It might seem unfair to compare a new game unfavourably with another game like it. Yet it’s hard not to when Taxi Chaos is so shamelessly a clone of Sega’s classic arcade and Dreamcast hit Crazy Taxi, from the punk-rock soundtrack of its launch trailer to the way its marketing describes the gameplay as taking “crazy risks” to rush through town to get your “crazy customers” to their destination.
In fact, it reminds me of that gag from an episode of The Simpsons when Homer’s talking about the Keanu Reeves action film Speed without explicitly mentioning the title. The comparison is apt, considering how The Simpsons: Road Rage was also a brazen rip-off of Crazy Taxi, but at least had its licence going for it.
Taxi Chaos is a decidedly lower-budget affair that screams knock-off from the get-go, not only with its stand-in version of New York (known as New Yellow City, so that it can still be abbreviated to NYC) but also in its generic-looking character models. It also lacks polish, both in its resolution and framerate, even on the PS4 version. When even the splash screen for the publisher and developer looks choppy, it’s not a good sign.
More disappointing is the soundtrack. Sure, no one was expecting The Offspring, but having what seems to be just a couple of uninspired techno tracks that you might hear on your ride back from the club seems a bizarre choice, especially for a game set in broad daylight.
Even though you only have two drivers to choose from – the seasoned cabbie Vinny with his stereotypical Italian wisecracks or self-proclaimed ‘influencer’ Cleo who probably see this more as a side job in the gig economy – there is a hint of depth to the characters. You’ll pick up rock singers, obnoxious stockbrokers and pretentious hipsters to discover that their dialogue actually amounts to proper back-and-forth conversations. Yet when your drives can last no more than 20 seconds, most of these end up cutting short, and by the time you pick them up again to hear the same schtick, the novelty’s already worn off.
There’s a lot to be said about how Crazy Taxi let its character designs do most of the talking – the reverend on his way to a church, the pregnant lady in a rush to the hospital, the smartly dressed man with a bouquet on his way to a date – and are so much more memorable as a result.
Otherwise, the basic gameplay of picking up passengers and getting them to their destination before the time runs out while scoring tips by racking up combos remains the same. The only modern touch is that – reflecting the age of Uber – your performance is rated on a 5-star scale, and you also have the option to kick your passenger out mid-journey.
It’s then shocking just how badly Taxi Chaos fails to match up to what made Sega’s unique arcade racer so addictive in the first place. What immediately throws you off is the colour coding of passengers. Whereas in Crazy Taxi these indicated the distance and fare – red being shortest and green being the furthest and therefore highest-earning fares – here the colour scheme indicates the reverse or follows its own weird rules as there’s also a timer indicator next to it that’s not explained anywhere.
Most baffling is how Taxi Chaos actively doesn’t want you to play its Arcade mode for long at all. In Crazy Taxi, picking up a new passenger increases your overall timer, giving you an incentive to pick up the longer fares. But here you might be given a minute to ferry your latest passenger to the other side of town only for your overall timer to get a paltry increase, meaning you can run out of time and get ‘Game Over’ when your passenger timer still has tens of seconds to spare.
It’s further compounded by flaws that make trying to improve your combos a lot less fun. Getting near-misses is impossible unless your cab is literally a hair’s breadth from another vehicle, there seems to be no way to boost your speed when already in motion, and drifting is non-existent. That leaves your combo bonuses down to jumping, which feels less skilful but also has a lag when you land killing the momentum. Meanwhile, shortcuts are just not clear at all, especially as your navigator arrow that spins unpredictably whenever you turn a corner on a block.
Crazy Taxi was hardly known for having much content, largely getting by on its addictive arcade score-attack loop, but even then it still managed to provide an additional map and some mini-game challenges in the package. Taxi Chaos does have more taxis you can unlock with different stats but beyond its Arcade mode, you’ve got Free Roam that lets you drive around without a timer to get your bearings or the unlockable Pro mode, which is just the worst idea.
Basically, it’s just Arcade mode but without the navigation, putting your knowledge of the roads to the ultimate test. Of course, not only is this nightmare fuel in this day and age when every cab driver uses their phone’s GPS, but it shows up just how bland the game’s gridded open-world map is, so that I barely know where I am half the time.
Again, you can’t help but appreciate how Crazy Taxi’s West Coast map’s contours and circuit-like structure provided a better sense of direction while still having well-placed ramps and multiple lanes that dared you to take risks. By contrast Taxi Chaos penalises you for bumping into a police car.
I should note publisher Lion Castle has said they plan to address some issues via a day-one patch, which might salvage some of the gameplay to a more passable state. Regardless, Crazy Taxi fans will feel nothing but shortchanged, and Sega should be embarrassed for even endorsing it as its Japanese publisher. To riff on an old song from The Offspring, “Na, na, na, na, na!”
‘Taxi Chaos’ is now available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One.
The simple but addictive thrills of taking speedy fares in Crazy Taxi has been replicated before, from the taxi minigames in GTA to Fortnite’s ‘Tilted Taxis’ Limited Time Mode last year. But as a stand-alone package, Taxi Chaos is a cheap soulless cash-in that manages to fail on every fundamental aspect of what made those games fun in the first place.
Fans feeling nostalgic for Sega’s arcade classic are better off downloading the free smartphone version of Crazy Taxi instead. Even those dodgy touch controls are still a damn sight better than getting behind the wheel of this car crash of a game.
- Unlockable cabs gives an incentive to replay
- Drivers and passengers dialogue initially gives them more depth
- Bland generic visuals and forgettable soundtrack with subpar performance
- Spectacularly fails to emulate every fundamental aspect of the Crazy Taxi games
- Pro mode is just an atrocious idea