30/08/2017

LONDON TAXI: RUSHOUR (PLAYSTATION 2)

Climb into your most extravagant Pearly King outfit and start practising your apples-and pears, cor-blimey-guvnor, Knees-Up Mother Brown Cockney accent, because today’s game is taking us down to the Big Smoke. It’s Data Design Interactive’s 2006 Playstation 2 shoulda-taken-the-Tube-em-up London Taxi: Rushour! 
 

The game opens, as is traditional, with a title screen. Well, okay, a loading screen, but the actual title screen is too boring to show you. A cast of colourful characters, who appropriately enough all look like advertising mascots for a low-rent car insurer, are here to greet you. Bright smiles beam from their faces as they tell you they won’t take you south of the river, not at this time of night.
I have two issues with this screen. Firstly, that’s not how you spell “rush hour” and frankly every time I write “Rushour” it makes me a tiny bit angrier. The other thing is that the very concept of this game is just wrong, wrong, wrong. A taxi ride? In London? At rush hour? You don’t need a videogame to recreate that experience, you could just sit in a heated metal box and burn fistfuls of cash in the privacy of your own home.


There are some options to fiddle with if you’re so inclined and a “tutorial” that would more accurately be described as “the instruction manual,” but again they’re very boring so we’ll get straight to looking at the game modes London Taxi: Rushour (ugh) has to offer. There’s Time Games, where you have to make as much money as you can within a time limit, there’s Money Games, the goal of which is to reach a certain cash total without a time limit and then there’s Perfect Day, where Lou Reed’s ghost pops out of your PS2 and sings you a song. Not really, in Perfect Day mode there are no time or cash limits.


I’ll be playing as Andy, because I have neither the time nor the inclination to unlock the other characters. I can’t be sure because this game has no voice acting, but I’m certain that Andy sounds like a real Cockney geezer – or, at least like Jason Statham doing his very strongest Cockney impression. He drives around in a pretty standard Hackney carriage-type vehicle, so it’s fair to say that his taxi isn’t particularly crazy.


Here’s Andy at the start of his shift, his face contorted into a permanent Dreamworks Eyebrow arrangement. He’s here to kick ass and drive people to their destinations in exchange for money, and he’s all out of ass.


So, yeah, it’s Crazy Taxi. A London-themed, budget release version of Sega’s smash-hit minicab-em-up. I suspect you’d figured it out already, but that’s what London Taxi: Rushour is all about. You drive your cab like a maniac through the city streets, picking up fares and taking them to their destination, occasionally jumping off ramps or smashing right into the side of a bus. LTR isn’t exactly subtle about its inspiration, either. Look back at the character select screen and you’ll see it’s very similar to Crazy Taxi’s, with the same large, bold font for the character names. The drop-off points are almost identical, with large green boxes surrounding the destination. There are trucks with ramps on the back dotted around for you to leap from. I was genuinely surprised there wasn’t a feeble cover version of “Way Down the Line” blasting out at me when I began playing. Unless you count me shouting “YAHYAHYAHYAHYAH!” into an empty room every time I picked up a fare, that is.


Oh right, the taxi driving. I suppose I should pick up a passenger, and fortunately they’re not difficult to spot. They’re the only pedestrians in the game, for starters, and all your potential clients also show up on the minimap. All you have to do is park next to the customer – or right on top of them, if you like, because they have no collision detection – and they’ll hop on board. Or at least they will if your cab is clean enough. That’s what the meter at the bottom-left is for: as you drive around the city and cause more vehicular carnage than a Top Gear marathon, your taxi gets dirty. If it’s too mucky, the discerning taxi passengers of old London town won’t get in, so you have to pick up an item that cleans your car. It’s something that’s a bit different from Crazy Taxi, so congratulations on that front. However, there are so many taxi-cleaning pick-ups littering the streets and it takes so long for your taxi to get properly filthy that the whole dirty-clean mechanic becomes something of a moot point. Oh well, nice try.


When you do pick up a fare, they’ll tell you where they want to go. Most of the time, they’re headed for a well-known London landmark, like Buckingham Palace, the Tate Gallery or the Houses of Parliament. That’s not always the case, mind you. Sometimes your destination is a little more vague.


Ah yes, the restaurant. London’s one solitary restaurant, famous the world over for specialising in food cuisine. Maybe this is because the passenger just couldn’t decide what they wanted for dinner, so they’ve left the decision entirely up to their taxi driver. Will they be dropped off at The Ivy or City Best Kebabs? The possibilities are thrilling!


