A retrospective of The Simpsons: Hit & Run

By Spencer Furniss

I can’t tell whether I’m tired of the remakes (or endless rumors of remakes) that we seem to get every week.

On one hand, there have been some incredible remakes, like the Final Fantasy 7 remake. On the other hand, we’ve been disappointed by the unadulterated disaster that was Warcraft 3: Reforged.

That’s why talk of a possible remake of The Simpsons: Hit & Run (2003) is both exciting and terrifying.

One of the lead producers of the game told GamesRadar last October that he could see a remake or a remaster happening on different platforms.

“It would have to take the parties who are in charge of the property to want that to happen and someone out there to decide that they were going to go out and do it,” Vlad Ceraldi said in the article. “But absolutely, it would be fun to explore those characters and that universe again, that work again.”

While it may seem like a long shot, there is definitely a community still out there asking for a remake or remaster, so hopefully we see some better news before the television show hits its fortieth season.

Due to these hopeful rumors, I decided it was time to take a stroll down Memory Evergreen Terrace and visit the Simpsons once again with the question of “Does this still hold up? Is it still fun? Should anyone play this game today?”

Well, the only answer I can truly decide on is:

The Simpsons: Hit & Run is a very, very basic game. Other than simple movement, you have a double jump, a sprint, a kick, and a button to exit and enter vehicles or interact with objects. Everything is bare bones when it comes to actually controlling your character, whether it be one of the Simpson family or Apu. 

Looking at the story, it doesn’t get much more complex. It’s simply a story about Kand and Kodos releasing a new cola that makes humans crazy, all for the sake of making them more interesting to film for their television show. Is it a little out there? Yes. Does it fit in a way that Treehouse of Horror episodes work? Absolutely, and it feels like playing one extended Halloween episode, especially when you get to the last level and it’s Halloween night.

Throughout the course of the game, you deal with insane Cola advertising, robotic wasps with cameras attached to them, conspiracies, and looking for a way to put a stop to the alien menace all through picking up shiny objects and driving around, crashing a whole lot of cars.

“Inside every hardened criminal beats the heart of a ten-year-old boy.” – Bart, Brother From Another Series

As the title implies, the gameplay loop consists of driving around three main sections of Springfield (the suburbs, downtown, and the harbour), doing tasks for townspeople in a very GTA-like way. These tasks are all generally very simple, like running and driving around to pick up items for a character, or taking a vehicle like the Plow King truck to destroy unmarked surveillance vans. 

As an example, one mission might have you driving with Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel to pick up roadkill to sell to Krusty Burger, while in a later level as Apu, you drive into Cletus’ car to knock the roadkill out of his truck so that the Kwik-E-Mart has the market cornered on rancid meat. There is even a wanted meter of sorts, where if you cause too much mayhem in running over Springfieldians and destroying trash cans and lamp posts, the police will try and ram into you full speed to ticket you.

So, to my Simpsons fans, do I recommend this game now in 2020, a full 17 years after release?

Here’s the short answer:  Yes, with an if.

The game is definitely dated, but I found so much in my 10-hour playthrough I found that I absolutely loved. Every level is filled with so many references, that I lost count of how many episodes were called-back from. Rehashed levels add more jokes even if they reuse assets, and the voice actors from the show are all here to give their talents to the in-game characters. 

If you choose to 100% every level, you are rewarded with a track in a racing minigame that can be played by up to 4 players, allowing everyone to use any vehicle unlocked in the game. As an extra bonus for collecting every collectible card in the game, you can turn them into Comic Book Guy for an extra cinematic that is a never before released episode of Itchy and Scratchy!

That’s it for now, but if you stick with me a bit longer, I’m going to gush about the reasons why I still feel that this game is magical in 2020.

Now, do I think someone with no affinity for the Simpsons would enjoy this game through to the end?

Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean that I don’t understand. -Homer Simpson

Well, here’s the long answer: No with a but.

This is a game that, mechanic wise, has not aged well. There are few buildings you can enter, leaving you with three overworlds that to someone who doesn’t care about them, are relatively empty and boring. 

The gags throughout the level (like the Hall for Veterans of Unpopular Wars), will fall flat, the city isn’t as deep or expansive as GTA, and the missions are simple drive-here-smash-this-beat-the-clock type tasks from start to finish.

It is a game that, over time, has been left behind gameplay wise, and is at times flatout frustrating. The number of times I had to restart a mission because the randomized traffic got in my way numbers in the triple digits over the course of my 100% playthrough. There were times I wanted to just give up and play something else, and I don’t see someone unfamiliar with the franchise to care enough to play past the first level. 

Beyond that, the cinematics are downright awful to look at now. While the graphics were done in a very stylized way that keeps it looking clean and recognizable (think the cel shading from the Dragon Ball Z Budokai games), the art doesn’t translate well to the CG of the time. Homer looks like a large, yellow monster more than he looks like the lovable oaf we’ve come to love and hate from the show.

On the console version, the loading times can drag on when restarting missions and the graphics look relatively fuzzy. It’s not one of those games that you’ll want to hook up an old console for just for a romp through Springfield. 

Playing the base game on PC  is downright unplayable. The game was never meant to be played with modern hardware, and on my mid-high end PC, the frame rate played havoc with car acceleration and load-zones.  

When my car would drive down the slightest of hills, the game would launch it three times the normal speed due to how the game operates on PC. During the first few missions, I had to lightly tap the accelerator just so that my character could get to their destination with an intact car. If I let the car speed around the game at the launch speeds I was getting off of foot-high slopes, I would end up flying into an area that the game hadn’t loaded it yet. Many times I ended up driving on invisible roads or falling through the map completely, which led to me restarting entire missions even after reaching the end.

I know this all sounds bad…

BUT!

The community who loves this game has been active the entire time the game has been on PC. I quickly found fixes to all of my problems, thanks to the wonderful folks behind the Donut Team.

The Donut Team is a group of people who create mods and accessibility tools for Hit and Run, and because of them, the game has never been more beautiful. The most important thing for someone playing Hit and Run on PC is the Lucas Mod Launcher. 

Because of the Lucas Mod Launcher, I found myself getting to the highest points of a level just to look out over the area.

Every time I did, I was blown away by the amount of detail I could find there. You were never supposed to be able to load the whole map at a single time when the game was released, but now you can look at all of it at the same time. When seen in this light, you really see the amount of love given to each environment.

The modding community isn’t the only group that helps keep this game alive. 

The speedrunning scene has kept this game relevant. It’s most notable runner is a man who goes by the tag of LiquidWiFi on Twitch, Youtube, and Twitter. In December 2019, he achieved a world record in the 100% category of the game at  2 hours and 59 minutes.

I occasionally drop in to his streams or turn on his Youtube channel just to see the game through a speedrunner’s lense, since speedrunning is something I’ve been interested in for a decade now. I strongly recommend you check out his channel if you want to see how quickly the game can be completed, or if you just want to see how relatively bad you are at the game. A link to his world record speedrun can be found here.

Everything’s coming up Milhouse! – Milhouse Van Houten

The Simpsons: Hit and Run is the definition of fan service, wrapped in a game that borrows from genres without adding to them. Because of that, it hasn’t aged like fine wine, but the more I played it the more I found to love. 

The world was crafted beautifully and the music was serviceable and reminiscent of the show. Changes in specific locations and the other frustrations I had with the game were swept under the rug every time I found something new to laugh at.

It’s one of those games that for many is better left in your memory banks, but if you’re ever looking to scratch that Simpsons itch without watching the show, I can’t think of anything better than running around Springfield to get your dose of “I remember that episode!”

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