I’ll admit, I was really drunk when I first played this game. It was 2001 and I was in a top floor apartment on Spruce Street and had way too many beers and shots (ah, to be twenty-one again). It was the era of the PS2 back when it was new, and the owners of the apartment were proud possessors of the system. Their collection of games at the time for PS2 weren’t numerous yet, but two games got played a lot that beer-drenched evening. One was SSX, which was great if you liked skiing, or, more accurately if you liked missing jumps and obsessing over physics perfection.
As it turns out, Crazy Taxi was actually similar… you just got the option to run people down with a car in the street while you did it. For me… well, that was enough. With the help of many, many drinks, I even managed an S-Class license rating that evening, though I universally failed every jump challenge.
I had almost forgotten about it until recently, when random chance made me think of it. Two weeks after my brief spate of reminiscence, I saw it re-released into the Internet courtesy of XBox Live and the Playstation Network. How could I say no?
The game is as fun as I remember it being when I first played in 2001. The ostensible goal is to pick up fares and ferry them about a large, sandbox region that bears a very strong resemblance to San Francisco (likely to get a little boost from another popular arcade game at the time, San Francisco Rush by rival developer, Atari). This could be accomplished by conventional means if you wanted to end the game prematurely (provided you were in original mode where the countdown for each fare was unforgiving at best). To get better fares and make more routes, you needed to treat physics like your bitch. To get more specific, you need to look for the ways you can ramp over buildings, drive through parks and generally make a holy terror of yourself throughout the vast levels of the game. The more tricks, the more extra cash comes in. The faster you get the fare to their destination, the better the tip. The more fares, the better your license score ended up.
The controls to accomplish this could use a little work. As a casual gamer, I find games burdened with ‘special moves’ frustrating (HADOKEN!). Crazy Taxi only has about six special techniques, none of which I’m particularly good at. I can sometimes manage a crazy dash, but more often than not I just feebly shift gears back and forth, lurching awkwardly forward, just like if you put me in a real stick-shift car. Otherwise, the controls are very responsive for the most part, save for when you decide drive on the grass (which in a game like Crazy Taxi is a fairly common tactic). The physics are enough to cause a Gran Turismo aficionado to go into epileptic fits and rail against the unreality. But, then again, we’re talking about a game that has your fares encourage you to drive like the devil himself and endanger their lives.
Which brings me to the graphics, which are pretty good for its time, and much improved by improving game resolution and frame rate. But, therein lay my one problem with the game. The original Crazy Taxi had you driving to locations you could find in the real world. ‘Take me to KFC!’ a fare would say, and off you went, depositing them roughly in the middle of the drive through lane. Similarly you could go to Tower Records, the Levi’s Store in the mall (yes, in the mall a la the Blues Brothers) and Pizza Hut. The original game was a product placement smorgasbord. It lent a small touch of otherwise lacking reality in addition to irrationally making you want to eat Stuffed Crust Pizza. I liked this touch, though I am usually prone to condemn such things. Well, it’s not a problem anymore – they took all of this out and replaced it with more benign and generic locations. The only artifact is a building that’s trademarked shape could be nothing other than a Pizza Hut, it just lacks the sign to give it legitimacy. It takes away a little of the nostalgia. Who’d have thought that these fine corporations wouldn’t want themselves associated with acts of driving bordering on terrorism, and all-round general disregard for safety?
They did however seem to retain something akin to the soundtrack I remembered, a blend of punk tunes somewhat channeling the sounds of the game’s original bands: the Offspring and Bad Religion. Knowing that these elements have been ported out of the newer editions makes me want to hunt down a copy of the original so as to enjoy the game in its native format. Then again, it’s possible that like most XBox games, I should be able to import a list of Bad Religion tunes and be on my merry way.
All said, Crazy Taxi is still pretty damned good. It’s not meant for the hardcore crowd, though you can certainly take it that direction with nine separate jump challenges and a super-hard to achieve S-Class driving score available, but mostly people who simply enjoy driving like maniacs end up playing the game and yelling with devil-may-care abandon through virtual streets as they do so.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox 360 (reviewed) ; Publisher: Sega ; Developer: Sega ; Players: 1; Released: November 24, 2010 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based off of a retail copy of the game purchased by Hey Poor Player.