Once you’ve scooped up a willing victim – sorry, passenger – it’s time to make some seeennnsible money! All you have to do is drive to the destination as quickly as possible, a task that’s made more difficult by London being a lawless hellscape where there is only one rule of the road: survival. It’s not just you that’s driving like a psychopath in LTR, with every other road user willing and able to ignore things like traffic lights, road markings and basic human decency. You can see that white car on the left has decided to take a shortcut across the pavement, and that’s not an uncommon occurrence. There were plenty of times that I was trying to stop next to a potential customer, only for a double-decker bus to smash into my taxi from behind and send me flying away from my fare. Please note that this isn’t a complaint, because that’s how this kind of game is supposed to work, and it is fun to see the action play out like a genteel, tea-drinking version of Mad Max.


See what I mean about the destination markers? Oh well, at least they’re easy to see in the distance. They’re about the only thing that’s easy to see in the distance thanks to LTR’s fairly extremely levels of graphical pop-in, and on the whole it’s not a great-looking game, is it? The obvious thing to say would be that it looks more like a PS1 game than a PS2 game, and while that’s a fair point to make there are definitely PS1 games that look better than this. I’m thinking of Gran Turismo, mostly. It almost feels like the developers were going for a charmingly simplistic, low-poly look in the vein of the Katamari Damacy games, but in my heart I know they weren't and LTR looks like it does because, you know, it’s a budget release and the budget in question was about seven pounds.


Thirty quid for a twenty-second trip? Sounds like a London taxi to me!


That’s about it for the gameplay. I suppose there’s not much else you could do with the concept of taxi driving. Collect passenger, drop off passenger, repeat until your time runs out or, in Perfect Day mode, until you fail to reach the destination in time.
But is it any good? Well, in a game like this ninety-five percent of how much fun you’re going to get out of it is determined by how enjoyable the driving is, and on that front London Taxi: Rushour does not fare particularly well. While the murderous nature of your fellow road users helps to keep things hectic, something LTR suffers from is a sense of slowness. It just never feels like you’re really getting any speed up, and if you do manage to get into top gear it invariably won’t be for long because the journeys you need to take are very short and you’ll be constantly crashing into things. You do have a speed boost (assuming you’ve collected the requisite power-ups to keep it topped up) but even that doesn’t make you feel like you’re going all that much faster – it just zooms the camera out a bit.


Then there’s the handling, which is awkward, twitchy and hugely influenced by how fast you’re going. From a stationary start you can turn almost on a sixpence, but once you’re moving your taxi becomes cumbersome and sluggish but yet somehow still over-sensitive. There’s a lot of wobbling back and forth in this game as you struggle to get your car to go in a straight bloody line, and the jerkiness of the steering makes attempting to use any of the ramps a fool’s errand. There’s a handbrake button that ostensibly allows you to drift around corners, but in practise it mostly just makes you stop dead, rotate ninety degrees and then start moving forward again. If you’ve made a frantic city racing game where your only opponent is the clock and it’s not fun to powerslide around every corner you can, then somewhere along the line you’ve gone terribly wrong.


However, even if the driving mechanics were so good they made OutRun 2006 look like Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, there is a problem with LTR that is so heinous, so insurmountable, that it would have ruined the game anyway. That problem is kerbs. Specifically, that the kerbs are actually modelled into the game at the edge of the roads, complete with collision detection. Almost every street in the game has these small lips, and you’ll notice them straight away because they completely drain the fun out of driving your taxi. The biggest problem with the kerbs is how inconsistently you interact with them. You might simply bump up over them and continue onto the pavement, which is what you’d want to happen most of the time because driving along the pavement is often the fastest route. Sadly, most of the time contact with the kerb will make your taxi veer off in a completely random direction, your new angle seemingly determined by the programming equivalent of a board game spinner. If that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes you get “trapped” on the kerb, your wheels locked against the edge of the street so you’re forced to either continue along until you reach a corner or violently wrench the steering wheel in an attempt to break free. I couldn’t really say that the kerbs ruin LTR, because there’s not that much here to ruin in the first place, but the game would be approximately one thousand percent more enjoyable if there was no road / pavement barrier at all.


Is there anything else to recommend LTR? Well, I quite liked seeing this chunky PS2 model of the Houses of Parliament. Not because I have any deep patriotic attachment to the seat of my country’s power, but because chunky PS2 models of the Houses of Parliament make me think of the first mission from Global Defence Force.


