Sunday, 28 November 2010

Review: Crazy Taxi (XBLA)

Way back when Crazy Taxi was first released in the summer of 2000, it felt like an 8/10 game. It may have been a rather simple and particularly shallow arcade experience, one designed to quickly sap those £1 coins away from your wallet and into its cabinet’s mechanical belly, but it was an extremely fun ride while it lasted. The Dreamcast conversion was almost completely arcade perfect, but aided in increasing longevity by adding in another city in which to drive around, and a cool mode full of wacky driving mini-games in the form of the Crazy Box.

Now Crazy Taxi has returned to the scene in a supposed HD re-release over both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. However, while everything looks almost as you remember it, the actual game as a whole has undergone a few tweaks and changes that seemingly take away from the originally inspired OTT outing.

For the most part, much is the same as I remember it. There’s two basic modes on offer here - Arcade and Original - each with their own take on things, and two separate stages in which to ferry around easily displeased passengers in. One of these comes directly from the arcade game, while the other was created specifically for the DC conversion itself. Four different cabbies are available, each with different handling characteristics and driving capabilities.

The basic blueprint of the gameplay then, has been left unchanged, except perhaps for a difference in handling. Instead you’ll find that most of the superficial stuff – the stuff that actually mattered the most – has been altered in order to save on the licensing fees Sega don’t seem to want to be paying.

Take the music for example. Part of the fun of playing CT wasn’t just rampaging across a fictionally mapped San Francisco while giving passengers the daily ride of their lives, but rampaging along whilst the philosophical lyrics of Bad Religion’s ‘Them and Us’, or the energetically youthful screams from The Offspring’s ‘All I Want’ indoctrinated your mind in a blaze of punk rock inspired mayhem.

Sadly, these are nowhere to be found. Instead, arguably the main draw of the original has been replaced with a series of bland, indie rock songs which are neither iconic, nor worthy of replacing the brilliant fusion that was once contained within. Whereas before the music helped maintain a conscious rhythm keeping you speeding along even faster as the timer briskly made its way to zero, the new songs found here simply grate. Their default volume is also too loud, thus drowning out the rest of the game.

The rest of the licences don’t fare any better. Like with the music, they’re simply not here at all. Nope, line’s such as ‘take me to Pizza Hut’ or ‘I wanna go to the KFC’ have been replaced with the likes of ‘Pizza Place’ and ‘FCS’ (Fried Chicken Shack), along with different voice actors and a tone failing to capture the spirit of the original. It’s pretty strange to see the key elements that made CT work so well torn out and replaced with poor substitutes.

The question is, why did Sega not simply extend the licences for use in this re-release? Have they become so poor that they couldn’t afford for a ten year old game to relinquish it’s aging licences, or did they simply not give two pence to make it happen? I don’t know, but something tells me it was the latter. Although, the very way the whole system works is as much to blame. Why should publishers have to pay for licences on game that they’ve already paid for before? Because, apparently, they expire after a certain time.

In my opinion, it’s an archaic and thoroughly over abused system, which can, if allowed to, regularly ruin the classic feel of older games with their modern day re-releasing. Of course that’s just how things work, and in any case the decision to extend the licenses should’ve been taken when someone though it would be a great idea to make CT available once again.

Outside of not having the music or places I remember, other areas have also been reworked for unknown reasons. The voices for all four main characters have been taken from the PS2 and GCN ports – that is to say they are different from the DC original. They’re certainly not as good. They sound nasally and distinctly off. Plus the game’s handling mechanic has been pulled right out of its sequel Crazy Taxi 2, and not from the first game of which this is supposed to be a port.

The tighter nature of the handling is actually okay… just about. But at the same time feels more suited to the confined city streets of New York depicted in CT2 rather than here, in the more wide-open landscapes of San Francisco.

Sadly, the XBL and PSN version of CT is an uneasy mix of fragmented parts of the PC, PS2, and DC games without solidly being based on either one, lacking the polish required to be a hit, along with any sense of care or attention. This is also apparent when you hear the overly compressed voice samples, and poor quality music used in the port. At least, unlike with Sonic Adventure, we've finally got proper widescreen support. But only when you actually begin playing the game - the menus are of the stretched out 4:3 variety.

But despite all the little changes here and there which break up the solid flow of the cherished original, Crazy Taxi in its current form is still reasonably fun to play. The cool challenges of the ‘Crazy Box’ are still just as wacky and innovative as ever, and the simple nature of the gameplay is something that is missing from too many of today’s arcade driving games. However, without the licences or the handling of then original - which made it great back in the day, Crazy Taxi feels like an empty shell, a shell that’s had its soul and personality – its innards if you will – ripped out and discarded for all to see.

There is a great little arcade title locked inside this half-assed port. Sadly that game has been carved up and re-created without the same level of distinct charm and composition, which it needed in order to hold up well today. In the end, Crazy Taxi is still fairly enjoyable to play. But without a large sum of its original parts, is no longer the experience it should have been – it’s distinctly average. Any solace comes from the fact that the bulk of the main arcade game can be played through via the demo. No need to waste precious MS or PSN points then.

I loved the Dreamcast version of Crazy Taxi, but I can’t say that I’m all that enthused, or even appreciative of what we’ve been given here. Sure thing Sega, feel free to give us a port of the original game. But do just that. Do it right with everything left intact, and not with what looks like a partially emulated rush job straight out of a backyard chop-shop.


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