Reviewed: October 23, 2002
Released: August 6, 2002
Smuggler's Run was arguably one of the best launch titles for the PS2 and is still considered by many as one of the best racing games available for the system. Smuggler's Run wasn't your traditional racing game. There were no tracks to race on, and for the most part there weren't even any roads. You drove an assortment of off-road vehicles across a wide variety of terrain smuggling illegal goods from point A to point B while avoiding cops, other smugglers, and even the CIA.
One of the best aspects of the original were the huge levels; some up to five-square miles, giving you the most expansive driving environments and total freedom ever seen in an off-road racing game. The game also featured some incredible physics like independent suspension, car damage, smooth rendered terrain, and a large assortment of missions. There were even some great multiplayer options to keep you busy long after the mission mode was over.
Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory released for the PS2 in October, 2001 and once again raised the bar in off-road racing, doing things bigger and better than the original. A month later Nintendo released their new GameCube system and it wasn't long before Angel Studios announced that this popular franchise would be making the trip to the "Cube".
Smuggler's Run: Warzone has finally arrived, and not only was it worth the wait, and not only is it the absolute best version of any Smuggler's Run game to date, it is the best damn driving game for your GameCube, period. While it would have been easy to simply port the PS2 game over to the GameCube, Angel totally reworked this game from the ground up with amazing graphics, GameCube-exclusives, and a features list that will send you spinning out of control.
Warzone’s theme is more military-based this time around so the designers needed some well-known yet controversial areas known for rogue armies, smuggling, and even small wars. This all combines to make for a very intense and dramatic backdrop for the much-improved story and a large assortment of challenging missions.
The game's levels have been meticulously researched and designed using actual photography from all the real-world locations. The levels are now much more densely populated with vegetation, buildings and many other fine details.
Life as a smuggler in a warzone offers the designers unlimited opportunities for great story telling and for creating a wide variety of exciting and dangerous missions. While the original game had you smuggling firearms, chemicals, or other boring cargo, Warzone ups the ante with unstable and downright deadly cargo. Now, not only does your car take damage as you bounce around the countryside, but so does your cargo. If you take enough hits or bad bounces that "baby-nuke" in your backseat might just go off. Damaged cargo also decreases in value directly affecting your delivery fee and overall mission ranking.
The fact that you are racing around an active warzone introduces all sorts of new dangers. You now need to avoid mines, incoming artillery fire, and the swarm of enemy vehicles that stand between you and your destination. Vehicles are now more military in nature with the ever-popular Hummer, trucks, dune buggies, and a sporty new military-issue ATV.
Warzone’s amazing missions are set in several locations including Vietnam and Russia which you visit in the summer and winter. The Russian missions are fun with a sense of déjà vu since the terrain is the same but everything is coated in snow and what used to be water is now ice. These missions are tied together with an intriguing story that will offer some great drama and the occasional plot twist making it nearly impossible to put down the controller. As the drama increases, so does the difficulty, and you can expect the later missions to become very challenging.
While the basic premise of transporting illegal cargo to various locations remains the same the designers have added a few new twists to spice things up. Some missions may feature a timed rendezvous with an airdrop. You have to locate and follow a low-flying chopper that can only land for a few shorts seconds. If you aren't there you miss the pick-up and fail the mission. Another scenario may have you following an enemy vehicle ramming it into destruction or possibly following it from a covert distance.
Enemy AI has been boosted to almost resemble playing a human opponent. Various cars have preprogrammed agendas such as defend, seek and find, block, and even attack. They work together as a team and present a formidable challenge. This new and improved AI is also reflected in your teammates. As with the original, many missions require you to select "wingmen". You must choose the vehicles these AI drivers will use and picking the right car for the right job can often be critical in a successful mission.
Car selection is critical for your solo missions as well, which leads me to a very minor complaint. As you select each mission you are given a brief description before moving on to the car selection screen. Once you pick your car you go to the mission load screen which THEN gives you hints on which car you should have picked. Chances are you will have probably picked the right car already, but there were at least a dozen occasions when I had to abort the mission and restart to pick the recommended vehicle.
Missions are designed so you can approach them from several possible solutions. You can pick a heavy car that can withstand damage and beat your way to victory, or you can choose a fast ride like the ATV and try to outrun your opponents. While the latter is often more fun and challenging, one wrong move and one good collision will often put your car out of commission and you behind bars. Cars also have unique countermeasures like smoke screens, oil slicks, mines, or nitro boost. These play an integral part of many of the later missions, making car selection very important to your success.
Controls are nearly flawless with the exception of viewing the level map that requires you to pull the left trigger three-quarters down. This is incredibly difficult to judge and since the game doesn’t pause, you often pull the trigger too far, which gives you the “rear view”. Since the triggers on the GC controllers click when fully depressed I can't understand while the map view wasn't assigned to the "click" and rear view to the rest of the trigger. I used the map quite a bit on the PS2 version, but due to the imprecise nature of the trigger I only referenced the map three or four times playing this version.
The rest of the controls are perfection with great steering using the analog stick and smooth gas and braking. You can even use the Z button to orient yourself with the landscape while flying through the air. This is perfect for smoothing out landings and saving that precious cargo. There is excellent use of the rumble feature and you feel every bump, rock, and ditch you drive over. Due to the harsh nature of the terrain the controller rumbles for most of the game, which actually accentuates the times you are flying through the air with a lifeless controller in your hands.
