Whomever coined the phrase "Crime doesn't pay" has never heard of Rockstar Games. Crime is paying them pretty damn well this quarter. Stealing cars and generally running amuck in Liberty City has earned them both the rare Game Revolution 'A' and terrific sales figures.
Next up on Rockstar's criminal to-do list is smuggling contraband across the borders of various countries. Noncommittal crime from the comfort of our love seats will always turn heads. But can Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory hold the attention of all the virtual crooks out there?
Smuggler's Run 2 improves on most of the gray areas that plagued the original - mainly, the story. While there was a hint of a plot in the first game, it felt like an afterthought. Here we have a full story complete with campy live-action cut-scenes that better meld the gameplay with the drama.
You take on the role of a seasoned getaway driver who is under the employ of Frank Luger (some sort of mercenary official). Frank takes the place of the randy suggestive female announcer/guide from the last game and will provide helpful navigation during your runs. Your job is to pick up and drop off various forms of contraband to be delivered between countries.
It may sound easy, but it's not. You have to first locate the pick-up and drop-off spots, which are marked with yellow and red flares to help you spot them in the game's vast and expansive areas. Picking up the contraband is usually no hassle; the contest is in the delivery. The law enforcement is out in force and they're pissed. Plus, they've learned a few new tricks over the past year. The heat will still try to slam into you and box you in. More complex maneuvers like cutting you off and setting up roadblocks add to the challenge.
The game's not called Hostile Territory for nothing. The locales are much more brutal this time around, placing you in Vietnam, Russia, and oddly enough, Afghanistan. Indeed, you will be driving straight through a literal war zone. Gunfire, explosions and all kinds of calamity add to the intensity. The world is much livelier than it was before, and in turn, a bit more fun.
It's a lot better looking, too. The game is still a technical wizard, featuring huge, open vistas with little to no cost on the texture quality. The buildings and houses look more realistic and there is a better variety of foliage than there was in the last game. And now the cars have more than one or two colors - they're actually detailed with nice textures and a variety of looks. The game is exceedingly prettier than last year's smuggle.
The cars may look better, but the game's handling is still as tight as it's ever been. Controlling these puppies so you can skillfully evade the boys in blue (or whatever color the law wears in each country) is easy and great fun. The physics will still impress you. Great suspension means you'll bounce, fishtail and roll with the best of them. But if you ever need a little extra trick up your sleeve, Rockstar's got you covered.
Each vehicle is equipped with a countermeasure. These include oil slicks, bombs, speed bursts and smoke screens ala Spy Hunter. They're fine, but I wish there were more weapons like guns or rockets. Maybe that way the weapons would have played more of a pivotal role in the game's fun factor. As it stands, the countermeasures don't have much of an impact.
You do you get more vehicles this time around and the ATV in particular is very cool. Still, there could have been even more to choose from.
Smuggler's Run 2 is an improvement in almost ever way except one, yet it's perhaps the most important - repetition. You drive, pick-up and drop off. Rinse and repeat. How about some variety? After you play through the first time, I don't know why you'd do it again. Off-roading across the game's incredible landscapes is fine, but the actual single player campaign is bit dry. There are a few other single player game modes, but most have to with the same sort of bland pick-up and delivery.
However, you do get a couple multiplayer modes to keep you coming back a few more times. One is a decent checkpoint race and the other is back to basics with 1-on-1 pick-up and delivery matches. These add some replayability, but not much.
Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory is a better game than the original and makes a lot more sense. Repetitive gameplay still holds it down, but there's a lot of fun to be had even if it you only play through it once.