Dude, That Looked Painful
Somewhere in the depths of the Springfield nuclear power plant, Mr Burns has been carrying out hideous genetic experiments, grafting Simpsons DNA into Crazy Taxi. The result is Simpsons Road Rage, an amusing if somewhat shallow driving game. The basic premise is simple enough - ferry your passengers around the mean streets of Springfield at breakneck speed with the aim of earning as much cash as possible. Depending on which difficulty level you choose you may start with anything up to 75 seconds on the clock, but when this runs out your car coasts to a halt and it's game over. Luckily whenever you pick up a passenger you get some extra seconds on the clock, although the further you get into a session the less time you're given for each journey and the more frantic things get. Reaching your destination ahead of schedule earns you a few seconds more as well as a modest cash tip, and sometimes you're also offered the chance to earn Road Rage and Safe Trip bonuses. The former involves causing as much mayhem as possible by knocking over trees, lamp posts, signs and innocent bystanders, while the latter rewards you for avoiding collisions with other vehicles. I'll let you guess which is more fun. You can even eke out an extra couple of seconds by knocking over one of the stops for Mr Burns' evil atomic bus fleet, which you can find scattered around each of the game's six neighbourhoods.
That Monkey Is Going To Pay
Taking to the roads of Springfield for the first time you only have access to one neighbourhood - Evergreen Terrace, home to Springfield Elementary School and the Kwik-E-Mart amongst other landmarks. You're also initially limited to a choice of the five main Simpson family members as your driver, including Lisa in an electric car and Marge's gas guzzling Canyonero. The rest of the game's neighbourhoods and vehicles must be unlocked by earning enough cash in the main Road Rage mode, which can be a rather tedious undertaking. You need several hundred thousand dollars to unlock everything, and a cool $1,000,000 to defeat Mr Burns' plans and complete the game outright. Bizarrely I actually found the tougher difficulty levels far easier than the .. er .. easy option - the tighter time limits are more than compensated for by the higher fares you charge your passengers - but whichever level you choose to play on, you'll be hard pushed to earn much more than $10,000 in a single run without cheating. Given that you only have six neighbourhoods to drive around, this means constantly circling the same few square miles of town over and over again just to unlock a few more drivers and the rest of the levels. A little more variety would have been welcome. The same goes for the voice acting. From Professor Frink, the fat comic store owner and Springfield's leading quack Dr Nick to the well-spoken kleptomaniac Snake and bumbling Police Chief Wiggum, many of the best loved Simpsons regulars are included in the game, with voices provided by the original actors. The bad news is that there's a relatively limited set of lines on offer for each, and as you hear at least two of them in any given car journey, after a few hours they may start to get a little grating.
Worst Trip .. Ever
If you want a break from the mayhem there's not much on offer in the way of alternative game modes either. Sunday Drive lets you tootle around in your own good time, giving you an opportunity to hunt for shortcuts, learn the layout of the maps and admire the scenery, but without any kind of time pressure or scoring system it soon gets dull. There's also a Mission mode, but this merely consists of a linear series of ten tasks. Most can be finished within two or three attempts, and all feature a time limit of under a minute, which makes this option rather shortlived. The tasks are also incredibly repetitive, as eight of the ten involve knocking over a certain number of specified objects, whether it's a drunken Barney running down mascots or Otto smashing into lamp posts in the school bus. The other two are simply a case of getting from A to B without being run off the road by Mr Burns. To make matters worse, traffic is entirely random, so you could lose before you've even got into gear because a bus has parked itself in front of your starting position. It's an amusing enough diversion from the Road Rage mode, but it isn't likely to occupy you for long. Finally there's the fast and furious two player split-screen option, which sets you and a friend loose on the streets of Springfield in a duel to see who can reach the target fare total first. To make things more interesting, you must both fight over the same punter, so if your opponent gets to them first you'll have to smash into the car to hijack their passenger and complete the ride.
I'm Bart Simpson, Who The Hell Are You?
Looking under the bonnet, the engine doesn't exactly stretch the Xbox hardware to its limits. Textures are blurry low resolution affairs and characters have a worrying tendency to run through walls and other vehicles to get into your car. Having said that, the toon renderer does a reasonable job of recreating Springfield in three dimensions, and the town's best known landmarks are instantly recognisable, even if many of the less important buildings are just poorly textured Frinkahedrons. Everything from the town hall and the nuclear power plant to Moe's Tavern and Flanders' Leftorium are included, although Simpsons purists will no doubt complain that everything's in the wrong place. Geographical inaccuracies aside, the level design is a mixed bag. Some of the locations are fairly satisfying to drive around, while others seem to have been hand crafted to be as annoying as possible. For example, both of the out of town stages feature broken bridges which you can jump across in one direction (if you time it right) but not in the other. This means that if you carry a fare to the wrong side of the Springfield gorge you have to waste time taking a circuitous route back to the main part of the map again. Factor in the shortage of side streets and shortcuts and a lack of familiar landmarks and these two settings aren't as much fun and often leave you with lower fares to boot. Given that the game only has six "neighbourhoods" to start with, it's a little disappointing.
Simpsons Road Rage is surprisingly entertaining in short bursts, but the charm tends to wear off fairly quickly thanks to the lack of variety on offer. Missions, locations, music and voice acting all get repetitive after just a few hours, and there's little incentive to keep you coming back long enough to earn the $1m you'll need to win the game. It's probably worth renting if you're a fan of the TV series, but it's hardly a must buy.