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     " A great game for all but an absolute must have for Simpsons fans. "

      Title: Simpsons Hit and Run by Vivendi Universal

      Format: Xbox Racer / Adventure Game

      Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters

      The Hype: Let's face it, Simpsons games do not have an illustrious history. With high points limited to such stinkers as Road Rage and Treehouse of Horror, many of us gamers felt that there was a monkey-paw-esque curse that could not be broken on all titles bearing Homer's likeness. Thus, when Vivendi sent us Hit and Run I was, to say the lest, skeptical. Drawing the short straw, I sat down in front of my withering Xbox to endure another five hours of broken promises and shattered potential. Or so I thought…

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: Part of the eternal struggle with Simpsons games is trying to get the graphics right. We are so used to our beloved characters in their trademark 2D that giving them depth and texture can be incredibly difficult. Pleasantly, surprisingly, developer Radical Entertainment has found a nice mix of volume and cartoonish charm that makes Hit and Run easily the nicest looking Simpsons game ever. Primarily implementing pastel colors with limited shading and thick, meaty models, Hit and Run abandons the gimmick graphics of past games and probably looks as much like 3D Simpsons as anything you could hope for (well, at least at current technology levels…I know we're all waiting for Homer from Treehouse of Horror VI, but that's still a ways off). 4 out of 5

      Playability: I don't know why somebody didn't think of it sooner. We all love the Simpsons; they're brash and semi-vile and a bit repugnant but generally light hearted. And most gamers loved the Grand Theft Auto games; they're also brash, of course more than semi-vile and repugnant, but also had some pretty compelling gameplay to them…so what would happen if you married the two ideas? If you took Homer and Bart and Marge and Lisa and dropped them into a world where you could run around on foot, solving puzzles, fighting, and gathering goodies, but when you needed a ride either pick a rig from your stable or stop some random schmoe on the street, and then race around town for fun and profit…wouldn't that be cool? Well, my monkeys, the answer, unquestioningly, is abso-frickin'-lutely…but I digress…
          So, not to put too fine a point on it, that's really what Hit and Run is: Grand Theft Auto with the Simpsons (without the gratuitous violence and whores, of course). You run around, gathering goodies on foot, until you decide to jump into a car (either one from your collection or by stopping random passers-by and getting in theirs) so you can drive around Springfield. Now, regardless of how that sounds to you, one thing that seems to be universal is that the game is downright fun. I've yet to talk to anyone who totally disliked it and the combination of racing missions (whether against time or an opponent), smash and grabs, and free roaming foot access means that you will have lots to play with even if the genre isn't your cup of tea.
          The physics, both in rides and on foot, are well designed and have a nice balance of realism and cartoonishness, which works well to complement the pleasant array of cars at your disposal. The levels are vast and filled with tons of Simpsons' in jokes (more on this in a second). And the missions, in general, are both entertaining and varied (though the mood is too often killed by the presence of the occasional ridiculously hard and requiring multiple replays to get it perfect missions). Finally, there's the games "economy", that being gold coins you can pick up or get by smashing things, which are used to buy outfits and cars, which means you'll have good incentive to wander around.
          Add it all together and you end up with a remarkably amusing and thoroughly enjoyable game. The driving missions will keep you busy (50 in all) for a long time and, in case you ever get bored, there's a ton of goodies to find and unlock on foot. 4.5 out of 5

      Story and Drama: Shockingly enough there is actually a story here! Written by the actual Simpsons crew it plays out like an interesting cross between a Treehouse of Horror and one of the nonsensical 10th season episodes…but that's okay, it is a video game after all. Delivered during cut scenes at the end of each level and very random bits of dialogue throughout you'll get a whiff of a devious world domination plot. Really, the highlight as you might expect is the presence of the actual actors delivering character lines…but unfortunately, as always seems to happen in these games, there's not nearly enough diversity in lines so you can look forward to hearing the painfully long lived catch phrases until your ears bleed yellow. 3.5 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: : If you look at the marketing for Hit & Run you'll see that it supports up to 4 players and, thus, you'd be inclined to believe that there's some kind of split screen racing option…and that would have been cool. What you get instead, however, is one thing I completely abhor; unlockable multi-player, combined with something I just plain don't understand; multi-player as a mini-game. Evidently feeling the need to reuse an engine from the 80s, the game's group play is almost identical to that old arcade stand-up "Super Offroad" in which you race badly rendered pixel sprites around a 2D circular course. And while it is marginally fun (way more so if you've been drinking) it's almost fraud to claim that's Xbox multi-player.
          But, on the up side, replayability for this game is through the roof. Well, actually, it's not so much replayability as it is longevity-as within each of the 7 levels you'll race there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of goodies to grab, areas to explore, and, best of all, Simpsons in-jokes. Never before has a Simpsons game gone to the length or demonstrated the class Hit & Run has in including enough references to have even the most die-hard and geeky of fans scrambling for their episode guides to try and sort out all the nostalgia. From billboards for "Stinking Fish Realty" and "The Lucky Stiff Funeral Home" to gags like the machine that grinds a whole tree into a single bowling ball, there is way more in this game than you'll discover in days of playing…and that gives that combination (goodies, missions, jokes to find) gives the game some very serious life. 3.75 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       All in all Hit & Run is an incredibly solid and thoroughly entertaining game. While there are a few things I would have liked to see improved it's been a long time since I've so thoroughly enjoyed playing through a game. Highly recommended.

      The Good: It's chalk full of rich, creamy, Simpsony goodness.

      The Bad: Though it does jack you in the mulit-player department.

      The Overall Ugly: A great game for all but an absolute must have for Simpsons fans.

      What it's Worth: Market

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