Reviewed: October 26, 2001
Released: September 25, 2001
I'll be the first to admit that I never really cared for the original SpyHunter coin-op. Sure, I played it a few times - maybe a few dozen times, purely out of obligation. SpyHunter hit the arcades during a time in my life when I had had my mail forwarded to the local Aladdin's Castle. When you spend 4-6 hours a day in the arcade you end up playing everything whether you like it or not.
While many people are probably buying this game due to the dubious fame of the original, I approached the game with mild curiosity and indifference. I'm happy to report my indifference was quickly replaced with amazement and an enjoyment I hadn't experienced since I saw my first Bond flick.
There have been a lot of recent coin-op ports and retro-upgrades coming to consoles and PC's lately, and while most of them are pitiful attempts to breath new life into a dead concept, Midway actually pulls off something quite special with SpyHunter for the PlayStation 2. Working with Paradigm Entertainment, they have managed to keep all of the original concepts that made the original game unique while adding some next-gen graphics and even a story to tie the various missions together.
SpyHunter offers a unique balance of action, combat, and racing with plenty of things to shoot and blow up. The offensive and defensive capabilities of your super spy car is the stuff that Q dreams up for Bond, but Bond never had a car that looked this cool. There's no BMW or Aston Martin here - only a sleek powerful driving machine that resembles some futuristic Ferrari with machine guns and missile launchers.
Like the original, your vehicle has the ability to transform into other types of transportation, plus there is the added bonus of new vehicle morphs when you sustain over 50% damage. These transformations are quite impressive featuring Matrix 360 camera spins as your car converts to a jet boat. Your car will also shed its outer body and turn into a super spy bike or a super spy Jet Ski if you happen to be in jet boat-mode. The bike and Jet Ski have all the capabilities of the larger vehicles minus the turbo ability.
Most of us need little incentive to drive fast and blow stuff up, but just in case, the PS2 version of SpyHunter comes complete with a story; a very good story told through some excellent quality cutscenes. Basically, an evil syndicate is planning on using a network of orbiting satellites to generate an EM pulse to disable all power on the planet. It's up to you and your G-6155 Interceptor - fresh off the testing track, to stop them.
The 14 missions are laid out in such a fashion that you can only play them after you have earned enough Spy Points. To earn these points you must complete the various primary and secondary objectives on the earlier missions. Primary objectives must be completed to advance, but secondary objectives are optional to the point that you will need to perform most of them to earn enough points to continue later in the game. You can return to previous missions at any time and try to best your previous score and earn more points and bonus upgrades for your car.
The game starts you off with a test track that lets you get a feel for the new car and how it handles. The test track mixes up a little bit of everything you will experience in the main game to a small degree. There is nothing more exhilarating than driving the slalom while dodging incoming artillery fire, and there is nothing more challenging than trying to do some precision target practice amidst heavy traffic. Minimizing civilian damage is almost always a secondary objective, and the game keeps track of "civilian casualties". Hit too many friendly targets you will lose a secondary mission point.
The levels are full of multiple branching paths, shortcuts, and hidden area. While they aren't necessary to completing the missions, you will need to fully explore the levels to complete all secondary objectives, and do so within the allotted time for each mission. You can also look for the weapons truck at various points in the mission. Driving into the back of this truck (ala Knightrider) will repair your car and replenish any spent ammunition.
Your missions will take place on both roads and waterways and your Interceptor is ready for both. The transformation from car to boat is impressive the first few times you see it, but can grow old after awhile. The Interceptor actually seems to handle better on the water than on dry land, but driving becomes second nature soon enough.
The first mission has you speeding out of a parking garage blasting the doors open with your machine guns then dodging semi's as they try to block your escape. While the levels are somewhat linear you do have some freedom in planning your route. You can blast open a hangar door and take a shortcut through a warehouse populated with workers and forklifts, and later you can pick various forks in the road, each leading to their own challenges and rewards.
Other missions range from simply destroying everything in sight to escort missions, and more subtle tasks like tagging enemy vehicles or collecting SAT transmitters. One of the most challenging missions has you trying to recover your own car. Doing so rewards you with a new upgraded model of your Interceptor.
