I Spy A Bad Game.
Some would say that Midway's passion for its long, decorated history demonstrates the company's love for classic gaming, but you have to admit, it's a little creepy watching them constantly remake their old games. Gauntlet and Defender were fine just they way they were, thank you very much, and the updates were less than thrilling.
To be fair, 2001's remake of the classic Spy Hunter was arguably the best of the bunch, a solid, fast-paced action game that bore little resemblance to its ancient cousin, but got the job done well enough. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the sequel, Spy Hunter 2, a game mired in bad design, shoddy delivery and too much focus on the past instead of the future.
Despite praise for the first outing, Midway switched developers for Spy Hunter 2, going with Angel Studios (also known as Rockstar San Diego), the minds behind the Smuggler's Run and Midnight Club games. It's obvious from the start, though, that most of the developer's resources were thrown into those other games, leaving what seems to be the janitorial staff to handle the development of Spy Hunter 2.
Apparently, the Spy Hunter series has always featured some sort of plot concerning the dubious deeds of Nostra International, an association of evil henchmen. You again play a super spy working for the IES (International Espionage Services) and must go about deflating sinister schemes from behind the wheel of your fancy Interceptor uber-car.
Spy Hunter at least tried to flesh out its pointless story by way of some FMV, but that's been entirely scrapped in the sequel in favor of a confusing text briefing before each of the game's 16 missions. None of it is compelling at all, just shoving you onward to blow up more bad guys.
It's a strictly linear campaign, switching you in and out of missions across the globe by presumably using the Force. The setup here is just terrible. Each mission lasts only a few minutes, usually two or three, and is composed of you driving from point A to point B blowing up anything that turns red in your crosshairs. The more complex alternate goals in the first game are basically gone; though you will see secondary objectives listed on your briefing, they are usually accidentally accomplished over the course of your hell ride without much attention. This hurts what little replay value the game offers because once you beat a level, there's no reason to do it again.
Spy Hunter 2 advertises the ability to customize your payload, but that's not entirely true. You will gain some new weapons by beating missions regardless of how well you perform, which can then be selected before the next level. While it's nice to choose between machine guns or missiles, the choices are locked into a certain configuration; you cannot forgo armor to burl up on lots of guns, for instance, or bail out on the mostly useless rear weapons in favor of better armor.
For that matter, your car isn't as cool as it should be. Yes, you can change into different vehicle types to cover different terrain, but that's all handled automatically, so you just turn into a boat when you hit water and a car when you hit land. Very exciting.
Like the first game, the missions are overly scripted. After a few runs you'll know where the bad guys spawn in, and poor AI means it's mainly a matter of target practice. Other missions, however, are ruthlessly hard. You'll quickly lose your Intercepter and switch into a slimmed down bike version, essentially giving you two lives, but neither can take much damage at all. Meanwhile, you're hurling 4 or 5 missiles just to bring down even the most basic of enemy vehicles. The balance here is not good.
The only bright spots are the new boss battles, which essentially take up entire missions. They're not spectacular by any means and most can be beaten by systematically shooting like a madman at the big boss vehicle, but they at least offer a break in the otherwise repetitive gameplay.
After you complete (or just get tired of) the single-player, either of which should not take long at all, two multiplayer modes are here to theoretically extend the gameplay. One lets you co-op the single player with one person driving and the other manning secondary guns, which is a good idea, but would work much better in a much better game. The other is a simple Deathmatch that amounts to lots of shooting and very little depth or skill.
The nail in the coffin for this ex-super spy lies in its shaky graphics engine. Every mode is shrouded in grays and browns across very bland, lifeless environments. The vehicle models are weak, the textures are flat and some heinous clipping errors raise their head from time to time. It's missing any kinetic punch as well as some vital explosions; you'll run over a mine, take wicked damage and see absolutely no explosion whatsoever. The Xbox version is a little smoother than the PS2, but otherwise they look roughly the same.
When you think of spies and espionage, who's the first singer to come to mind? Did you guess Vanessa Carlton? Then that makes you the only person in the world who can possibly comprehend why Midway would have made such a bizarre decision to secure her as the big-name artist for Spy Hunter 2. If you're going to go after a licensed act, why, uh, VANESSA CARLTON? Is she big at LAN parties that I'm not invited to or something? It's mind-boggling, but at least you'll never hear her song unless you dig into the "extras.'
This isn't the first spy who has outlived his welcome " just check out Never Say Never Again and remember why Sean Connery should have stayed retired. And even that flop is a much better rental than Spy Hunter 2. Live and let it die.