Tuesday 2 October 2012

Crazy Taxi

Because this blog needs more Dreamcast games. Even if this isn't one of them.

Craaazy Taxi, part two of our wonderful journey through half-hearted Sega compilations. I made some crazy money once - I had a £5 note which set a bin on fire with no regard for human safety. What am I typing.

Nothing quite screams "irrelevance" like Crazy Taxi, and what better way to celebrate its existence than with a mediocre adaption for the Xbox 360. Originally released in arcades (not the Dreamcast) back in 1999, Crazy Taxi was the talk of the town for a few years, and stood as one of the first big Sega games to hit Nintendo and Sony consoles. It's not a pure-blooded Dreamcast game, unlike say, Crazy Taxi 2, but if Sega thinks it is, then best to take its words as fact. It's not like the company has ever been wrong before!

At the time of the arcade game's release, Crazy Taxi was one of several stand-out games in an era considered by many to be the arcade industry's last "hurrah". Though not the first driving game to break away from the linear nature of its predecessors, Crazy Taxi was a real eye-opener in my youth, as it was a fine demonstration of how far technology had come. Now we could seemingly render entire cities, giving the player the freedom to go anywhere - a concept pretty crazy for those of us who grew up with Sega Saturns.

But I'm not much of a Crazy Taxi connoisseur, and it took a great many years for the Dreamcast copy to appear on my shelf. To me, Crazy Taxi's fast-paced arcade roots make for a shallow home console experience, and while Sonic Adventure can last several hours for even the most experienced of players, Crazy Taxi has the sticking time of just a few minutes. It's a classic, and for what little it does, it does very well, but its problem is that it doesn't seem to do much.

That's not to say the Dreamcast version is identical to the arcade original - Sega added quite a bit of content to keep the game relevant, but not enough to keep me occupied for days. Without concrete long-term goals all you're seeking to do is improve on high scores and beat the small handful of Crazy Box missions, so whereas in the arcades, Crazy Taxi is still considered excellent for its quick thrills, elsewhere it shows up as lacking.

Mind you, even if I did think console versions of Crazy Taxi pulled their weight, I can't imagine there was a huge demand for an XBLA port back in 2010. The 2007 PSP release of Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars did a thorough job enhancing this game, so to then deliver a bare-bones conversion for Xbox Live Arcade seems like a slap in the face. Furthermore, with a top-selling PlayStation 2 port and representation on other systems, Crazy Taxi isn't much of a rarity in comparison to other Dreamcast classics.

As is the trend for modern Crazy Taxis, licensed content has been stripped out in this "HD" re-release. Gone is the original soundtrack and set of branded stores, and in their place, mediocrity and filler. Taking The Offspring out of Crazy Taxi is like taking Charlie Sheen out of Two and a Half Men - the replacements may be pleasant enough and the fans may still be happy, but you'll never quite shake the feeling that something is missing. Or perhaps more importantly, you start to wonder whether they're flogging a dead horse - Jon Cryer's character has been working as a full-time professional chiropractor for eight years, surely he can afford a deposit on a house.

This so called "HD" Crazy Taxi generally comes off worse than Sonic Adventure's upgrade. Vast chunks of this game were altered to suit lawyers, but once again, no attempts were made to enhance the existing codebase. Though wonderful at highlighting low polygon counts and dated textures, the 720p display isn't paired with anything meaningful like draw distance fixes or shorter loading times, and because it lacks a GameCube upgrade to fall back on like Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi looks a great deal worse in comparison.

With distorted menus and HUDs, and a badly implemented 16:9 widescreen mode to stretch things further, quality control really seems to have gone down the pan with this one. Not only is it not strictly a Dreamcast game, it isn't truly widescreen or HD either, despite being billed as all three. Dreamcast games will always look terrible when brought to bigger resolutions - they were designed with 640x480 displays in mind, and unless you plan to sit down and rework the in-game assets, that's how they should probably stay.

On the plus side, you can replace the audio with extra software should you feel inclined, and as Crazy Taxi was never as monumentally broken as Sonic Adventure, from a gameplay perspective life could be worse. The game is perfectly functional, but the slap-dash approach to visuals ends up creating one of the worst looking versions of Crazy Taxi to date.

That being said, I remember declaring Crazy Taxi "dead" when Grand Theft Auto III was released in 2001. This genre has evolved considerably over the last ten years, and now that there's even less content than before, it becomes very difficult to justify a purchase of this game. If Crazy Taxi 2 and 3 had come along for the ride things would be different, but as it stands, I just don't think Crazy Taxi on its own is worth the time or money.

So yes, even though the XBLA version won't do you any lasting damage, the missing graphics and audio mean you're not set to gain anything either. If you need this game in your life, I'd suggest seeking out an older version, be it the Dreamcast legend or the equally excellent GameCube and PlayStation 2 ports.

No comments:

Post a Comment