Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller | Developer: Hitmaker | Publisher: Sega | Year: 2002
Four yellow taxis zoom towards you on the Japanese Xbox cover art for Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller.

Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller

Even though Crazy Taxi was a smash hit born in the arcades, it became very popular on home consoles as well. The quality Dreamcast version released in early 2000 sold over a million copies. It highlighted just how brilliantly accessible the game’s concept was, not to mention the brilliant job Hitmaker did when porting it. (They would achieve the same feat with Virtua Tennis shortly after.)

Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller initially debuted as an Xbox exclusive in mid 2002. However, the step up to the next generation was a steep one. Players had since been treated to huge releases like Halo, Grand Theft Auto III, and Morrowind. The bar for home entertainment had been raised, leaving this arcade-happy threequel somewhat lost in the mix. Indeed, despite me being an enthusiastic Xbox owner and a fan of Sega’s arcade output, I didn’t buy Crazy Taxi 3 at the time, mainly because the magazine reviews and demo discs made it look kinda stale.

While the game flaunts a big number “3” on its cover, the developers tried to make this both a brand new sequel and a compilation similar to Mortal Kombat Trilogy, yet failing to hit either of those angles hard enough to create a worthwhile package.

It’s vital to stress that most of what was already fun about Crazy Taxi is still in this third outing. Players select their cabbie and tear up the streets of various cities in their beautiful yellow cabs, with the only objective being to make as much money as possible before time runs out. This is done by picking up customers and quickly getting them to their destination, even if it means crashing into other vehicles or taking frequent shortcuts through oncoming traffic.

The cities of West Coast and Small Apple, as previously seen in Crazy Taxi and Crazy Taxi 2 respectively, are both featured here albeit with some adjustments. Ride-sharing customers are back from the second game, as is the jump button which players can use on the West Coast map for the first time. The boost abilities are also slightly easier to perform, and can actually be seen working now thanks to the pretty flames that wrap around a cab’s wheels upon activation.

Even though the previous two cities are included, their remixed variations from the Dreamcast editions are not. Small Apple is also now set at night, making it harder to play, and harder to appreciate visually when compared to the bountiful blue skies and well-lit streets of the original map.

Crazy Taxi 3 could have been a comprehensive trilogy were it not for niggles like these, which is a shame considering there is some customisation. For example, the licensed music featuring The Offspring and Bad Religion is still included, but the Xbox’s custom soundtrack feature is completely neglected despite the game being perfectly suited for it. Hitmaker really missed an open goal with that one.

Gameplay screenshots of Crazy Taxi 3 showing yellow cabs escorting passengers.

The stats for each driver are still not shown to give players an idea of how each cab handles.

The challenge modes seen in previous Crazy Taxi games are back in the form of Crazy X. This mode features more bite-sized scenarios which become incredibly tough by the end. Some of these are fun, like the one where players must cross an American football field without being tackled by opposing vehicles of steadily increasing heft!

Other challenges (like the baseball one) feel pointless even being there. Also, the default high scores are what an English person would colloquially call a “piss-take” owing to how ludicrously unbeatable they are. If you ask me, high scores which cater to the 0.1% of people on the hotshot QA team Sega must have employed to test this game in the first place, feels a little unsporting.

Crazy X requires the sort of perfect steering and well-executed drift hops that will hurt your fingers before long. The sharply increased difficulty is a shame because completion will unlock bonuses such as spoof cabs and the ability to take any driver into any city map, which is locked by default for some stupid reason.

The biggest attraction is meant to be Glitter Oasis; the brand new Las Vegas inspired map designed to take full advantage of the Xbox hardware. The casinos and tall buildings here are lit up in glowing neon, with the large map looking quite impressive at times. But exactly like Small Apple, this city is also presented at night, making it hard to see where you’re going on a 480p display. It’s not helped by the dreadful motion blur which causes blurry vehicle headlights to trail across the screen for seconds at a time.

Glitter Oasis also overdoes the vertical design elements to increase the likelihood of players getting stuck in deep canyons and empty spaces with no-one around. It misses the point of Crazy Taxi entirely, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the strip area suffers from noticeable pop-in and severe frame rate drops. What a tremendous disappointment this turned out to be.

Gameplay screenshots of Crazy Taxi 3 showing yellow cabs escorting passengers.

A replay mode lets players record a run from several different starting locations on each map.

These gripes aren’t showstoppers, but in the context of 2002, Crazy Taxi 3 (ironically) really wasn’t begging for your cash. It’s the third release in a franchise still expecting arcade thrills to be enough. The initial release on Dreamcast suffered the same criticism: this just isn’t a game built to last. I didn’t see enough value in this third game back then seeing as I could just play the original on Sega’s machine instead.

Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller can still click beautifully when the mood is right. When you go on a hot streak and score some phat tips off a huge jump, for those few seconds, nothing can touch it. But while this remains the biggest Crazy Taxi game ever, there’s no advancement of the series formula here in any meaningful sense, and it was disappointing to see this concept reach its third incarnation whilst still lacking multiplayer gameplay.