|The Simpsons: Hit & Run|
|Publisher(s)||Vivendi Universal Games[a]|
|Release||GameCube, PlayStation 2 & Xbox|
|Genre(s)||Action-adventure, racing, Grand Theft Auto clone|
The Simpsons: Hit & Run is an action-adventure video game developed by Radical Entertainment and published by Vivendi Universal Games, for GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox and Microsoft Windows. It is based on the American animated sitcom The Simpsons, and is the twenty-second installment in the Simpsons series of video games. It was released on September 16, 2003 for GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It was ported to Microsoft Windows two months later.
The game follows the Simpson family and their friend Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who witness many strange incidents that occur in Springfield; security cameras, mysterious vans, crop circles, and a "new and improved" flavor of the popular soft drink Buzz Cola, which causes insanity. Taking matters into their own hands, they discover numerous shocking secrets, and soon realize these incidents are part of a larger alien conspiracy, caused by Kang and Kodos. Gameplay largely focuses on exploration and missions; players often race enemies and interact with supporting characters on timed quests. The game also features many elements found in role-playing games, such as a branching storyline and side tasks.
Beginning in early 2002, the development of The Simpsons: Hit & Run was extensive. The team sought to differentiate the game from The Simpsons: Road Rage, deeming their new entry into the franchise required a different direction. The game was heavily inspired by the Grand Theft Auto series, and the development team re-purposed the open-world design and nuanced character development for the game. This encouraged collaboration with the show's writers and cast, who helped craft the story and dialogue.
Upon release, it received positive reviews from video game critics, with praise particularly focused on the interpretation of The Simpsons television series as a video game, its parodical take on Grand Theft Auto III, and graphics, while criticism mostly surrounded some aspects of gameplay, such as bugs and glitches. It is generally considered to be the best Simpsons tie-in game and has gained a cult following. The game was also a commercial success, with recorded sales of over 3 million worldwide. It received the award for Fave Video Game at the 2004 Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards. On the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, it earned Greatest Hits, Player's Choice and Platinum Hits respectively.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run has seven levels, each with missions and a sub-plot. The player can control one specific character in each level. The game's playable characters are Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and Apu, with Homer and Bart being playable twice each. When travelling on foot, the player character can walk, jump, run, and perform three types of melee attacks: a normal kick, a jumping kick, and a smashing move. To drive, the player can either hitchhike and control the driver in one of the many civilian vehicles that drive endlessly around town, or use a phone booth to select a car. Several hidden vehicles are present in each level and can also be used by the player if found. The game's driving missions are also similar to those of Grand Theft Auto III. In both games, the player races against other characters, collects items before a timer runs out, and wrecks other cars.
The game has a sandbox-style format that emphasizes driving, and the player controls their character from a third-person view. The character can perform certain acts of violence, such as attacking pedestrians, blowing up vehicles, and destroying the environment. The Simpsons: Hit & Run has a warning meter that indicates when the police will retaliate for bad behaviour. Located in the bottom-right corner of the screen, the circular "hit and run" meter fills up when the character runs people over or destroys objects, and decreases when they cease doing so. When full, several police cars chase the character for the duration of the hit and run. In Level 7, instead of standard police cars, zombie police hearses chase the character.
Each level contains items the player can collect, such as coins, which can be gathered by either smashing Buzz Cola vending machines, Buzz Cola boxes or wasp cameras, the latter of which become more elusive as the game progresses. The coins can be used to buy new cars and player outfits, some of which are required to progress through the game. The player can also collect Itchy and Scratchy cards. By collecting all 49 of them, seven in each level, the player unlocks a special The Itchy & Scratchy Show video. Several events cause the player to lose coins; because the character cannot die, injuries cause the player to lose coins. If the player is apprehended during a hit and run, they will be fined 50 coins.
Mysterious happenings are occurring in Springfield, including wasp-shaped security cameras, mysterious black surveillance vans, crop circles, and a "new and improved" flavor of the popular soft drink Buzz Cola. A horde of these wasps descend upon the city at the beginning of the game. One enters the Simpsons' home and is smashed by Homer, emitting coins. Homer picks up one of the coins, and watches a commercial for the new Buzz Cola on TV, hosted by Krusty the Clown, noticing the logo on the coin resembles that of Buzz Cola. Homer decides he must go out and try some Buzz Cola.
