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Spy Hunter
Review By:  Christopher Coey
Developer:   Paradigm
Publisher:   Midway
# of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Action/Racing
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   12-11-01

Yet another remake of an old classic. I have a saying that I like: "eventually, everything will have a sequel", or in some cases a remake. Let's face it, the philosophers are right, all stories have been told. The human race ran out of original ideas back in the days of ancient Greece. If you accept that, you might not cringe as much each time you find out that someone wants to 're-interpret' an old movie, or song, or in this case video game.

That being said, I actually didn't cringe when I found out that they were remaking SpyHunter. Let's face it, the idea is cool. International spys, espionage, conspiracies, and a weapons loaded kick-ass supercar -- THAT'S cool. Of course, even the idea for the original arcade game (1983 by the way, don't I feel old) came from the old James Bond flicks. I guess back then, the boys at Midway thought they could do it better without 007. This time around, they went so far as to go head to head with Mr. Bond when producing this new spy-racing game. It seems they won the race, since the proposed '007 Racing' has recently been shelved.

So what's the deal? Well, what you didn't know back in the 80's was that the 'bad guy' you were fighting was an evil corporation named Nostra. It seems that the mastermind behind that company, Daemon Curry, has had a lifetime obsession with the prophecies of Nostradamus (Nostra, get it?). Daemon's ultimate goal is to launch four satellites into orbit which, when positioned, will send an EM-pulse throughout the entire world, sending mankind back into the dark ages. Fulfilling Nostradamus' prophecy:

"Fire will fall from the sky, rivers will turn red with blood, and a war unlike any the world has seen will unleash the four horsemen unto Earth."

That's a problem right? So, in order to combat this growing evil, IES (International Espionage Services) created the SpyHunter team. The team's main weapon is the G-6155 Interceptor (the car), with it's onboard computer "Leonie", and super-spy driver Alec Sects (a former F-15 fighter pilot). How do I know all this backstory? It's in the instruction Manual, NOT in the game.

All right, seriously, "Leonie"? That's the best name they could come up with for the onboard cojmputer? At least "Kitt" was a cool name; does this onboard computer have a cheesy Italian accent like Mario and Luigi? We might never know. Again, it's not in the game. It does seem, from the limited "story-based" cut-scenes that are included as 'unlockables' in the game, that there WAS actually some thought put into the story and plot. The trouble is, the developers decided not to bother actually telling the story to the players apart from what is in the manual. The "after mission" animations are cool, if somewhat short. But there are only two purposeful "story-based" cut-scenes that give the players a brief glimpse at what may have been an interested international terrorist plot (unfortunate timing aside). The story itself is never expanded upon, nor does it have a real conclusion. The title of the game is SPY-hunter afterall, where are the spies? Where is the espionage, apart from the player completing mission objectives, that are only explained in point form?

There is one 'early test animation' that can be unlocked, that shows what appears to be a further expanded intro scene. However, it also appears that the developers originally planed to create a "Spyhunter" character (Alec Sects apparently). I'm glad they scraped the plan. I, for one, am extremely happy they decided to keep the 'driver' a mystery. This game is, of course, about the vehicle. That sleek machine the G-155 Interceptor. The man behind the wheel is inconsequential. That being said, I would have liked to have known more about Nostra, and the agency that owns and builds the Interceptor (IES).

Enough about the plot and the history lessons, what is the gameplay like? After all, a game SHOULD be about the gameplay. I know I sometimes rant about the lack of a coherent script, or character development in games, but don't get me wrong, I'm all about the gameplay. And this game definitely has it. The original SpyHunter was a classic for good reason, and this game surpasses it. The new SpyHunter does everything the old one did, but way better. It is, of course, unfair to compare the computing power of a 1983 arcade machine to the Playstation 2. But on top of the great graphics, awesome sound, and 3D environments, this game is slick, and cool, and fun. The controls are perfect. There is a LOT going on in some of the missions, and the player has a whole lot of choices in weaponry (offensive and defensive). This fact alone could ruin the game: too many choices, too many buttons to think about. But that's not the case. Everything feels right. To target, click L3, the same button your thumb is already using to steer. Toggle weapons with L2 or R2, and shoot with L1 or R2 (defensive on left, offensive on right). There are primary and secondary weapons, scanning and EMP devices, but each new 'toy' is accessible right where you would want it to be. The control here is the real gem; it frees the player, and allows the game to shine.

The car is amazing. Morphing, in-game, from the Interceptor car, to speedboat, to motorcycle on the fly. Wait until you see the 'Matrix' style, bullet-time, cam-spinning morph in the first level (I actually called people into the room to watch it again). In total, there are 14 levels, and the diversity and innovation make them all fun to play. I especially loved one level where Nostra had planned a terrorist act, to bomb a city, during an F1 race. In order to disarm the bomb, the Interceptor has to break onto the track and race WITH the other racers, complete with commentary by the race announcer. Those types of details make all the difference.

Obviously, the music is great. There are a couple of variations of the original Spy Hunter theme ("Theme from Peter Gunn"), which change depending on the mission or intensity. The sound effects are spot on, but maybe could have been a little more flashy (I like a lot of loud explosions, and screeching brakes). Graphically, the game is above average. Better than most of the current racing titles (which is a testament to the developers, because this isn't strictly a racing game), but not quite up to the Grand Turismo 3 level. There are a lot of great uses of the PS2 processing power, such as particle effects (leaves, bits and pieces of wreckage, etc.), and impressive reflective surfaces.

As for reply value, there is surprisingly a lot. There are a number of 'cheats' to unlock, including supercar-mode (invincible, full weapons, and a slick metallic-silver outer shell.) Completing certain missions within a predetermined time limit will also unlock test animations, storyboards, and concept art. PLUS, the disc has a couple of music videos by the band that re-made the SpyHunter theme, rock band: Saliva. In addition, completing all the objectives in each level opens that level for two-player mode. The two-player mode has three 'sub-modes': Head to Head, Globe Trotter, and Chicken Hunter. The last mode has each player attempting to eliminate as many chickens (yes, I said chickens) as possible before either player reaches the finish line. The races, and missions for that matter, do tend to be on the short side. But it's SO much fun driving around shooting things (and running over chickens) that the gameplay makes up for any of the small deficiencies.

HIGHS:

  • Cool weapons and "feel"
  • Good reward system
  • Great remake of an old classic

LOWS:

  • Two-player mode has no 'original' areas, and the others are too short
  • Shallow, unworked story

FINAL VERDICT:

Everyone wants to be an International super-spy. There are not many guys (or girls I would imagine) out there who haven't dreamt about being James Bond. And, most video gamers simply want access to all those cool 'toys'. Like it's predecessor, this game IS basically just driving around, shooting, and blowing up things. Yet, there is a real sense of international espionage. That being said, it's ONLY because of the 'toys' that the game holds water. It's good despite a lack of imaginative cut-scenes, or any kind of in-game story or plot. If you're looking for hardcore espionage, try MGS2 or maybe the new James Bond title (which HAS a car racing element built in as well). If you want a slick racing game, with a load of weapons and destruction thrown in, buy SpyHunter.

Overall Score: 8.6

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