The Simpsons has a long and colorful history, thanks in part to it being the longest running cartoon show of all time. Years of Simpsons episodes—some iconic, some terrible—offer up a pop culture smorgasbord of catchphrases, jokes, and imagery that have become part of the fabric of everyday life. Nestled in between that is the growth of The Simpsons in other media, from their official movie to dozens of video games based on the show.
The sad truth is, most of those video games suck. From Bart vs. The Space Mutants to Simpsons Wrestling, the track record for Simpsons video games is incredibly poor. Only two games tend to be remembered fondly: The Simpsons arcade game, a beat 'em up fondly remembered for its difficulty and use of the early Simpsons property, and The Simpsons: Hit & Run, a GTA-style clone released in 2003 by Vivendi Universal Games and Fox Interactive.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run is an odd duck, mostly because it is a game that, by all accounts, was halfway decent when it was released. You play as the Simpsons family and side character Apu, embarking numerous missions around Springfield as you uncover a growing conspiracy involving Buzz Cola, wasp-shaped robots, and more. Your goal in the semi-open world is to drive, fight, and collect tons of items to clear several objectives, from racing other characters to purposefully crashing into their cars.
The game itself is structured exactly the same way as Grand Theft Auto III, right down to the game's HUD almost being uncannily similar. This is also not really an accident, as developer Radical Entertainment had previously used the Simpsons as the backdrop of another popular franchise in the early 2000s with Simpsons: Road Rage, a Crazy Taxi clone. This is not really a knock on Hit & Run, though; it is in fact a rather clever device used to satirize GTA itself—an aspect of the game that was rightfully widely praised when it was released.
One of the ways the game does this is the contrived mission structure, deftly stringing together a few plot points by going through seemingly innocuous missions that happened to be connected together since the game’s first mission. It also follows the same "cinematic" style of GTA III, with close-up widescreen angles showing characters talking to each other to introduce the next mission.
Despite being a GTA clone, Hit & Run’s biggest asset was the fact it was a competent clone of the formula. Much like Saints Row, Hit & Run didn’t take itself too seriously, using The Simpsons setting and lore partially as fan service, partially as the selling point to get around the game's major shortcomings. The game looks like a Simpsons cartoon come to life, with thin-lined cel-shading and using the show's voice cast to great effect. If Hit & Run does one thing right, it gets the vibe of The Simpsons aesthetically and aurally on the nose.
Sadly, time has not been kind to Hit & Run, as the overall structure of the game is also very basic and repetitive. In 2003, this was a flaw that could be overlooked, as open-world sandbox style games on consoles were still in their infancy. GTA III suffers from this slightly too, but filled in the gaps with side content galore by 2003 standards, from the hidden weapon caches, a few open-buildings to explore, kill frenzy side missions, and more.
Unlike GTA III, which has aged well because of these smaller innovations to the genre it presented, Hit & Run fails to be captivating and wholly varied in the mission structure, looking bare bones in comparison to contemporary predecessors of the genre. You have a number of missions per character (played in a linear fashion; you can’t select your character per chapter), but very little side content is available outside of some hidden vehicles and other show references to explore. The mission types are almost all car-specific, either being a race, a chase, smashing a car or following a car around numerous locations. Other mission types are some sort of combination of “find X item” to keep the plot going forward.
It also fails in terms of controls. The game plays very awkwardly when on foot, punching and kicking objects is a slow and plodding affair. Driving segments are smoother but lack variable mission structure and types.
The open-world is also really devoid of a lot of character; you get about seven levels of Springfield based off the show, but it is often devoid of other things to do in the open world, something that has become the norm for sandbox-style games. Even the collectibles are usually just coins for buying items and cards referencing Simpson lore
The Simpsons: Hit & Run is basically boring to play. If you are not a fan of The Simpsons, a lot of the references might be lost on you, save for some of the more obvious examples from well-known, classic episodes. If you are looking for a varied gameplay experience, Hit & Run is not the best game to provide that—the missions aren’t varied enough, the world has few secrets out there, and the controls are very hit and miss. It is the charisma of the game that carries it; the closest a video game has gotten at being a true-blue Simpsons episode until The Simpsons: The Game was released in 2007.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run is really a product of its time and will likely be remembered for what it does right fondly versus being a continuously played classic like some games are. I don’t think Hit & Run is a bad game despite its massive faults, though. Despite all of the blemishes to the title, it is still one of the better Simpsons games out on the market today. For hardcore Simpsons fans, it can certainly be an amusing time to slog through in between the near 30 plus seasons of the show to watch.
The Simpsons Hit & Run was played on the Playsation 2 for this review. It was a request for our Rewind Review series, supported by our Patreon Backers.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run is really a product of its time and will likely be remembered for what it does right fondly versus being a continuously played classic like some games are.
- Authentic show voicework...
- GTA style and early open world...
- Good graphics for it's time...
- ...mediocre to poor controls.
- ...with very little to do in it.
- ...the age is noticeable though.