Oh, just legalize it already.
When most people think Mexico, they think Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallerta.
They think warm beaches, tequlia sunrises and zesty cultural events. The lamest
may even think about that stupid Taco Bell dog.
When I think Mexico, I think Tijuana. And when I think Tijuana…er…I guess
I don’t “think” much when it comes to Tijuana, or as I like to call it, “Little
Columbia.” A mere 30 miles from downtown San Diego, Tijuana is a hot spot with
legions of Southern California teens and college students – but not because
of the weather or Chihuahuas. They go in droves for the drugs and drinking,
And where there’s narcotics, there are guys who deliver the goods. Enter Smuggler’s
Run, a wild racing romp across the borders of the great addiction known
as America. Much like the drugs you smuggle, this one delivers its fair share
of highs and lows.
The scene is sort of a cross between Mad Max and Cannonball Run.
You play a member of a gang of smugglers working the Mexican and Canadian borders
(to aid in the illegal importation of moose, I guess.) You pick up goods in
one place and drop them off in another, all the while doing your best to evade
the cops and rival gangs.
Graphically, the game is about on par with the other PS2 launch games…nothing
brilliant, but nothing shabby. The detail level of the cars is terrific. The
game features damage modeling, and if a piece of your ride falls off, it stays
where it lands to become another obstacle. Very cool.
Two aspects of Smuggler’s Run stand out like a narc at a Grateful Dead
concert: a killer game engine and some of the largest environments yet seen
on any console.
Similar to the PSX masterpiece Driver,
the physics here play a balancing act between real world and fantasy. A twirl
in the dune buggy will reveal independent suspension that, when coupled with
the terrain, actually affects car handling. You car bounces when it should bounce,
skids when it should skid, and flips when you get too greedy. Thankfully, you
can flip it right back up with ease to keep on truckin’. This leads to an infinitely
playable game grounded firmly in real-world dynamics.
In addition to the engine, the sheer size of the maps is testament to the
power of the PS2. The pop-up is hardly noticeable at all. Plus, there’s no real
“backdrop” – if you see a point in the distance, you can drive right up to it,
even if it’s miles away. You can spot a tree only a few pixels high and proceed
to drive straight up to it until it towers above you. You can literally go anywhere,
so long as your car stays in one piece. The end result is a truly immersive
The AI can get very aggressive, leading to some hysterical chases. Getting
mobbed by 5 border patrol vehicles and sliding down the sheer face of a mountain
is a treat.
With it’s fast pace and hectic action, Smuggler’s Run is filled with
some genuinely fun moments. But while it excels in its technological forays,
it hits some road bumps as a game.
The campaign mode, Smuggler’s Mission, lets you play through a bunch of missions
held together by an incredibly disjointed and uninteresting story. Despite the
fact that this is a PS2 game, there’s no FMV whatsoever. You just go from mission
briefing to mission briefing without even the slightest hint at any flash. A
bummer, no doubt, since this is supposed to be next-gen stuff.
There are a few Instant
Action modes, which can be played with 1 or 2 players. The best of these is
Turf War, where you basically grab loot and bring it back to the same location,
scavenger hunt style. You can also just explore the enormous maps in Joyride
mode, which is a great way to get familiar with the levels.
However, regardless of which mode you play, the gameplay essentially boils
down to a game of chase. You pick up stuff in one spot and deliver it somewhere
else…and that’s it. One or two actual races break the tedium, but for the
most part it’s just pick-up/drop-off over and over again.
This lack of gameplay depth is painfully noticeable when you look at the rest
of the game. After you complete each mission, you are rewarded with a certain
amount of money based on your time and the condition of the stuff you delivered
(the more bumps a package suffers during delivery, the less money you make).
But the money is never actually used for anything – it’s simply your “score,”
just like Galaga or Asteroids. Guess what? That doesn’t cut it
There are several car types to choose from, each with its own attributes regarding
handling, speed, acceleration and durability. But you can’t buy or upgrade anything.
You can’t customize your paint job or tweak your specs. You can’t even unlock
new levels (there are only three, though again, they’re huge). All this, despite
the fact that you made over 200,000 dollars in the last mission. Why
in the name of all that is playable someone omitted these features is beyond
my tiny editor’s brain.
Furthermore, there’s no replay feature, so even though you just pulled a kick-ass
180 and narrowly dodged four cops flying at you from different angles, you’ll
never see it again. After being treated to an advanced replay system like Driver
or even a simple replay feature like the original Gran Turismo, no racing game
is complete without it. That includes Smuggler’s Run.
And what’s with the load times? I was expecting little to no wait, yet this
game takes longer to load than most of my PSX games. Argh.
Apparently, the female voice actor wants to have sex with me. She’s constantly
spouting out dumb innuendoes – “yeah, faster, faster!”…”…”that’s it baby,
right there!”…”ohhh, you’ll need staying power to stay in this one.” Look,
if I want porn, I’ll go rent a DVD. Plus, she won’t shut up. It’s the same lines
over and over again. Guess she really wants me bad. Gleefully, I just shut her
off in the Options menu. My body is a temple, lady.
Smuggler’s Run is at once an impressive, invigorating romp and a seemingly
unfinished, unpolished rush job. At its core, this is a surprisingly limited
game. However, it’s still loads of fun if you look past its shortcomings. A
rental for sure, but you might want to save your dough for something more addicting.
And that’s the straight dope.