"Imitation is the highest form of flattery." Though cliché, its significance is all too common in the gaming industry. But let's face it, originality is an attribute that's gradually become quite rare in recent years. Initially, a software publisher introduces a groundbreaking title, a trend ensues, and others follow suit. The latest example - The Simpsons: Road Rage, emulating the game design formula featured in Sega's Crazy Taxi, albeit a few minor distinctions.
It's pretty evident that Road Rage aspires to garner the interests of two respective audiences, which unfortunately, has been met with mixed emotions. Despite your fondness for Crazy Taxi, The Simpsons or both, there's a minimal guarantee that you'll embrace Road Rage with open arms. It's unfortunate since America's politically incorrect family hasn't seen much acclaim (no pun intended) since they've hit the video game scene in the late 80's, save for a few exceptions. Though, it should be noted that I've personally enjoyed this game immensely, but there are a number of quips that naturally should be addressed.
"Threat to public health, eh?"
Once again, Mr. Burns is up to no good -- fueled by his greedy passions, has brought out the Springfield Transit Corporation and replaced the bus system with his own ensemble of nuclear powered buses. With the city streets now in chaos and fares jacked up sky high, the turmoil has compelled the citizens of Springfield to take action into their own hands. Using their cabs, buses, and respective vehicles to provide shuttle service, the people of Springfield set out to earn the cash to disable the monopoly and restore the mass transit service before it's too late!
"Everyone better STAY out of my way."
Depending upon your expectations, Road Rage is adequately enjoyable. It's unfortunate that its theme resembles a pre-existing engine, in which the game bears the label as a "clone", but in its defense, I found the title to be quite entertaining. Beyond its core gameplay (as highlighted below), Road Rage features several game modes:
- Rage Mode: The core, arcade mode. Players can select between 5 Springfield locations collecting passengers.
- Mission Mode: A slight departure from the default theme. Players must complete objectives without a limited time period.
- Sunday Driving Mode: Think of this as a practice mode, allows players to pick up passengers and explore the city at a leisurely pace.
- Two-Player Mode: Grab a buddy and engage the multiplayer feature, adopting a "Capture the Flag" theme in which players beat opponents in a race for the next passenger, or steal their passenger mid-ride!
"Can you take me home? Phoebes took my patrol car…"
Compared to Crazy Taxi, The Simpsons: Road Rage features an abundance of charm and personality, composed of trademarks Springfield trademarks and a bevy of dialogue from the Simpsons cast of characters. This is particularly evident in the game's primary game mode - Road Rage. Early on, players will have immediate access to the Simpsons family (the game features over 25 characters in total). The menu select screen even features a brief introductory sequence that can be activated by highlighting any available character in the roster. Additional characters can be unlocked by the fares you accrue from successfully delivering passengers to their destinations (more on that later). Each character has their own signature vehicle according to their persona. For example, Bart drives a rocket-powered car, Lisa uses an electric powered vehicle, and Otto drives the Springfield Elementary school bus.
Rage Mode consists of 6 Springfield locations - Evergreen Terrace, Entertainment District, Springfield Dam, Nuclear Power Plant, Downtown, and Springfield Mountains. Initially, you'll only have access to Evergreen Terrace, additional areas can be unlocked respectively in the same manner you'd go about acquiring additional characters. As players navigate throughout the streets of Springfield, you're required to pick up "customers" flagging you down for a ride. Once you've picked up a passenger, it's your job to deliver them to their intended destination in the allotted time provided. Should you successfully reach the destination in time, you'll be rewarded with a base fare (in addition to bonus items) in accord with the customer's time limit.
In the same fashion as Crazy Taxi, the shortest route to your destination isn't always immediately obvious. You'll need to familiarize yourself with the various Springfield locations. This is where the Sunday Drive Mode especially comes into play, which essentially should be recognized as a practice session. Beyond that, there's very little reason to indulge this game mode. Mission Mode consists of 10 story-based objectives...essentially requires you to knock arrive at a designated area, down objects (or persons) within a specified time limit. It's remotely enjoyable, and redundant. Once you've completed all the objectives, there's practically no reason to engage it again. Unfortunate, since this hurts the game's overall replay value substantially.
"Get ready for electric speed."
Of course, having a solid grasp of the level isn't the only factor that will ensure that you'll receive an optimal base fare. Occasionally, you'll be issued a secondary objective that requires you to avoid traffic, or intentionally wreck havoc on various environments which will earn you additional Safe Trip and Road Rage bonuses respectively. Personally, I found the Road Rage objectives more enjoyable. Though avoiding traffic provides an ample degree of challenge, it can tend to be a hassle -- especially in the levels where the road is very narrow.
The controls are subject to opinion, but I found the controls to be inuitive and incredibly responsive (I would imagine it's not as comfortable with the Xbox edition). Default configurations allow players to select from using the directional pad or analog sticks for driving. Ever since analog functionality has been made available, I've stayed far away from digital, and in my opinion, it's the optimal choice (for any driving game!) With that in mind, using the left analog stick manipulates the vehicles steering, while the right stick controls the brakes and acceleration gears. Additional functions include the R1 button for brakes, and the R2 button activates the hand brake (does anyone ever use that feature?)
"Come on, come on...while we're young!"
For the most part, driving throughout the respective levels are a breeze. Each area has its own distinctive design and challenges. Aside from the race against time, you'll also need to be on the lookout for ongoing traffic and pedestrians, but Smithers and Mr. Burns will endlessly be on the hunt to impede your progress - stay alert. While the controls are simplistic and responsive, the vehicles lack any evident distinctions in handling and collision - it's always the same. Generally, all arcade-style games possess a certain degree of physics among the available vehicles, but sadly, you won't find that here. Additionally, the gameplay is rather rigid. While Crazy Taxi featured various special maneuvers (which also played a factor in accruing a higher base fare), Road Rage offers nothing significant to speak of. Well, besides the textbook pro tip to hold down the hand brake and spin the steering wheel, and then accelerating. Whee.
However, this is a minor technicality, compared to the game's most unforgivable shortcomings -- loading time. This becomes especially disheartening during Mission Mode. Before the action gets underway, you'll have to stare at a loading screen for approximately 30 seconds. In the event if you fail, or choose to restart the level, that's an additional 30 seconds that you're forced to endure in order to engage another level or game mode. This is highly inexcusable and as Comic Book Guy would likely say -- "Worst loading time...ever!"
Road Rage perfectly recreates the town atmosphere of Springfield, featuring a variety of familiar trademarks, including the Springfield school, Apu's Kwik-E-Mart, the Nuclear Powerplant, to name a few. While each level is exceptionally detailed but overall, this isn't the best testimony of the PS2's graphic potential. Adopting a cel-rendering engine as first seen in Jet Grind Radio, this is as close as players will playing out a virtual episode of the animated series.
"Hey, hey! Your rating is..."
Overall, The Simpsons Road Rage will be considered a huge disappointment, both to fans of the Crazy Taxi franchise and the Simpsons syndicated series. As expressed in the outset of the review, this is one of the dangers upon developing a title based upon a pre-established model. But to its credit, Road Rage is an intriguing title that's should appeal to arcade enthusiasts looking for a new addition to their library, or at the very least, recommended as the latest weekly rental.
· · · Bahn