Crazy taxi’s should have been an easy one. Developed by the masters of arcade gaming in the heart of Sega HQ, polished to a high sheen and bursting with charisma, it had the best of everything. Where most games come into the world stunted and unsightly, with some bits missing and other bits dropping off every five minutes, here was a very pretty and good game with the rare courage to be different. In time, it will be seen as a classic, a one of a kind, a bona fide masterpiece. But in the meantime, meaning right now, when it’s just a bit too old to be new, but not quite old enough to be retro, it’s considered horribly outdated and unplayable. A freak, a relic. At least by some.
This is the sad reality of the life of a videogame. That however great a game Crazy Taxi was when it first appeared three years ago, and great it most certainly was, it’s likely to be rejected now that it’s finally made it to PC just because it’s been round the block a few times. (And because there are a couple of nearidentical sequels kicking around somewhere.) And I’d just like to say that this is sick and wrong, and not much different from tying a kitten in a sack full of rocks and throwing it in a creek. Or something equally nasty.
Help The Aged
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, a bit in the way of explanation. If you hadn’t already guessed, I’m of the belief that Crazy Taxi, in both its arcade and Dreamcast incarnations, was an excellent game. Hitmaker (one of Sega’s leading development teams) stumbled upon a hugely satisfying game dynamic when it came up with the idea of no-holds-barred cab driving, and somehow managed to present it in such a way that the arcade simplicity of the concept was preserved, yet with enough gameplay nuances in tow to assure longevity.
What’s more, the PC version you’re looking at now is a first-rate, rigorously faithful conversion of the Dreamcast original, probably one of the best console-to-PC ports we’ve ever seen. While it may be taking the piss somewhat that the game has taken this long to get to PC, it remains just as playable now as it ever was. Call me a sucker, but for this reason I’m willing to overlook, for the most part, how old the game is and what other platforms it’s appeared on, and concentrate on the virtues of what is, to my mind, a classic piece of arcade gameplay.
In A Nutshell...
But before we launch into a discussion of the game's various merits, it's probably worth describing what the hell Crazy Taxi is all about, just in case one or two of you are yet to sample the delights of extreme taxicab action. Luckily, and like all the best arcade games, it’s very straightforward.
The aim of the game is to rack up as much money as possible by ferrying passengers from place to place around one of the game’s two cities before the clock runs down. That's it. There’s no road rules, no cops, no floating power-ups or hidden coins to collect. Just you and your cab and a city full of waiting passengers.
Or at least that’s the taxi part of it. The crazy part is another story altogether. Aside from the insane physics that see you bouncing around the roads and flying through the air like a Virtua Tennis ball, these are no ordinary passengers. For some reason, every one of them is in a tremendous hurry to get somewhere. They’re also either extremely lazy or crippled, as their destinations are often less than 50 yards down the road (but may be up to a kilometre away). What’s more, they clearly have far too much spending-cash on their hands, as they tend to shower you with it every time you do something right. Narrowly avoid another car (or bus, train, truck, tram, etc) and the coins come flying (this being known as the 'crazy through’). Jump off a ramp or hill (the 'crazy jump’) and it’s another payday. Better yet, there are a couple of swift key combinations that allow you to pull off turbo boosts and power-slides (the 'crazy dash' and 'crazy drift', respectively), which not only make progress through the streets that much quicker, but may induce your mentally imbalanced and bone idle customer to reward you even more generously.
