Making crazy money is not something many of us in the games business are ever likely to do, but as a lunatic cabbie in a videogame we've been pretty prolific. Some three years ago the original burst into the arcades, and its Dreamcast port was one of the must have titles for the console in the early part of its life, delivering an instantly playable twist on the tired driving genre. It was a breath of fresh air, and at the time was one of the first arcade to console ports that was functionally identical to the coin-op.
While the thrill of bombing around San Francisco picking up fares and dropping them off at their destination was great fun at first, it was one of those games that most people tired of within a matter of a couple of days. No one would question that it was fun, and looked great for its time, with dayglo visuals and a rip roaring frame rate, but the desire to come back to it just wasn't there.
The sequel featured the curious 'Crazy Jump' ability, which for reasons not properly explained gave your car the unlimited power to vault spontaneously over other vehicles. Also, you could pick up multiple passengers, each with their own drop off points, while the city itself was based on New York. Whoop de doo. If you had played the first version, there really was very little extra to justify the Ł40.
One for a quieter time
And so here we are with version three, an Xbox exclusive that slipped out to little fanfare recently and therefore was treated as "one to review when things quieten down", hence our unusual delay in popping it into our big black box.
Rather than call it Crazy Taxi 3, Hitmaker would have been more honest if it had dubbed it 'Crazy Taxi - The Dead Horse version'. This time around you get all the moves of the previous games, one new city to drive around in 'Glitter Oasis', based on Las Vegas, and 'revised' versions of West Coast and Small Apple; the two cities featured in the previous incarnations. And that's not all, you lucky, spoiled people. You even get four new drivers, and all eight of the previous drivers.
But in reality, the game could have 80 drivers and 20 cities - it wouldn't make up for the fact that there's just not enough variety in the gameplay to hold your interest for long enough. After driving around the three cities, picking up fare after fare and learning your best routes and so on, there's really very little the game can offer you that Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City doesn't do far better with its throwaway Taxi missions.
Slowdown, pop up, low res textures…what a pig's ear
And to make matters much, much worse, Hitmaker's understanding of the Xbox appears to be less than satisfactory, managing to win the "Worst Slowdown We've Seen In A Videogame in 2002" award. Particularly on the Glitter Oasis level, the game regularly and unforgivably slows to a snails pace - and with visuals that have not moved on one tiny bit from those on show back in 1999. It's all low res textures, pop up galore, and bad character animation, and for Xbox owners you'll be shaking your head wondering how Hitmaker could make such a pig's ear of such a straightforward game. Even the loading times are chronic, and somehow the benefit of a hard drive hasn't helped, making this just about the most unoptimised gaming experience we've had in a long time.
Even the control system hasn't been tweaked, so we get the totally unnecessary situation of having to put your car in reverse before you can go backwards, and then again into drive before you can go forwards again, which costs you vital seconds when you're attempting to spin around and go in the opposite direction after dropping off a fare.
The music quota has been improved, but anyone who cares little for American 'Punk' will be reaching for the volume control within seconds - so yet again we have The Offspring (four tracks), Bad Religion (five), Citizen Bird (three), Methods Of Mayhem (two), and Brian Setzer, oh he of Stray Cats (in)fame (two). If this choice of music is supposed to make us feel 'pumped' during the game then it fails miserably. Oh Sega, what the hell happened?
One small saving grace
At least the 25 mini games lend the package some extra curricular charm, but most of them you'll only play a couple of times. The likes of Crazy Jump and Crazy Tornado can probably be finished on your first go, while Crazy football and Crazy Chasm at least present some kind of challenge.
But no amount of mini game fun can ultimately save Crazy Taxi 3 from being a shallow experience that doesn't remotely justify the asking price. It may be exclusive to the Xbox, but did you notice Microsoft bragging about that much in the run up to Christmas?
That said, there is one positive outcome to all this negativity - if you find Crazy Taxi 3 in a High Street store, it's bound to be cheap.