Thursday, December 10, 2009

London Minicab

My apologies for the twenty-four hour delay in this week's review. Truth be told, it's been a slow week for crappy games. I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of enjoyable Flash and Shockwave titles I've played this past week. But while the gamer in me is pleased, the snarky asshole in me certainly isn't (but then, when is he?)

I spent quite some time last night searching for something, anything, that was bad enough to warrant a review. In the end, I went with London Minicab - not because it was particularly terrible, but simply because it seemed like it was the worst I could do this week. It wasn't until I really started playing that I realised my instinct for sniffing out electronic turds had come to my aid again.

London Minicab puts you in the role of a taxi driver in England's capital city. And man, they weren't kidding when they said minicab! Has every car in London been turned into a Matchbox toy, or are they just really concerned about congestion? I haven't been to London in over ten years, so for all I know this is an accurate depiction of the city.

Anyway, you drive your little taxi around, either waiting to get a call and go pick someone up, or stopping for passengers on the street (which I'm pretty sure a minicab isn't allowed to do.) The customers tell you where they want to go and then you're on your way. The only guidance you have is an arrow on the top corner of the screen, which provides you with the general direction to drive.

There's no map that I could find, so it's very easy to get lost, especially when you have to drive in a hurry to earn the highest fare. The target location is always marked by a yellow box, though I wonder if these boxes are always in the correct spot. I had one passenger that asked to visit London bridge and then directed me to the outskirts of town. I was wondering if this was going to end with me thrown in a ditch somewhere and my minicab swamped by little pixellated flames.

And so you continue driving about, picking up passengers and generally wandering aimlessly. I'm sure if you play the shorter five minute mode London Minicab is fun, but the untimed game leaves a lot to be desired. You never do hear from the dispatcher, so you're never racing against time to catch a fare or anything else that might make this more than a meandering journey through the ridiculously wide streets of London town.

Naturally, your fuel tank empties as you drive around, so you'll need to stop off at a petrol station and refill. From what I could see in my boring tour of the city, there is only one petrol station in all of London. You'll probably find it by accident, racing past as you drive somewhere else, and because there's no map for reference you have to memorise the path you took and hope you can find a way back. Finally, once you reach the petrol station, refilling your fuel tank takes forever. I spent the guts of five minutes just filling my tank. Why does this take so long? Are they refining the oil out back? Also, expect to pay hundreds every time you do this. I know there's an oil shortage, but come on!

The longer you play London Minicab, the more it will annoy you. I had just let off a passenger and was about to get moving again when a police car crashed into me. Despite not being at fault, I was still fined $100 for committing a traffic violation. What the hell did I do!? And why am I being fined in dollars? This is the UK - surely I should be fined in Pounds? Are you seriously telling me that someone made a game about driving around London and didn't bother to make sure the money was presented in the proper currency? Someone took the time and effort to code this piece of garbage but couldn't be arsed moving their finger the half an inch it would have taken to press the Pound symbol? I might procrastinate 'til the cows come home, but at least I get the basic facts right!

But the icing on this crap cake was when I picked up a passenger and they asked to be taken to "undefined." Seriously - undefined. I don't know what exactly happened, but when I tried to pick up another customer they too wanted to visit "undefined." At this point I was bored out of my skull, so I decided, OK - let's go visit Undefined! I had to see what was so special about this place.

And here it is - Undefined. That's right, it's a tree. In fact, it's a tree I can't even get to, because I can't drive onto the grass. Whether it's because every road is lined with walls or some force field is blocking my path, I could not get any closer to Undefined. I was stuck, unable to reach my destination and unable to pick up anybody else who didn't want to visit Undefined. Well, shit.

So I drove around with my passengers in the back seat, wondering why they needed to see this tree so badly, and waited for my fuel to run out. I thought maybe if I did that, the day would end and I would get to spend my hard earned money on possible upgrades for my car - you know, like in most driving games? But no - all I got was a Game Over screen congratulating me on having wasted another twenty minutes of my life. In many ways, that undefined location represented the great game London Minicab could have been, but never would be. Never would the player reach a point where they honestly enjoyed themselves. Never would you be able to justify the time and effort it took to play this game. With all the charm of a racist, middle-aged taxi driver, London Minicab makes you feel like you'd have been better off getting the bus.

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