Homer at first goes to the Kwik-E-Mart and purchases Buzz Cola, then gets into more routine tasks, such as giving Lisa her science project or going to work. At the end of the day, Homer is sent home from work and watches a news report on TV, which informs him that the mysterious cameras and black vans are being spotted all across town. He notices one of the vans spying on him outside the house, and decides to pursue it, leading him to Mr. Burns' mansion. Homer concludes that Mr. Burns is responsible for the wasps, and goes to confront him. However, Burns reveals that the black vans are simply pizza delivery vans, and proceeds to fire and release his guard dogs on Homer.
The next day, Bart skips school in search of the new game, Bonestorm II. After evading Principal Skinner, he does tasks for certain people who give him a lead onto finding the game. The trail leads him to Professor Frink who, in turn for a few errands, lets Bart see the new Truckasaurus, a giant mechanical dinosaur. Bart is nearly attacked by it, but escapes before disappearing in a tractor beam.
Lisa attempts to find her brother by exploring the Squidport area for clues. She learns from Grampa that black sedans that have been appearing around town are connected to Bart's disappearance, she also learns from Chief Wiggum that government-style agents have been appearing across the Squidport area. Lisa destroys the sedans, but finds them to be empty. After completing a task for the Sea Captain, she destroys a black limo but discovers Bart got out of it and boarded a ship. She finds Bart on the ship; he appears to have memory loss and is mumbling unintelligibly, as well as soiling his pants, while occasionally mentioning the sedans and Buzz Cola.
Marge sets out to learn what has affected Bart. As she investigates a crop circle that recently appeared in Cletus Spuckler's crop field, Grampa tells her that the crop circle resembles the Buzz Cola logo. Marge gives a can of the cola to Bart, which snaps him out of his gibberish state of mind. Bart reveals that the new Buzz Cola is an alien mind-control agent, which he was given while abducted. Marge decides to purge Springfield of cola trucks, but in spite of her efforts, the drink still maintains its popularity with consumers.
Inspired by Marge's efforts, Apu sets out to discover the source of Buzz Cola, remorseful for selling it in the first place. After some unsuccessful leads, he finally comes across Snake Jailbird, who tells him that the cola trucks are registered to the Springfield Museum of Natural History. Apu and Bart get to the museum, where they find a meteor as the source of the cola. They eavesdrop on a conversation between aliens Kang and Kodos, who are the masterminds behind the new cola and the wasp cameras. Apu and Bart learn that the wasp cameras are filming the antics of Springfield for an intergalactic reality show, Foolish Earthlings. With the show's ratings hitting an all-time low, the aliens are using the cola to make people insane; the next stage of their plot is to distribute laser guns among the populace to drive the town to a violent massacre sure to draw many viewers.
Terrified by Kang and Kodos' plan, Apu refuses to help any further and feigns insanity, so Bart takes it upon himself to foil the aliens' plan. He asks Krusty for help, but Krusty informs Bart that he has already helped the Duff Brewery set up free laser gun stands around Springfield. Bart then goes to his father, Homer, for help, and the duo quickly pursue Kang and Kodos to the brewery. However, the aliens escape, and before departing, they reveal that they have already released Buzz Cola throughout Springfield's water supply. As the cola seeps into the ground, it releases the undead from the Springfield Cemetery, who invade Springfield.
On Halloween, when Homer collects supplies to protect his family and home from the marauding zombies, he decides to pursue a black sports car—which is a probe for the aliens' ship—to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. There, he finds Professor Frink, who has discovered the aliens' weakness: nuclear waste. He plans to use the alien ship's tractor beam to suck up cars that are loaded with barrels of nuclear waste. After successfully loading Frink's car, along with three more, into the aliens' tractor beam, the ship explodes. The following day, Springfield is returned to normal, and Homer is seen as a celebrity among the alien viewers of Foolish Earthlings. Kang and Kodos, who were killed in the explosion and are now in Heaven, are seen questioning how they died on earth and went to "Earth Heaven."
The developer, Radical Entertainment, received the rights to create games for The Simpsons franchise when they demonstrated a playable prototype. Radical released its first The Simpsons game in 2001, called The Simpsons: Road Rage. After Road Rage was released, the development team for Hit & Run decided not to create a direct sequel to Road Rage (although there are files in the game's core that refers to it as "The Simpsons: Road Rage 2"); instead, Radical wanted to steer the franchise's video game series in a different direction by giving the game engine a complete overhaul. The developers felt that everything else needed a new approach, while only the driving portion of Road Rage was worth keeping; in Hit & Run, enhanced traffic artificial intelligence is introduced, which makes computer-controlled vehicles react better to the player's driving. They also decided to add an exploration element to the game to make players get out of the car and navigate the area on foot, so that the game offered a better experience of Springfield. The internal development name for "The Simpsons: Hit & Run" was simply "Simpsons", as referenced by the executable file of the game.