An attempt was even made to recreate the Tate Gallery (or Tate Britain, as it’s called these days.) It’s not bad, I guess. It’s got the look of a generic brand knock-off to it, the Tesco Value version of the building, which I suppose is exactly what it is.


Having all these landmarks knocking about made me curious as to the accuracy of London Taxi: Rushour’s street map, so being the lonely shut-in that I am I spent the time to make this GIF overlaying LTR’s roads onto London’s streets and hey, you know what? It’s a pretty good match. Not accurate enough that playing LTR for a few hours would help you navigate the nation’s capital – the fact that the real London’s buildings don’t look like crudely-painted cereal boxes would probably throw you of – but some effort was definitely expended on getting the layout mostly correct.


I like that you can drive down into the Tube system. There’s not much to it, but it’s a fun shortcut. Well, it would be a shortcut if it didn’t take so bloody long to navigate the stairs that lead down here. Also note that there’s an old lady standing on the platform, and she’s trying to hail a taxi. I hope the destination she sets is the care home she’s clearly wandered away from.


London Taxi: Rushour is the only game I’ve ever played where an angry priest gesticulated wildly at me because I didn’t drop them off at the cathedral in time, so there’s that. What’s the matter, vicar? Does God not like to be kept waiting? Calm down, I’m sure he’ll forgive you.


Oh yeah, these things. Hidden around the map are these bulldog tokens. Some of them are tucked away in secret corners, like the top of this car park or down in the Tube, while some are “rewards” for suffering through the fist-clenchingly tedious process of trying to properly line up a jump off one of the game’s ramps. Collecting the bulldog tokens is how you unlock the other characters in the game, but it takes so many token and so much collecting that even after a few hours playtime I only managed to unlock one character. Okay, two if you count the second version of Andy who drives a silver taxi instead of a black one, but you shouldn’t count that because he’s the same character but driving a silver car. If for some insane reason you did want to unlock all the characters, my advice would be to play Perfect Day mode, grab the tokens near your starting point then fail a drop-off and retry the mode. The tokens all respawn, but you keep the ones you grabbed last time. This also cuts down on loading times, which are pretty long in LTR.


The one new character I did unlock was Stacey. She’s very cheerful, isn’t she? So cheerful, in fact, that I’m a bit worried The Joker has used Joker Gas to place her under his control so she’ll carry out his diabolical plans. You know, his plans to, erm, overcharge for taxi rides?


So after unlocking Stacey, I tried her out for a little while and realised that she’s identical to Andy in terms of driving. Her car handles the same (badly) and looks the same (except red). For a brief moment I thought she might have been slightly slower than Andy, but on further investigation I’m pretty certain there’s no difference between the two and I thought Stacey was slower because I had so thoroughly convinced myself that there must be some differences between them.


That’s about it for London Taxi: Rushour. It tried to be Crazy Taxi and failed, although that’s hardly surprising considering the developers were clearly working with no budget and they’re not Sega. The small game map and overall sluggish pace mean you’d probably get bored of LTR pretty quickly even if it was fun to play, but sadly it isn’t. Those kerbs really do ruin the entire experience. Would it be a decent game without the kerbs? Part of me wants to say yes, but I suspect that’s just because I really enjoy games like this – pissing about with the taxi missions is always my favourite part of any Grand Theft Auto game, that’s for sure. But no, it’d still be a dull experience with little character and almost no, I dunno, flair or pizazz.


In short, I’d really like another city-based taxi insanity simulator… but not this one. It did make me ponder a hypothetical game that would work like Crazy Taxi in reverse – rather than trying to get your passenger to their destination as quickly as possible, you’d have to milk their fare by going round the houses while trying to stop your customer getting suspicious that you’re ripping them off by distracting them with small talk about the weather or roadworks. Game developers of the world, you can have that one for free. Finally, I’d like to give a shout-out to the taxi driver I had the other week for turning his meter off while we were lost in a housing estate thanks to roadworks. You didn’t have to do that, pal, and I appreciate the gesture. Be excellent to each other, and all that.

4 comments:

  1. I'm surprised that Sega didn't sue their asses like they did with Simpson's Road rage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I imagine that data design interactive probably weren't worth the lawsuit, not like the piles of cash from a licensed game.

      Delete
  2. Well, note how this game lacks the arrow at the top middle of the screen from Crazy Taxi - that's what got Road Rage in trouble the most!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I keep wanting to pronounce "Rushour" like a French word.

    ReplyDelete

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