The email came in from Sega's PR agent--"I can tell you that the title in question is the next sequel in the Crazy Taxi series." My heart soared. "All I Want" by The Offspring started reverberating through my head. My palms sweated.
And then the next line. "This will be the first brand new Crazy Taxi game built for mobile from the ground up." Sigh.
So yeah, Crazy Taxi: City Rush, the next great entry in the iconic Crazy Taxi series, is a mobile-only game. And the preview build I've played wasn't exactly thrilling.
It's certainly passable, as far as mobile games go. But if you're looking at this title just because it says Crazy Taxi in the name? Only sadness lies down that path. Micro-transactions? Check. Energy meter? Check. Simplistic control scheme with very little depth or skill involved? Check.
Let's start with that last point. As far as game titles go, Crazy Taxi is pretty descriptive--you drive a taxi...crazily. The streets of pseudo-San Francisco are merely "suggested" routes, as you steer your cab across parks, down sidewalks, and off the backs of those trucks that always look like ramps in search of fares.
When you first boot up City Rush, it immediately evokes that nostalgia. The game certainly looks like Crazy Taxi--bright colors, cartoonish art style, a neon green arrow directing you to your next stop. That's where similarities end.
They've taken the crazy out of Crazy Taxi. You have a very limited selection of controls here. Upon starting a level, your taxi immediately accelerates. It will continue accelerating until it hits full speed--you have no control over your velocity. No gas pedal to press. No accessible brake pedal either. It doesn't matter, because your car is on rails.
On a series of rails, really. The car is tethered to the road, each lane its own rail. Swiping left or right to switches lanes. You press down on the left or right side of the screen to turn onto cross streets. Swiping top to bottom causes the car to do a physics-defying U-turn in place.
When you come upon a fare, a brake pedal icon pops up in the middle of the screen. You tap it over and over to stop. Tap faster and you gain a bonus.
This is the extent of your controls. Sega can talk all it wants about the "frenetic driving" in this game--it plays like somebody slapped some Crazy Taxi textures on top of Temple Run. Except instead of an endless runner where you start over again if you mess up, Crazy Taxi is a timer-based game that's basically impossible to lose.
The green arrow says to turn left. You press the left side of the screen. The green arrow says to turn right. You press the right side of the screen. How skilled are your thumbs at pressing the sides of a screen? Congratulations, you just won Crazy Taxi: City Rush.
It's so on-rails that if you go off a jump near a curve and there's a wall in front of your car that in any normal game you'd run into, the rails will literally turn your car in the air and guide you around the turn. It's baffling.
I need a siphon
Then there's the standard layer of free-to-play annoyance getting in the way of you playing the game. The game is not open like the original; you don't just drive around picking up fares at random. You select specific missions on a map, each of which is scripted with specific fares and locations.
Your car runs on "gas" of course--actually an energy meter that governs how many missions you can play each day. You can pay real-world money for more gas, of course. City Rush at least lets you play a separate mode even after your gas runs out, but you won't be able to progress in the campaign more until you've attained more energy.
Micro-transactions are primarily of the cosmetic variety. While most items can be attained with in-game currency (coins collected during missions), there are a number of premium items that can only be obtained with diamonds--the game's harder-to-earn currency. You can buy diamonds, or earn them through specific game actions such as popping off an achievement. On our preview builds we had a near-unlimited amount of currency, so I threw a UFO on the hood and painted the cab black just for kicks. If you want to play an elaborate game of Pimp My Cab, there's plenty to customize.
The game also has different scenarios to complete. For instance, you might play as a school quarterback and drive around picking up cheerleaders. Or there's the mode where you drive a tank and crush cars. While the scenarios are fun in theory, you're stuck with the same lackluster control scheme. They also have nothing to do with driving a taxi, though I digress. The rest of the time, you're just doing generic fare-based missions.
The game features four maps: Downtown, Uptown, Beach, and Hills. We only played the Downtown map, which looks basically like the classic Crazy Taxi map with cable cars, big hills, and the like.
If there's one redeeming feature, it's the soundtrack. The original Crazy Taxi's Offspring and Bad Religion soundtrack is up there with the Tony Hawk games in quality, and City Rush is no different. I don't know what bands are featured, but they recapture the same spirit as the original game. And if you just want to listen to more Offspring and Bad Religion? The game lets you use your own music library.
I'm sorry, but this is not the Crazy Taxi game I wanted. I feel bad, with all these criticisms--Crazy Taxi doesn't commit any sins we haven't seen before. In fact, we've seen much worse come out of some mobile titles. But after the Dungeon Keeper fiasco and then hearing that the new Tony Hawk is also a mobile game? I can't take anymore.
Maybe I'll just spend $5 and play this instead.