Cabbies On Crack
While it is possible to pick up and play Crazy Taxi without knowing any of this, playing the game without using the special moves is a bit like playing Street Fighter II without knowing how to throw a fireball (and don’t even think about playing without a half-decent gamepad). It’s all about rapidly executed crazy dashes and perfectly timed slides, shaving those all-important seconds off your transit time and spiralling your tips into triple figures. And this is where the game’s enormous replayability comes from. Aside from the drive to beat your high-score (or better yet, that of your mate, who, ideally, is sitting next to you and taking turns as you play) it's simply the need to become a better, crazier driver. There's always room for improvement, whether it’s in your knowledge of the cities and their many short cuts, or your skill at stopping right at the feet of every passenger, thwarting any possible delay as they scurry over to your cab. Plus, the more crazy drifts, crazy throughs and crazy jumps you can combo together without crashing into anything, the higher your tips become. And once you've got a handle on all of this, you can enjoy that other great arcade pleasure - showing off. While this addictive, mesmerising need to perfect your skills clearly succeeded in making Crazy Taxi a rather good arcade game, the whole thing works much better in the comfort of your own home. The learning curve of the game easily outlasts the occasional interactions of arcade play, where only those willing to sacrifice bucket-loads of loose change were able to master the game’s true subtleties.
That said, the game is still much better enjoyed as a social experience, where one-upmanship, mockery and disparagement are given their due consideration. But there’s no reason you can't all huddle around your household PC and pretend you own the arcade - a few cigarette burns in your keyboard casing and you'll never know the difference.
A great deal of longevity also arises simply from the size and complexity of the game’s two cities. The first of these, as featured in the original arcade game, is the more straightforward of the two. comprising a long loop with some San Fran style hills, a simple low-rise shopping district and a more problematic downtown area. It’s all pretty straightforward, with a few easily located shortcuts and plenty of obvious landmarks.
The second, or 'original’ city (introduced in the Dreamcast version) is a very different proposition. Near identical streets are joined at fiendish and confusing angles, roads cross over and under each other, circuitous byways and large city blocks ensure that a single wrong turn can result in a long and costly detour... There’s even a bloody big bay area to negotiate on one side of town. The upshot is that you can no longer rely on the guide arrow and your indifferent knowledge of the streets to get by. Clever use of shortcuts such as train tracks, underground tunnels and highway overpasses is essential. You even have to jump over entire city blocks now and again to be truly efficient. At first, much of this is frustrating, especially when you realise that the big green arrow guiding you to your destination is giving you a major bum-steer, but it highlights the fact that this is no longer just a ten minute arcade investment. And once your initial anger subsides, getting your passengers there in record time becomes much more satisfying.
The other reason Crazy Taxi is such a pleasure to play is the sheer exuberance of the whole thing. The graphics, while fairly unsophisticated, are bursting with colour and vitality. Silly voices add a measure of humour, and ridiculous jumps and bumps ensure that you never start to take things too seriously. In short, it looks and sounds like (and is) a fun game.
For some people these very elements will be a turn-off, suggesting, as they do, a shallow experience and one unsuited to the PC platform (see Dave’s Second Opinion boxout for starters). In some ways this is fair enough - whatever floats your boat and all that. And there’s no denying that this is indeed light entertainment, making few demands on your grey matter. But anyone willing to embrace Crazy Taxi's upbeat arcade aesthetic will find an incredibly gratifying game beneath, one founded on pure, distilled gameplay values and good old-fashioned insanity. It is three-years-old, and a console game at heart, but Crazy Taxi is also a brilliant game. And that’s what matters, right?
Used Car Salesmen
It’s a glaringly obvious point, and one already stated, but the fact remains that Crazy Taxi is a three-year-old game that many of us have already enjoyed in various arcade and console incarnations. And although this is, by and large, a high fidelity conversion (something we should be grateful for given the slapdash jobs we usually get), it’s a bit sad that no one thought it worthwhile to add any extra material to the game. A few extra city blocks, a few new destinations and customers, even some new shortcuts would have been nice. Indeed, having recently played a demo of Crazy Taxi 3 on Xbox, we’ve realised how much the mere addition of turbo flames on your back wheels can enhance your driving satisfaction.
Even better, what if the developers had spent a few months putting together a level editor for the game so that the PC community could get to work making their own cities and towns? Before long we could have been ferrying passengers to and fro in every major city in the free world! Or maybe that’s a bit too much to ask...
