London cabbies have to learn the knowledge off by heart – every inch and every cut-through in the capital city – and they punctuate their fares with tales of who was in the back of their cab last week. For New York taxi drivers, the must-have knowledge conists of a profanisaurus of every swear word known to man – and they punctuate their fares with tales of who was under the wheels of their cab last week. Even so, take the most demented Brooklyn cabbie, multiply his (or her) insanity level by three – and you still won’t have a driver unhinged enough for Crazy Taxi.
The rules of the game are simple: pick up passengers and taxi them around. The catch is a strict time limit on fares which means the player must belt round corners with the pedal floored, dodging head-on traffic and taking shortcuts through pedestrianised areas – anything to reach that destination as fast as possible. Vehicles are smashed into, roadside coffee tables knocked over, bystanders leap for their lives and much cackling ensues as you barrel through one of two city maps, ‘arcade’ and ‘original’.
The arcade map is the one that graced the coin-operated arcade machine version of Crazy Taxi back in 1999. The original city map was introduced alongside it in the Sega Dreamcast release of the game the following year. This Xbox Live Arcade offering is pretty much a direct port of the Dreamcast effort, but with a few minor differences. The soundtrack has changed (no more Offspring punk, sadly) and the brand names have been removed from the stores in the cities, so the KFC is now the Fried Chicken Shack – all due, apparently, to licensing issues.
The biggest difference that most players will spot, however, is a visual one. The game now sports remastered widescreen 720p HD graphics. Essentially, though, Crazy Taxi looks like the Dreamcast version, albeit cleaner, sharper and in widescreen. By today’s standards the graphics appear pretty dated, but the retro styling has its own distinct charm, evoking nostalgic memories of the arcades of yesteryear.
The gameplay remains faithful to the original too, with passengers’ tips dependent not only on how fast they arrive, but on the stunts you pull to thrill them. Big jumps off ramps and near-misses when weaving through traffic elicit whoops of joy from your fare, and small tips that multiply with consecutive successes. Smash into the side of a bus at 70mph, however, and any tip multiplier is reset, with the passenger getting quite irate (and presumably starting to draft a letter to Claims Direct in your back seat).
So, in truth, Crazy Taxi rewards skilful driving, not mental driving. But the reality is, in trying to beat the game’s stingy time limits, you’ll be smashing into something once every five seconds as you attempt to drift at high speed around corners through three lanes of traffic. The arcade-style physics are necessarily forgiving – you basically bounce off other vehicles like dodgems, and scraping along buildings when cornering doesn’t slow your taxi down too much.
Baisc controls are kept simple: stop, go and steer. On top of this, there are some rather more fickle nuances that are activated via another pair of buttons that select your gear, drive or reverse. Tapping drive followed immediately by the accelerator triggers a small turbo-boost, which is both vital to quick times, and the cause of many accidents.
However, we found pulling this off disappointingly erratic, with the boost sometimes failing to register. Another patch of black ice was the reverse gear itself – we kept holding the brake down to reverse, forgetting we needed to shift gear to go backwards. That was our problem, not the game’s fault, of course. The steering is also a touch over-sensitive, though we soon got used to that.
While the controls may cramp your style somewhat, there’s an undeniable low-tech blast of retro driving fun here. A set of challenges in which you have to jump a certain distance off a ramp, or knock bowling pins down in your cab, round off the arcade driving experience. And one final addition for the Xbox is a complete set of online leaderboards that give avid drivers a league to progress up with their high scores… a taxi rank, if you will.