One thing the original SpyHunter had going for it was the cool defensive measures like the smoke screen or oil slick. These are still present in this new version but they are few opportunities to use them. The new design seems to have been heavily influenced by other recent auto-combat titles giving the game a more direct attack feel. An electronic rearview mirror will pop-up when enemies fall in behind you but they almost always pull alongside or overtake you before you can react with any of your defensive countermeasures.
The interface is clean and the HUD presents all pertinent information in a graphical format so you can summarize your situation with a quick glance. The controls are quite good in the earlier levels but get bogged down a bit in later levels when you have multiple weapons and countermeasures and must cycle through them, often in a panicked attempt to find and fire the correct one.
Graphically, SpyHunter is above average. While it won't compare to the photo-realism of Gran Turismo 3, it wasn't really meant to. This is a pure arcade experience and the graphics fit the game perfectly. The levels are well designed and populated with enough "stuff" to keep things interesting and challenging. Highways are populated with civilian traffic that you must avoid hitting and shooting while trying to battle the various incarnations of enemy vehicles that try to stop you from completing your objectives.
The horizon is usually a photo realistic backdrop from the many countries the game takes place in. You are sure to recognize popular landmarks from Panama, Key West, England, Germany, France, Venice, and even the Middle East. Foreground scenery is rendered in 3D with ample polygons and colorful textures, and even on screens with lots of things going on everything zips by at a crisp 60fps.
You can play the game from various views including a first-person and a couple variation of the chase view. I found the first-person offered the best sensation of speed but was virtually unplayable due to the very nature of the game. You are almost required to see "the big picture" and the only way to do this is from a chase view. You also get the best camera angles of the action.
The camera works for the most part. There are a few occasions where the camera can't seem to keep up with the player; mainly when reversing or making sharp handbrake turns. I didn't notice any texture problems or clipping when going from indoor to outdoor parts of the level. Graphically, this game is pretty tight.
The original SpyHunter had the classic Peter Gunn theme and Midway spared no expense in giving the audio the same overhaul as the gameplay and graphics. The Memphis, Tennessee group, Saliva was brought onboard to do two versions of the new SpyHunter theme. There are even hidden music videos of the "SpyHunter Theme" and their own video "Your Disease" that can be unlocked while playing the game.
Sound effects are really good. The high-performance growl of the Interceptor totally fits the look of the car no matter what speed you are cruising at. The weapons fire, crashes, explosions, and all other effects are rock solid and of the highest quality. The voice acting in the cutscenes is surprisingly good, and the voice of the computer has the sexy English accent you would expect from a Bond-style spy game.
You might think that with only 14 missions SpyHunter would be over before you got settled in to the driver's seat. This simply is not the case. While your skill level may vary from mine, it took me nearly 3 hours to get a perfect mission score on the test track. While perfection is not always necessary you will need to complete multiple secondary objectives on each mission to advance all the way to the end. You need over 50 mission points to tackle the final mission.
There is a two-player mode that lets you compete head-to-head against another SpyHunter in three mini-games. There is a pure racing mode that lets you race to the finish line using any weapons at your disposal to hinder your opponents. Then there is the Globe Trotter mode that has you racing around the level collecting the most SATCOM's before the timer runs out. And finally there is ChickenHunter where you race around running over as many chickens as you can.
These mini-games have nothing to do with the theme of the main game but they are great fun and add tremendously to the extended life of this title.
Everything about SpyHunter oozes quality from the slick menus and jazzy soundtrack to the challenging gameplay and unique level designs. There is always something new with each mission and the limited freedom to explore the levels opens the game up for some moderate replay value. The solid multiplayer section will make this a favorite at parties.
Midway has had their fair share of flops recently, so it is great to finally review one of their titles that achieves video game greatness. This is an excellent remake of what many consider to be one of the classic coin-ops of all times. While I might not share the enthusiasm for the original game, the new SpyHunter is definitely a great game and a title worthy of adding to your PS2 library.