The Simpsons: Hit & Run Impressions

We spend a little time with Vivendi's mission-based Simpsons action game on the GameCube.

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At a recent Nintendo press event, Vivendi Universal had on display a playable GameCube version of The Simpsons: Hit & Run, its new mission-oriented action and driving game based on the long-lived animated franchise. We sat down to play the game for a few minutes with little idea of what to expect, and frankly we were surprised to learn that Hit & Run is best described as Grand Theft Auto: Springfield. Indeed, the newest Simpsons games shares a whole lot of gameplay mechanics with the most recent GTA games, and from what we gathered while playing it in its early state, Hit & Run may just marry the Simpsons franchise and the GTA formula successfully.

The Hit & Run demo began simply by casting the player as Homer Simpson and sending him out into the world of Springfield looking for tasks to complete. The game very overtly guides you toward your next goal--it tells you which character you need to speak with to initiate the mission, and then once your objective is understood, it indicates on a minimap where you should go and also overlays the road with arrows pointing toward your destination. For the first task, Marge sent Homer to the Kwik-E-Mart to buy a new supply of ice cream, and subsequent missions had Homer racing Principal Skinner to the elementary school or searching for Ned Flanders' purloined possessions. You'll get around Springfield mostly by car, starting with the Simpsons' familiar pink sedan. Of course, in true Grand Theft Auto style you can also run into the street and nab other motorists' vehicles if you get bored with or destroy your own car.

Graphically, Hit & Run is looking decent, and its style is about what you'd expect from yet another 3D Simpsons game. The character models are solid and the frame rate is quite smooth, although the demo was fraught with camera anomalies. These will surely be cleared up before the game's release, though. It seems that the entire voice cast of the show has recorded new dialogue for the game, which is always refreshing. The constant stream of wisecracks and one-liners adds a lot to the Simpsons-like atmosphere, from what we heard.

Vivendi says that a variety of characters will be playable later on in The Simpsons: Hit & Run, although we only got to see Homer in action during our brief time with the game. In addition to driving to and fro, you can also collect a sort of coin scattered around town, attack hapless pedestrians, and double-jump your way to obscure areas. Though the quality of past Simpsons games may have been dubious, we have to say that there's something strangely likable about Hit & Run. You can drive all over Springfield, talk to famous town residents, and go inside and explore fully modeled and recognizable locations from the TV series, and even apart from the actual mission structure of the game, these things are enjoyable for fans of the show. Of course, we'll have to wait for the finished product to find out if the mission-based gameplay actually holds up over many hours of playtime. The Simpsons: Hit & Run is currently scheduled for release in September. Stay tuned for more coverage.

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