Download Crazy Taxi
Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets. Until then, unscrupulous minicab drivers will continue to aggressively hawk their services, proceed to take you home via the Watford gap, and then have the temerity to charge you three times the agreed fare. It may not be the most obvious subject for a game, but Crazy Taxi is about as far removed as it's possible to be from the depressing world of pine air freshener, Magic FM, and the stench of other people's sick. In fact it's quite a cheery take on the lot of the cab driver, insanely so, as the name suggests. Peruse the surrounding screenshots, and you will find nothing but bold, bright colours, blue skies and smiling faces.
Not your average PC game then, you might be thinking, and you'd be absolutely right. If you've been living in your PC bunker for the last few years, let's bring you up to speed. A big hit in the arcades, Sega's Crazy Taxi was an obvious choice to appear on the Dreamcast, and did so to critical and commercial acclaim (well, as commercial as you can be on a console owned by about eight people). There was a Crazy Taxi 2, but it's the original that we are concerned with here. It's being converted to the PC by the same outfit that brought us Virtua Tennis, a game that shares a similar history: from arcade hit to Dreamcast classic to PC footnote in the space of a couple of years.
Two Years Too Late?
Crazy Taxi may have had the Dreamcast brigade drooling into their bibs back in the day, but why on Earth would a discerning PC gamer want to play a two-year-old console game? Rather than posing aggressive rhetorical questions, let's ask the game's producer, Strangelite's Danny Rawles. So is the notoriously snobbish PC community going to be interested?
"If not, then they should be," he says. "Just because it's a two-year-old game -all that means is that anyone who hasn't played Crazy Taxi has been deprived for the past two years. It's an ageless classic that still looks great and plays brilliantly - even in today's market."
We can't argue with that, but is there anything that can be done to improve upon the - admittedly excellent Dreamcast visuals? "The Dreamcast version does look great, which is a testament to a technically great console. Our aim is to create a faithful conversion of the DC original and as such, for the majority of players, the game will look identical to the Dreamcast version. But for those with higher specification PCs, they can benefit from higher resolutions and increased draw distances."
The Game Remains The Same
Other than that, it's exactly the same game, and one that sees you take the wheel of that big yellow car in the pictures. Cruising round one of two fictional cities in the titular taxi, the idea is to take passengers to their intended destination in the quickest possible time, something of a breath of fresh air (literally) for anyone who regularly uses cabs in London. A fairly simplistic concept, but there is more to it than that, such as the fact that tips can be earned by driving flamboyantly, or to be more accurate, dangerously. Weaving through an impossible gap will yield a squeal of delight from your passenger, and an extra couple of dollars in your arse pocket.
Yes, if it wasn't already blatantly obvious, the game is of course set in America. As such, crass commercialism is rife, and a number of major brand name outlets provide some of the destinations. Pizza Hut, The Original Levi's Company, and Tower Records are all featured in the game, along with more generic locations such as the Baseball Stadium or the Cable Car. Although the general direction is hinted at by a great big arrow at the top of the screen, the cabbie's proverbial knowledge will come in handy, and being able to recognise areas and find your way around town will be invaluable.
Each city comes replete with a working traffic system, with none of the ambient drivers in the least bit bothered that you are in a hurry. As well as the two cities, a host of challenges are available, such as bursting balloons and even knocking down bowling pins, another parallel with Virtua Tennis.
The emphasis is clearly on 'fun', and Crazy Taxi could well prove a welcome departure from the goblin-ridden nonsense that traditionally pervades the PC. The game's producer certainly thinks so: "Absolutely. Not only are these games fun to play but they are also fun to develop and produce. Crazy Taxi is one of those rare games that offers instant pick-up-and-play gratification. The game is insanely fast and fun to play and I strongly believe PC gamers will enjoy the 'adrenaline rush' gameplay that our console cousins have always raved about."
Get In The Car
It may have escaped your notice, but the PC is also privy to another high-profile console conversion of a driving game. Crazy Taxi could be in danger of having its thunder stolen by the anarchic monster that is Grand Theft Auto III. Danny Rawles hopes not: "I think GTA III is a great game and will undoubtedly do well on the PC, but we are competing for a different sector of the market. Both games are great in their own right but they are different enough to stand out on their own and not get in each other's way."