Physics are a mix of realism and exaggeration. The cars handle great on land and slip and slide on ice, but you will definitely get that arcade floaty feel when you ramp off a mountaintop at 125mph and soar like an eagle over the valley below. Of course, when you finally smack the ground you will have to suck up some serious damage. If your car takes too much damage the engine will stall and if the cops are around you will be arrested and it's Game Over. Otherwise, your damage meter is slowly restored during long periods of safe driving.
Hostile Territory featured a completely overhauled graphics engine capable of rendering some of the best landscapes ever seen on the PS2. You can't imagine my surprise when I saw that Warzone actually improved upon those improvements. The GameCube version is simply breathtaking complete with exquisit details and special effects that simply weren't possible on the PS2.
Lush vegetation populates the previously barren landscapes of the original Smuggler's Run and the GameCube version managed to up the foliage density and texture detail well above Hostile Territory. The draw distance is clear out to the horizon with no fogging (unless it's dictated by the environment) and not one bit of pop-up. You can drive off in one direction and admire the scenery seeing all sorts of subtle details that might not even be part of the mission. Vietnam is perhaps the most impressive with random villages, rice fields complete with native workers (and the occasional exploding mine), mountains, rivers, and structures like bridges and even a hidden temple tucked away on a small island.
All of the special effects you would expect are present including dust clouds so thick they can obscure your vision and realistic explosions that rock the landscape as you drive through minefields or dodge incoming enemy fire. The red, blue, and yellow smoke signals for the various package pick-ups look incredibly realistic, and you can see them from a much greater distance than possible on the PS2.
Weather effects like snow, rain and fog are all realistically rendered and there are even time of day effects and lighting with glowing pink snow during sunset missions and the eerie green glow of the nightvision goggles during your covert night missions. These "green missions" were very dark and difficult on the PS2, but the GameCube offers a greater range of green shading and brighter color to make things much easier.
The detail level of the vehicles has been cranked up to ultra-realistic. You can now see every subtle detail in all the cars including independent suspensions, and the damage is realistically modeled with pieces and body parts that fly off during collisions. The towns and villages are created using ample models with realistic textures. Warzone's features terrain and supplemental graphics that are as close to photo-realistic as I have ever seen on the GameCube to date.
Even more amazing is that while Warzone features all these amazing improvements in level design, vehicle detail, and AI programming, Angel Studios has managed to double the frame rate of the original, so you can expect nothing less than a solid 60fps while enjoying this visually stunning racing game.
There is a decent selection of licensed techno tracks that liven up an already exciting gaming experience. I did find that a few of the songs were rather annoying and oddly enough those were the songs that played during the longer missions. Each track is assigned to a mission and with no way to change that selection you are forced to listen to the same pre-programmed music selection every time you play each mission. Some levels are considerably long and the tracks are often short enough that they will repeat several times before you win (or lose) the mission.
The acting in Warzones is surprisingly good with actors that look and sound like the parts they play. Frank (the leader) is your grizzled mercenary type and roughs up the prisoners and is rude to informants. It’s all about the Benjamins with Frank. Change the rules and it’s gonna cost ya. Frank narrates your mission briefings and also keeps you informed during the mission of any changes, warnings, or new objectives.
The rest of the sound effects are equally well done. Each vehicle has a unique sound ranging from the throbbing diesel engine of the Grenadier to the high-pitched whine of the ATV as it screams across the terrain. Explosions are thunderous and will shake any respectable sound system despite the lack of any Dolby Surround. The audio has been optimized for the GameCube and sounds amazing, but a 4-channel surround mix would have been a most welcome addition.
You can easily expect 10-15 hours of thrilling driving action with Warzone. I spent about 22 hours going through the solo mission and getting a “Great” rank on every level, which is more challenging than you think.
When you need a break from the campaign missions you can head to the Checkpoint Races, which is your typical rally style race across the various game levels. Pass through all the smoking checkpoints and finish in first place to win. This was great fun but was over too quickly. I finished all the races in each of the maps in less than an hour. Sure, I could go back and try to better my times, but with no other reward other than personal satisfaction, it’s not likely.
Turf Wars is the basic multiplayer mode that carried over from Hostile Territory. It features games like Crooks ’n’ Smugglers where everyone is competing to deliver a single piece of cargo. Loot Grab is much like the collection missions in the campaign where you must pick up many pieces of cargo scattered about the landscape. Bomb Tag is a twisted variation of Loot Grab where you try to avoid being in possession of the ticking time bomb when it goes off. Tag another car to pass the bomb to them then run like hell.
Two new games enhance the GameCube version’s multiplayer line-up. Fox & Hounds is basically a game of “keep away”. Pick-up the cargo and avoid the enemy. There are no drop-off points, so you need to keep the cargo undamaged and under your control to win the game. Domination can be played as a team or free-for-all and is similar to capture-the-flag. You must pass through a series of checkpoints to put them under your control then keep them to win. Of course everyone else is doing the same so it becomes a vicious cycle.
The split-screen action is done very well in either two or four player modes and the frame rate is rock solid 60fps during two player games and drops to about half that in the 4-player games. 30fps isn’t that bad considering the level of detail this game still manages to crank out in four unique windows. Warzone might just become your next big party title.
This is a must have purchase for anyone who owns a GameCube and enjoys a good driving game. The cars are cool, the gameplay is challenging, the terrain is stunning, and the physics offer a great blend of realism combined with fun. If you are a PS2 owner and have already played Hostile Territory then let me say, "You ain't seen nuthin' yet!" The updated graphics, slick intuitive controls, and new multiplayer modes make Smuggler's Run: Warzone a worthy replacement to that title or just a great addition to anyone's GameCube library.