow margin - and as some fares pay extra for safe driving, this is quite a pain. This dodgy collision extends to the scenery too. There are many areas of scenery that can be driven through, such as hedges, and while nine times out of ten you'll be able to use this perfectly well, there are still occasions when you'll bounce off a hedge or fence that you've been crashing through for the last few hours. Since this is a game that is based entirely around the concept of getting places fast, this is a flaw that really should have been ironed out long before release. In addition to this, the load times border on the obscene, especially for a console at the forefront of technology, and with a built in hard-drive. Sometimes as long as twenty seconds is spent looking at the loading screen, and the fact that this screen features Bart playing a video game is like salt in the wound. You also can't help but wish that a bit more time had been spent on the AI involved in the character interaction. While sometimes this is spot-on (if Bart's taking Skinner to Edna's house, Skinner will uncomfortably explain that they have marking to do), at other times it just seems... wrong. For example, Homer often jumps in the car and asks to b driven to the retirement castle to visit Grandpa, who's just found a treasure map, despite the fact that it is Grandpa who is driving! The hand that points you on your way also has an infuriating tendency to go completely mental on you, pointing you in one direction, only to start pointing you in completely the opposite direction, occasionally even just spinning around like a drunken washing machine. Add to this the inclusion of some shockingly empty levels, and the game begins to appear rushed. With a little more tinkering it could have taken advantage of the XBox's technology to easily iron out these little irritations, and would have been a better game for it, and the fact that this didn't happen just smacks of laziness on the behalf of the developers. Boo!
Thankfully the game does boast an absolutely superb multiplayer mode, in which two players fight for the same passengers. There is only one passenger on the map at any one time, and both players must race to reach him or her. When the passenger is picked up, the driver that missed out can steal by hitting the other driver, and the driver that gets the passenger to the destination gets the point. Although only a few maps are open in this mode, it still manages to be the game's saving grace, and is great fun - easily the game's best feature.
Graphically this game is also quite lazy - it looks just like the other versions of the game, despite that fact that with the power of the XBox behind it, it could have been so much more. It still looks very nice, mind you - the intro movie is great fun, the towns and characters are constructed in standard 3D polygons, while the vehicle you are driving is cel-shaded, making for a very nice cartoon-y graphical effect, while the vivid use of colour is a pleasant change from more serious looking games such as Halo or Blood Omen 2 . It's just the fact that, well, there's nothing except the controller in your hand that tells you that you're playing this game on the XBox, as opposed to on any of the other formats that this game has appeared on.
This game does boast some impressive voice-work from the Simpsons cast, and hearing some of the lines really can make you laugh (a personal favourite being Homer conspiratorially whispering 'I'm not a very good driver' to his passenger), and there are so many different lines that it takes a while for them to get repetitive, but there is often a bit of a lag between when the line was obviously intended to come out, and when it actually does. Quite often you'll be driving with your new fare when you'll suddenly and spookily hear the other fare thanking you for the ride. It can also take a little while for your fare to tell you where he or she wants to go, which could be a big problem if not for the giant hand that is constantly pointing you in the right direction, and the picture of their destination that appears when they first get in to your car. A bit of a close call, that one.... Some of the lines, however, fall well short of the mark. Marge telling Apu that his car 'smells like chutney' is an appalling cultural gaffe that falls perilously close to being racist.
Ultimately, Road Rage is a good, undemanding game. It can be completed in a solid afternoon's play, a weekend at most, but it does have a fair amount of replay value due to it's instant thrill style, making it, although unessential, (just) worthy of a purchase for those XBox gamers with money to spare. It is great fun (although it's hard to go too far wrong when borrowing so heavily for a classic like Crazy Taxi), but it deserves no higher than a seven due to some very noticeable flaws, and because... well.... because stealing is wrong, but it is definitely the first game to break the fabled 'Simpsons Curse', and for that alone it deserves credit.
Community review by tomclark (February 03, 2004)
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