Reviewed: January 31, 2004
Released: November 24, 2003
SpyHunter was one of my favorite combat racing games of 2002, on the PS2 that is. If you read my Xbox review then youíll remember I wasnít entirely pleased with the extremely poor port for that system. Angel Studios has taken over the helm for SpyHunter 2, their last official project before being assimilated and renamed, Rockstar San Diego.
Angel had already proven themselves with their other car combat game, Smugglerís Run: Warzone and SpyHunter 2 falls a bit short of their normal quality game design. While the basic premise of the game hasnít changed, the graphics engine is dramatically improved and the new Interceptor design is ultra-sheik. And for those of you that complained that the first game was too easy, youíll be pleased to know that the level of difficulty has been taken up several notches, guaranteed to make all but the most skilled of drivers weep like little boys (or girls) still in spy school.
Born in the arcades back in the early 80ís, SpyHunter was originally a top-down driving game where you drove your blocky white spy car along winding roads shooting the bad guys and pulling into the back of your mobile spy truck to reload and repair Ė a concept Knight Rider borrowed shortly thereafter.
A few years ago Midway took the franchise and like so many other 80ís classics retooled it into a stunning 3D action driving game. While the concept had already been explored in many other driving games the thing that made this game an instant success was that it somehow managed to bring every element of the original arcade classic into the world of 3D. Fast driving, devastating weapons, morphing cars, and plenty of explosions all add up to great fun.
For our second adventure in the world of SpyHunter Angel has tweaked the gameplay and fixed a lot of the glaring issues that gamers and critics had with the original. Gameplay is the same only much more refined and a lot harder thanks to the inclusion of a rearview mirror and a much more realistic threat of enemies behind you as well as those ahead and above.
Just like each new Bond movie, your new G-8155 Interceptor has been improved and there are plenty of new weapons and operating modes. Your silver bullet is a lot faster and the handling is improved although the game never pretends to be anything other than pure arcade action.
You can still morph into a boat for the water levels and thanks to your new snowmobile mode you can race through the snowcapped mountains like an Olympic skier. Of course all of these modes also have their smaller forms like the motorcycle and jetski that youíll switch to when you take enough damage.
The weapons van is back and this time you actually get to man gun turrets on the van and fight off waves of enemies while your car is being repaired and reloaded. This is a great twist on the original concept and actually makes the process a bit more realistic than just having your car magically fixed by driving into the back of a truck.
Your Interceptor isnít the only thing thatís new. You have a sexy new co-star, a mysterious secret agent that definitely adds a new twist to the storyline and even inspired a new theme song. Discovering her part in the unfolding drama is just a small part of the much larger conspiracy that once again involves Nostraís sinister plans for world domination.
The main game is divided into four main sections where more than 15 exciting missions wait to challenge your driving and combat skills. Your new weapons will help you fight off a variety of new and challenging foes as well as some difficult boss battles that are inspired from the more traditional arcade boss fights. Youíll have to study patterns and identify weaknesses to defeat these powerful opponents. Youíll get to customize your weapons configuration before each mission so there is definitely some flexibility to the gameplay.
There are still a few problems with the franchise. SpyHunter 2 has a few control issues, especially on the water levels where the boat just handles very poorly. The snow levels are fast and fun and the driving levels work well with a few problems in the combat. Targeting is automatic and not entirely accurate. The speed of your car is also greatly affected by certain terrain elements even though they visually donít equate to poor performance. Level balancing is also erratic with very hard levels early in the game and easy levels in the middle and near the end. There is no smooth progression of difficulty, so you can get hung up early on.
Iíve already mentioned the cool G-8155 Interceptor but itís worth mentioning again. This car is cool Ė ultra cool Ė and modeled with sweet precision. Weapon points are modeled and rise from concealed panels to unleash their sweet destruction before sinking back into the folds of the sleek contoured body panels.
As expected with a combat game there are plenty of cool weapon effects including some of the best explosions and fire seen in a long time. You can almost feel the heat coming off the screen. Combined with volumetric smoke and gorgeous particle effects, this is a pyro-technicians dream come true.
The framerate manages to remain playable throughout the game, even with all of the carnage going on, but there are some visual oddities that seem to have carried over from the PS2 version. Even the Xbox isnít immune to some pop-up and flickering textures. There are even some noticeable jaggies in some places that had me wondering if anything was done to optimize this game for the Xbox.
The game supports HDTV 480p, which will help smooth over some of the rough edges, but it wonít help with the visual bugs and clipping problems that will have enemies vanish yet still engage you in combat. Unfair and annoying when it happens, but thankfully itís not that often.
The Peter Gunn theme made for some nostalgia the first time around but thankfully Midway didnít try to flog that dead horse a second time. Instead, they went to Vanessa Carleton to perform an interesting song entitled ďDark CarnivalĒ for the title track. I saw her perform this song live at E3 last year and while Iím a sucker for live music I just wasnít impressed with the repetitive keyboard and strained vocals.
The gameplay is suitably equipped with plenty of techno and high-energy rock tunes that are fueled with the same octane as your Interceptor. Good stuff to drive and shoot to and the thumping beats will certainly match your heart rate on some of the more challenging missions.
Sound effects are awesome. The Inceptor has a high-tech whine and the weapons all have unique and appropriate sounds. Explosions were thunderous and literally shook the walls. Considering this game doesnít have any Dolby Digital support I was most impressed with the low frequencies that made the frequent fireballs the star of the show.
With 15 missions that start at hard and only get harder, you can plan on 15-20 hours to beat this game. Even the easiest of levels is harder than the normal levels of the original game. Consider that game your entrance exam and SpyHunter 2 your final exam. If and when you complete this game you will have accomplished a major achievement in gaming.
There is support for multiplayer, both in a cooperative mode that allows two players to tackle the campaign missions and a versus mode that has you locked in vehicular combat to the death. The cooperative mode is rather interesting with one person driving and firing the main guns while player two fires the secondary and auxiliary weapons.
There are some nifty bonus items; a movie discussing the history of SpyHunter, interviews and a live performance with Vanessa (the one from E3) for those that care. None of itís locked so you can enjoy those features the moment you crack open the case.
I was so disappointed with the original SpyHunter on the Xbox that anything would have been better. While SpyHunter 2 is certainly a much more refined sequel it seems that there are just as many new problems as there are improvements. I commend the designers for the new weapons and car morphs, and the increase in difficulty is a mixed blessing.
But there are also some glaring bugs and an overall unpolished feel to this game that has me thinking somebody rushed it out the door to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation so Angel could begin their new lives at Rockstar. Iím not sure if there will be a third SpyHunter or who will do it but there is definitely room for improvement and plenty of exciting gameplay potential to be explored.
Meanwhile, if you are a fan of the SpyHunter franchise or just looking for a fast and challenging driving game with plenty of explosive action then give this game a try.