Good Spy Hunting.
Remember when spies looked like this? Ah, the good old days of counter-intelligence, when turtlenecks, smart suits and copious amounts of hair goop were the signs of a stylish spy. Old school spies looked like jazz musicians who remembered to shave, and there's not one among us who didn't spend many a night dreaming of living the upscale bachelor life of a Sean Connery-era James Bond.
So when Midway's updated Spy Hunter was announced, none of us were sure whether it would be a consummate cool cat or a pretty boy with no style. Thankfully, Spy Hunter stays true to its roots with classic gameplay mechanics while sprucing up the looks to meet the potential of the PS2.
If you've played the old Spy Hunter, then I'm sure you have a trillion questions about his new one. I'll try to answer the big ones here. Yes, you still get to drive a cool spy car blasting enemies with machine guns and screwing up the chases with oil slicks. Yes, you still get to drive into that little van to reload. Yes, those nasty cars with the whirling blades on the sides still try to scratch up your paint and ram you off the road.
The plot involves world domination by a demented, powerful mastermind who heads up some creepy organization of other masterminds. In this case, the evil honcho is named Daemon Curry and his evil organization is called Nostra International (like a guy named "Daemon" is going to be all warm and fuzzy). The only ones who can stop the nefarious ploy are the do-gooders at IES (International Espionage Services). You're one such good guy, and it's your job to stop the burgeoning threat by any means necessary.
So the plot sucks. Big deal - the plot in the original sucked, too. I defy any of you to actually tell me what said plot was. I pumped probably 50 bucks worth of quarters into that thing and never once even pretended there was a plot at all. I recommend doing the same here. Suffice it to say that the gameplay takes center stage.
And that gameplay is, for all intents and purposes, the same as it ever was. You drive your fancy spy car through 14 increasingly difficult missions. Along the way, you use your machine guns, missiles, oil slicks and smoke screens to blow up as many enemies as you feel necessary while attempting to complete a few mission objectives.
By far the biggest difference between this version and yesteryear's is the graphical upgrade. Spy Hunter looks good. The car is modeled nicely, the framerate is very steady and the overall look is bright and fun. The explosions are great, nearly photorealistic, and there are plenty of 'em. While it's not as flashy as SSX or creative as Twisted Metal Black, this is a solid effort.
The control was a big concern of mine, since the original had that kick ass wheel. Well, it turns out that my fears were ungrounded, as the car in Spy Hunter handles like a dream. The forgiving physics lead to a game steeped heavy in action and light in simulation. The car can morph into a hovercraft (it does so automatically) when you find water, and there's no change in the control scheme. It's very responsive and very simple.
When most people think about Spy Hunter, they think about the cool weapons. Unfortunately, there's not really much new in the way of munitions. You still have machine guns and missiles up front and oil slicks and smokescreens to blur the rear. You do get one new back weapon, a flame-thrower, and the missiles and guns upgrade as you complete missions. After 18 years, all they could come up with is a flame-thrower? Man, where's Q when you need him!
However, you can't ever customize your payload - it does it automatically, so that every time you attempt mission number 5, you'll have the exact same level machine guns and missiles. In other words, there's no going back to really lay the smack down once you've gotten cooler weapons.
All the old baddies are here, including that nasty guy with the whirling razors. There are a few new choppers and fighters to take down, but none of the enemies are much of a match one on one. It's all about numbers, and when you get caught in some hairy crossfire, it can get mean. And, I should add, very cool.
Each mission has several objectives, which usually include blowing up a few trucks, locating a few "Satcom" markers, and disabling a bomb or two. But the nature of the level design is closer to that of a race than an arena. You have a certain amount of time to complete at least the Main Objective, which means you can't spend too much time dallying around.
This leads to a sort of trial-and-error gameplay redundancy. You'll try the mission once, and since you don't know where anything is, you'll miss most of the important bits. So you try it again, and again, and again, and by the fifth time or so you've got the right path laid out in your mind and you just go to it.
But the levels are pretty much scripted entirely, so after the first few runs you'll always know how many enemies are around each bend. In conjunction with the 'downhill racing' style design, this makes it hard to want to play a level again after you've nailed it correctly.
Fans will be happy to welcome back the Peter Gunn theme, which is right up there in the spy tunes pantheon alongside this, this, and of course this. Apparently, someone at Midway REALLY likes the band Saliva, because there's more Saliva on this DVD than you'd find in Pavlov's shoe closet. You can unlock new videos and stuff by completing the missions in record time, but unless you like Saliva, your glands won't be thrilled.
There are also a few multiplayer modes, but they're pretty lame. Each is some sort of race, and while you can blow each other up, there's no reward for doing so. It's not much fun.
But on the whole, Spy Hunter is. It brings a legendary game into the next-generation with good graphics, tight control and solid if redundant gameplay. It might not be Goldfinger, but it's a far cry from Moonraker.