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The Simpsons Hit and Run and gateway gaming

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Earlier this week I received some startling news – this month The Simpsons: Hit and Run turned 14 years old. For anyone that somehow managed to miss this game when it was released in 2003, it was intended to be a parody of Grand Theft Auto 3 and it allowed you to joyride through the town of Springfield , completing missions and causing chaos.

To this day I credit it with being my gateway into Grand Theft Auto. My training ground.

It was probably just before the age of 14 when I, funnily enough, first delved into the Grand Theft Auto series with a pre-owned copy of Grand Theft Auto 3.

I was, looking back, probably (definitely, actually, if you abide by small matters like official age ratings) much too young to play it. But I knew I wanted that game and, taking advantage of the fact that my mum wasn’t fully aware of what the series entailed (and her probable relief that I was asking for a game that only cost £14.99), I managed to get it.

Youthful…exuberance?

Before this I’d seen my older brother playing the original Grand Theft Auto on his PlayStation but I hadn’t really been interested in this top down affair that looked like one of my old city play mats.

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No, it was the promise of more open 3D worlds and joyriding I had enjoyed so much in The Simpsons Hit and Run that drew me to Grand Theft Auto. That and Grand Theft Auto 3’s back cover had a picture of a helicopter which suggested to me the stakes would be thrillingly raised.

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I was around 10 when I first played The Simpsons Hit and Run on PlayStation 2 and I was already a huge fan of the TV series. It was my 6pm routine to watch it on Channel 4 over my dinner (even if I’d seen the episode a million times before) and then loyally tune into every new episode on a Sunday night.

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Being a fan of The Simpsons is actually a pretty key requirement to getting any enjoyment out of Hit and Run. The game offers an astoundingly accurate and deep recreation of the town of Springfield and it’s clear that the developers love and know their source material.

Given that it was the show’s own writers and voice actors who worked alongside the developers Radical Entertainment, this is unsurprising.

You can explore every inch of the town, from Krusty Burger to Springfield Cemetery.  All around the game world you’ll find subtle references to memorable episode events from Hans Moleman getting hit in the groin with a football to finding that horrifying clown bed in Bart’s room.

Why does everyone run away from me?

The sense of humor from the show is also absolutely present in every cut scene and line. It took a while for me to get tired of hearing Bart shout “eat my dust, dust eaters!”

Aside from these catchphrase-like one liners, the sense of humor that you’ll find in The Simpsons actually ties in fairly well with the humor you’ll find in Grand Theft Auto – it’s tongue-in-cheek with a tendency to lean to the dark side and while The Simpsons dabbles in the ridiculous more than Grand Theft Auto, neither misses an opportunity to be puerile.

In Hit and Run you get to play as Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Apu across 7 levels with access to a huge variety of cars and costumes you’ll recognise from the show. My favorite to drive was Chester’s Rocket Car but I loved the inclusion of the Mr Plow truck just for the opportunity to sing the jingle.

Aside from care for its source material, the game shows care for the player experience and a genuine fondness for Grand Theft Auto.

Like Grand Theft Auto, each car handles slightly differently – some are fast, some slow, some don’t handle turns well and some are ideal for ramming someone off the road. The differences are highly noticeable and your choice of car could absolutely impact your performance on a mission, something any Grand Theft Auto fan will know all too well.

Another similarity is that you could end up destroying your car given enough damage, running down pedestrians wasn’t out of the question (nor was getting out of the car and kicking them) and creating enough chaos would result in a police chase.

The knowledge that it’s Chief Wiggum chasing you makes it way more fun than the faceless police force of Liberty City, admittedly, but you’ll just as quickly find yourself cursing him, Ralph, Sarah and even Lou when he rams your door and ruins your chances of completing your mission.

Taking all of this together makes Hit and Run feel like a game that was genuinely created for the enjoyment of fans, rather than to milk them.

That said, while I was able to get to the end of Grand Theft Auto 3’s main story, I never had the same success with The Simpsons Hit and Run. While Hit and Run’s missions obviously never had the variety of those you’ll find in Grand Theft Auto, the final mission of Hit and Run was obscenely, stupidly difficult and absolutely not for kids. Given that I still haven’t finished it, though, maybe it’s not for adults either.

Perhaps Grand Theft Auto is the more universal game after all. At least it didn’t feature underage driving.

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