SpyHunter (PlayStation 2) review
"I'll admit it. I was skeptical when I heard of Spy Hunter, developers had been butchering arcade classics since back in the PS1 days. Frogger? Tedious platformer with atrocious controls. Contra: Legacy of War? Dull action game with awkward controls. Galaga: Destination Earth? Contender for the title of most monotonous shooter ever, and I payed for Shienryu with fucking money. I'm not sure why I even bought the game, really. I guess I was young, dumb, and stupid. But it worked out for me in the e..."
I'll admit it. I was skeptical when I heard of Spy Hunter, developers had been butchering arcade classics since back in the PS1 days. Frogger? Tedious platformer with atrocious controls. Contra: Legacy of War? Dull action game with awkward controls. Galaga: Destination Earth? Contender for the title of most monotonous shooter ever, and I payed for Shienryu with fucking money. I'm not sure why I even bought the game, really. I guess I was young, dumb, and stupid. But it worked out for me in the end, since Spy Hunter is awesome.
Like any arcade game people steal with MAME, the original worked since it was simple: your only tricks were hood mounted automatic guns, defensive weapons, and the ability to turn into a boat whenever you needed to. There were nuances, and seeing someone who knew what they were doing play was a beautiful sight, but it wasn't science—and neither is this PS2 touch-up. Your car only starts off equipped with a pair of machine guns, missiles, a turbo booster, a smoke screen, and an oil slick you can drop on the ground behind you to make your pursuers pull a Mel Gibson. It gets upgraded, though, and by the end of the game you've got homing cluster missiles, EmP blasts, and even dual flamethrowers in your rear tires. The boat form is back too, though now it handles more sluggishly than the car for reasons that I hope are obvious.
Right off the bat you'll be treated to a good looking cutscene, one of many. It's kind of hilarious that they put a lot of work into these even though the game has almost no story, and all they do is show off how badass your car is. I love 'em, though. Sit through that you'll be prompted to enter the word jackass, bastard, or maybe even your real name while that awesome Peter Gunn theme from the 80's makes any aging arcade rat in the room tear up. Badical.
Epic story aside, the meat of the game is fourteen mission that each have a main goal and a handful of secondary ones. To clear a level, you need to do the main goal, usually something like eliminating a target or disabling a bomb. To open the next one, you have to do a set number of secondary goals. It's a nice system that keeps you doing the secondary objectives but doesn't punish you for not being able to find that one hidden item. Most of these goals include things like finding Satcoms (most of which are off the beaten path), destroying targets like SCUD missiles or enemy supply trucks, and avoiding civilian casualties. They're great aside from that last one. I hate civilian-casualty objectives, and they work even less well in fast-paced driving games. Especially later in the game when ''avoid'' turns into ''no''. I mean, if a group of 5 creepy old French dudes are riding their bikes in tight yellow t-shirts and short-shorts, I'm of the opinion that you're supposed to run them over.
The level design is good too, thankfully. Missions are straight forward, but with striking backdrops and tons of secret paths. Don't want to barge through that tank blockade in the road ahead? That's what the subway station's for! Not a fan of toll booths? Well, there's a ramp to fly right over them. And from the waterlogged city of Venice to the rivers of Columbia to the highways of Monte Carlo, the locations are all great visual backdrops.
Spy Hunter won't just let you romp through the levels completing your objectives, of course. It's packed with enemies like trucks and boats that drop bombs behind them, cars that try to ram you off the road, helicopters that reign death from above, tanks, and more. None of them will kick your ass like a Devil May Cry boss, but the game sure throws a lot of them at you. The numbers ramp up in proportion to how much cool shit you can do with your car, which keeps the game well balanced and requires skill throughout. A Weapons Van will usually be just around the corner if you get overwhelmed, fortunately, ready to refill your armor and ammo on demand. There's plenty in stock, it's been twenty years.
Just as you think you're starting to get the game's pattern down, it starts throwing new challanges at you. My favorite level is a cat and mouse chase between you and a stolen copy of your exact car, and I'll never forget bursting onto a racetrack while a race is happening (much to the amusement of the spectators). If there's anything I can fault the courses for, however, it's a lack of interactivity. Aside from a few scripted parts you can blow open or drive through here and there, too much of the game is solidly nailed into the ground. I mean, it'd be sweet if there were just more points to mess with the environment or maybe a knock-off of the environmental destruction system used to varying extents in Red Faction. Then again, I'd probably only use it to find more creative ways to kill those fucking bikers--you just know they're the type of pricks who ride fixies and use courier bags even though they don't even know what bike couriers do exactly.
From a technical standpoint, my only beefs with the game are the loads times and the occasionally repetitive music. Loading tends to be as long and annoying as in games like Red Faction, though at least they don't happen in the middle of firefights like in that game. The music doesn't really get that annoying, but there are more good tracks available in the sound test than are in the game—why not use them?
The biggest problem with Spy Hunter is how short it is, though. Getting all the goals in a level might take you 20 or 30 minutes, which only comes out to 6 or 7 hours. The two player mode is largely throw-away, too, with stupid scenarios like trying to run over more chickens than your friend. Maybe it would have worked in dedicated multiplayer levels, but they just reuse the single player levels. Your only incentive to replay the game, aside from for the fun of it, is to earn cheats, GoldenEye style: by beating levels quickly. It's addictive and fun, just like it was in that game (and the stupidly good Perfect Dark), but it feels a bit hollow since most of the cheats end up being lame. Green HUD! Secret movies! You get the best ones just for clearing the game, which makes no sense to me at all. Nobody would have found a way to plow through Facility in 2:05 if it unlocked fucking big head mode instead of invincibility.
Still, Spy Hunter is a slick example of how to bring an arcade classic into the new generation. Unlike so many others, it doesn't miss the point: the game still boils down to just driving that awesome car around, and it still works brilliantly. None of the flaws will keep you from having a good time with it. Plus, it's fairly pretty for an early PS2 game (oddly better looking than its Xbox counterpart), and the fact that it's so cheap these days makes it incredibly easy to recommend to arcade vets and the Halo/Madden crowd alike.
We're still waiting on a new Marble Madness, Midway. Get on that.
Community review by bluberry (June 26, 2008)
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