One key difference is that in GTA III the streets run red with the warm blood of the freshly dead. In the happy-go-lucky world of Crazy Taxi, potential hit-and-run victims show amazing reflexes and athleticism, and prove impossible to mow down, something that may prove anathema to blood-crazed PC gamers.
According to Rawles, this is something PC gamers need to get over. 'This is not how the game was designed and once gamers overcome the urge to try and run someone down (and they will try), they will soon realise that there are more important things to worry about such as avoiding cars and buildings rather than crashing into them! The best Taxi players will try not to hit any objects at all because the whole premise of the game is about speed."
Fair enough. Midtown Madness employed a similar system of pedestrians leaping out of the way, and that proved popular enough. Is there a direct comparison with that game?
"Well, any city-based driving game can be compared to Crazy Taxi such as Midtown Madness, but this is where most of the similarities end. It could almost be classed as a genre-defining game..."
Music Sounds Better
Of course it could. Whatever it is, it's certainly not a simulation, and while it may technically be classified as a driving game, it has more in common with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater than it does with the latest Formula One title. Tricks and jumps are all part of your armoury, and the rules of physics are only very loosely adhered to. We've been playing an early beta version and it looks to be shaping up nicely, although with the sound currently restricted to just the overly cheery voices, it did eventually begin to grate.
The dialogue should prove less irritating against the background of a bustling city and the obligatory angry music, which is one area where the PC version could differ from its console counterpart. The original Dreamcast game featured a skate punk soundtrack from The Offspring and Bad Religion, but the PC conversion could boast something else. As the producer admitted: "There will be four music tracks in the game but these are yet to be finalised, so I can't reveal any more about them. You can't cater for everyone's tastes so we are currently discussing the possibility of allowing the player to swap the game CD with a CD from their own music collection. The game will automatically play the tracks from the inserted CD rather than the four default tracks for a more personal playing experience." Given that they are only offering four tracks - one for each driver in the game -that will probably be a very good idea. Whatever happens, anything will be preferable to listening to Heart FM while slipping in and out of consciousness. Stop the car.
Crazy Taxi Driver
Surely A Game Too Far For Hollywood
A film about a taxi driver might sound like the most boring thing ever, but Martin Scorsese proved otherwise in 1976 with the functionally named classic, Taxi Driver. Starring a menacing Robert De Niro as anti-hero Travis Bickle, a loner pushed to the edge by the sordid, violent scenes of the New York night shift, it's a powerful and dark experience.
Completely unlike Crazy Taxi, although amazingly there are plans for a film based on the game, director Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon l-IV, The Goonies) has obtained the rights, and was quoted last year as saying: "I loved playing Crazy Taxi and I realised immediately that it had the potential to be a big summer event movie. Sega's game franchise has the perfect mix of action, humour, and great characters to translate to the big screen.While a lot of videogames are set in science-fiction environments or fantasy worlds, Crazy Taxi is set in New York City with a Russian cab driver. If you do this right, it'll be a lot of fun."
It's all gone very quiet since then though, and Sega is saying nothing. Frankly, we'd be amazed if it ever sees the light of day.
It's not often that a game is fought over in the offices here, but our copy of Crazy Taxi moved its way from desk to desk a lot more than your average game. It wasn't just the four guys reviewing the game who were scrabbling for it either...the art guys loved it, people from other magazines loved it (there's a contingency of the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine who are utterly addicted to the thing) and wives/girlfriends/buddies and kids were enamored with it too. There's something remarkably compelling about the game--and it's not just that it looks so good.
As we said last month, the sign of a really good arcade game is when it's simple and effective. Crazy Taxi doesn't get bogged down with overly complex concepts or rules...your task is simple; make as much money as you can before you run out of time. With that in mind, the frenetic pace of the action drives you to take risks and hurtle about the streets, leaping over other cars and smashing through anything that gets in the way. With the grinding tunes of The Offspring and Bad Religion in the background too, this is a truly exhilarating game.