When developing the graphics, the team decided to include landmarks from Springfield. The player is able to enter some of them, including the Kwik-E-Mart, Moe's Tavern, Springfield Elementary School, and The Android's Dungeon and Baseball Card Shop. During Hit & Run's development, 20th Century Fox, Gracie Films and Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, played important roles in bringing The Simpsons universe into a 3D environment. All character voices were supplied by the actual cast, and the series' writers wrote the entire story for the game, including dialogue. Tim Ramage, the associate producer of the game's publisher, Vivendi Universal Games, considered it a blessing to have the opportunity of working with The Simpsons cast, along with the writers, whom Ramage called "the best there is [sic]".
Hit & Run received "generally favorable" reviews on all platforms according to the review aggregation website Metacritic, and many consider it to be the best Simpsons game to date. Praise focused on the move from the Simpsons television series to the video game format, while criticism targeted some aspects of gameplay. Hit & Run won the award for Fave Video Game at the 2004 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards. Over one million copies of the game were sold as of June 2004, and three million as of July 2007. The game's PlayStation 2 version received a "Diamond" sales award from the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), indicating sales of at least 1 million copies in the United Kingdom.
A number of reviews complimented the transposition of the Simpsons television series to a video game. Game Informer and GameSpot commented on how well the game depicted the fictional city of Springfield from the television series, and called it the most accurate representation of Springfield ever put into a game. Official Xbox Magazine said that the game did the show justice, and Play felt that it was "essentially the show in real time", summing up its review by calling the game a "truly great cross-over product". GameSpot thought that the humor that the game offered included many excellent self-referential jokes, and TeamXbox concluded its review by predicting that the game would be extremely appealing to gamers, especially hardcore Simpsons fans. Entertainment magazine Variety surmised that Hit & Run was the first Simpsons game to include humor comparable to what was in the television series.
Hit & Run's parodical take on the Grand Theft Auto III video game was praised by several reviewers. It was considered to "deftly satirize Grand Theft Auto while being almost as entertaining" in a review by GameSpy, which suggested that Hit & Run improved several gameplay aspects that it borrowed from Grand Theft Auto, including instant mission restarts, a superior guidance system, and an easily accessible collection of vehicles. Official Xbox Magazine agreed that Hit & Run was an excellent game in its own right, and found the game to be a "brilliant" clone of Grand Theft Auto. The combination of the Simpsons universe with the gameplay of the Grand Theft Auto series was also praised by IGN as "pure brilliance".
Positive reviews of Hit & Run focused on its graphics and gameplay. Play appreciated the virtual world that the game offered, describing it as "grandiose in its expanse and artistic rendering". GameSpot found the gameplay to be very engaging. The game was found to be "very fun and very funny" by Zach Meston of GameSpy, and Game Informer called it "nothing short of astonishing". Despite positive reactions, the game also had serious issues that were brought up in several reviews, which focused on the game's bugs and glitches. Both TeamXbox and Game Revolution pointed out that Hit & Run had a few gameplay issues and graphical shortcomings that included strange artificial intelligence behaviour and a broken camera system, which they felt hindered the overall experience of the game.
Non-video game publications gave positive reception on the game as well. The Village Voice gave the Xbox version a score of nine out of ten and stated, "This delightful, deep, and detailed (but unfortunately not cartoon-style cel-shaded) rip on the Grand Theft Auto series critiques itself better than any untenured academic could." The Cincinnati Enquirer gave the game four stars out of five and said that "What it lacks in originality it more than makes up for with its fun and easy-to-pick-up game play that will appeal to fans of the long-running comedy." Entertainment Weekly gave it a B and said, "If some of the missions seem repetitive, others stand out, like the one that has you confiscating copies of a particularly violent videogame (wink, wink) corrupting Springfield's youth." In Japan, Famitsu gave the Xbox version a score of two eights, one seven, and one eight, for a total of 31 out of 40.. In 2018, Watchmojo.com ranked the game #1 "Best" on their "Top 10 Best and Worst Simpsons Video Games" list.