It's a shame that Sega chose not to add too much to the final release. The extra city map and mini-games are a welcome addition, but it's a pity that we didn't get a multiplayer experience to add a more competitive edge. As it is though, everyone here became fiercely competitive as we passed the joypad around trying to beat each other's score. Now when was the last time you did that?
If nothing else, Crazy Taxi is proof that old-school gameplay values are still alive and well and still capable of being the driving force behind a really good quality game. Anyone who sees this will want to try to have a go...and after mastering the controls, we defy anyone not to be completely addicted to the thing.
Since Crazy Taxi has now been released on every next generation game console in its mostly original form, chances are you may find yourself already somewhat familiar with it. When Sega released it three years ago for the Dreamcast, it became an instant hit with most gamers due to its entertaining gameplay and solid control system. When it was ported to other systems however, little effort was taken to add any new or extra features and the same can be said about the sound and graphics capabilities. Unfortunately, this is also the case concerning this latest GameCube port, which is almost identical to the original Dreamcast version.
If you're not familiar with Crazy Taxi, the game is set in a city where a taxicab is driven around town picking up passengers, and the goal is to get them to their destinations before time runs out. Although the concept is almost too simplistic, it works surprisingly well and all types of gamers are able to enjoy it.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
As mentioned earlier, Crazy Taxi has one of the most straightforward and uncomplicated structures for gameplay, consisting of three major goals. The first is to pick up a customer. To identify a potential customer, a dollar sign will be spinning over a person's head in one of four colors. Each color signifies how far the customer is looking to travel with red being the closest and green the farthest. Once the customer is picked up, the game picks up as well with the player attempting to get the customers to their locations by any means necessary.
As the customer enters the cab, a time limit is set that runs parallel to the game time clock, so having some familiarity with the city streets will make an immense difference. Once you take off in a desperate attempt to get the customers dropped as fast as possible, you'll also notice that when a crazy risk is taken, like squeezing between two cars or driving on the wrong side of the road, the customer will give out extra tips. These tips are then added to the final total after time runs out.
After the customer has seen their life pass before his or her eyes numerous times, you should be close to the destination. Once it's reached and after coming to a full stop, the base fare will be given along with any bonus fare that was earned. The bonus fare is a straightforward calculation of the time left being converted to cash. In addition, bonus time can also be added to the game time limit if the customer was dropped off early enough. Up to five extra seconds may be awarded however, if too much time passes in an attempt to locate the drop off point, not only will there be no time bonus given but the customer may also refuse to pay the base fare. If time expires on either the customer's or the game's time limit, the game is over and if the customer didn't reach his or her destination, no money will be received from that customer.
While getting the customers to their destinations, there are a number of maneuvers that can be implemented by combining various buttons and other controls. For instance, a burst of speed called a crazy dash can be accomplished by releasing both the accelerator and brake, then shifting to drive and pressing the accelerator. Another called the crazy drift, which causes the cab to slide, is completed by shifting into reverse and back into drive while steering hard right or left. All of these are performed without any difficulty, as the controls are easy to grasp. The steering, for example, is performed using the control stick or pad while acceleration is performed using the A button. Braking use the B button, changing the drive gear forward uses the R button and reversing is accomplished with the L button. If you want to see a destination reminder showing how much farther it is to your destination, the Y button can be usedb and for when some idiot jumps out in front of you, a horn can be pushed using the X button.
Although there aren't many gameplay options available, there is an original and an arcade mode available for selection. The difference between them is mainly the course, as both have the same four selectable cabbies. The last option is slightly different, called the crazy box. Here you can fine-tune your driving skills by attempting to set various records on nine different mini-games. Simple things like performing the farthest jump or reaching a flag in the allotted time are included in addition to more difficult tasks like delivering three customers to their destinations through heavy traffic.
Since the date three years ago when Crazy Taxi was first released, console graphics have come a long way with new techniques and hardware. Unfortunately, Crazy Taxi's graphics have not. Almost identical to the Dreamcast version, it appears nothing was done to improve the game or take advantage of the GameCube's superior hardware. Issues like the grass and tree leaves consisting of large smears and the general lack of detail are things that should have been spruced up.
The audio is a similar story to the graphics, but much less of an issue. With solid tracks from Offspring and Bad Religion, finding better music would be an attempt at the impossible and the regular sound effects still hold their own without distracting from the gameplay. There are places where improvement would have been welcome but this isn't one on them.
Crazy Taxi was an overall disappointment. As the direct port of a three-year-old game, certain steps should have been taken to bring it up to par. If the main goal was to get as many GameCube titles to market in a short period of time, you'd have to say mission accomplished. However, buyers beware as originality was sacrificed in the process. Still the same solid gameplay as before -- if you've never played Crazy Taxi you may want to rent it and take it for a spin.
Once again you hop into your cab cruising the streets looking for a chance to earn your next fare. You spot another desperate customer eager to get to his next destination. As he climb in you hit the gas and speed down the crowded streets avoiding oncoming traffic and pedestrians as you race against time. Stuck in a world where time is money you prove that you are the craziest of all cabbies to earn another day's fare.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Before you start the mayhem you have a number of choices to determine how challenging you wish your joyride to be. Once the screen is displayed you may choose one of two heavily detailed courses in which to race around like a maniac, picking up as many passengers as possible. If you feel like you are up for the challenge, you also have the option to choose how long you have to collect all the cab fare you can before time is up. As an added bonus, you may pick a number of mini-games to tone your skills at the wheel for when you want to get that top score.
As soon as you choose the course and time limit you're thrown into another screen where you must choose one of four intriguing characters. At last you are ready to get down to business and show the world what you've got. Everything is set up for maximum thrills behind the wheel. As you are driving around looking for your next victim, er, passenger, you will run across a floating dollar sign above a circle where a frantic customer will be waving at you to stop. Now keep in mind the dollar signs appear in a variety of different colors that indicate how difficult it will be to acquire the fare. To pick up a customer you must rush over and come to a complete stop somewhere inside the circle. After the customer hops in an arrow will appear over your cab pointing in the direction of your destination. As you weave through traffic you will gain tips for your skill at maneuvering through the other vehicles. Eventually you will arrive at your destination, which will be highlighted by a green circle and you will have to drive your taxi into it to receive your fare.
After you have run out of time and have picked up as many passengers as possible you then are rated on your performance. The screen changes showing the mug of your driver and of course the amount of cash you have earned during the course. How well you have done determines the grade you will receive. This has no real effect on the gameplay but it is nice to see how you are improving the more you play the game. Once you have received your grade it is saved to view later in the game records.
The PlayStation 2 graphics truly bring flavor to this already amazing game. The cabby's cars are each designed to express the personalities of their drivers. Also the customers that you pick up through the game are of all shapes and sizes and differ in movement and reaction to things that you may do while driving. I found that it was particularly humorous how the other vehicles would be thrown around in the game when I would collide into them, instead of actually appearing to be damaged. Throughout the entire game everything flows well with the movement of the taxi, as well as the numerous things with which you can collide.
I've always felt that good theme music can really help you get into the mood of whatever you may be doing. I truly enjoyed the fact that, while playing a psycho in a taxi, I could sit back and enjoy the musical sounds of the talented band The Offspring. It was amusing that the customers would insult me if they had to dodge to avoid my car when I picked them up or if I took too long to drop them off. Of course, in the end it was satisfying to hear the driver tell the customer to sit down and shut up whenever they would get out of their seats to yell at me. After playing Crazy Taxi I had so much fun listening to the music that I felt I should've gone out and bought the soundtrack.
Overall, Crazy Taxi was one of the more enjoyable games I have had the pleasure of playing for some time. It's jam-packed full of amazing graphics that aren't just comical but also bring a unique flavor to the game's interactive performance. Also, without that spectacular theme music present during the game, there might be a loss to the feel of the gameplay. With all these elements, including the intensity of having to avoid the troubles of oncoming traffic and vulgar passengers, Crazy Taxi rockets above other PlayStation 2 titles. If you enjoy the thrill of high speed out of control mayhem, then Crazy Taxi is the game for you.