We often think of surprises as good things. Phrases like ?gwhat a pleasant surprise?h and- for the most part- ?gwhat an unexpected surprise?h can be seen as reactions to positive events that occur. 2002?fs ?gSpy Hunter?h can apply to the latter statement.
The news of a remake of the 1983 arcade legend was met with skepticism and outright disgust, as most attempts to bring classic franchises into the new millennium fall flat. To the shock of many, its release was welcomed with good reviews and positive reactions from the gaming public. The new ?gSpy Hunter?h was indeed an ?gunexpected surprise?h.
The opposite of surprise is inevitability. As we learned from the ?gMatrix?h movies, inevitability is unavoidable, especially when it comes to successful video games. ?gSpy Hunter 2?h for the PlayStation 2 (and other next-gen systems) is the obligatory sequel to last year?fs successful update. Midway, under the influence of huffing paper money fumes, hoped to catch lightning in a bottle again with another modernized take on the classic arcade driver/shooter. Unfortunately for money-doling gamers out there, inevitability is not too kind when it comes to cash-in sequels. ?gSpy Hunter 2?h fails to capture the magic of either the original game or the remake, resulting in one gloriously average gaming experience. Considering the lack of a need for a sequel in the first place, this is not a shocker.
The story to ?gSpy Hunter 2?h, not surprisingly, takes place after the events of last year?fs version. The evil organization ?gNOSTRA?h is gathering strength through its rebuilding network across the globe. They are under the control of a mysterious figure, whose intentions are unknown. As Agent Sects, you must- paraphrasing from the manual- ?gonce again battle the forces of chaos in their bid to take over the world?h. But this time- to obviously please the female audience- he has the help of ?gfeisty Agent Duvelle?h (that?fll get the girls?f playing!) to ?gthwart global destruction using a combination of speed, versatility and firepower.?h Damn, that makes me want to play twice!
Visually, ?gSpy Hunter 2?h has somehow managed to take a step backwards in quality from its predecessor. While they are competent, they don?ft cut it for a fourth-generation PlayStation 2 game. Car models are average, with some shiny texturing to offset their middling- and somewhat jaggy-looking- appearances. You get the sensation of speed as you traverse the terrain, but recent games like ?gNeed for Speed: Underground?h woefully outclass this game. The stages are equally adequate in quality, but not spectacular. Objects and buildings are identifiable, but don?ft catch the eye. Some textures, such as ground surfaces and some background objects, are muddy looking. Polygon glitching shows its face every now and again. The full-motion video cinemas are naturally the best-looking graphics in the game, but are used sparingly. Developer Angel Studios has, and should have, done better with this game.
The sound of ?gSpy Hunter 2?h is more than competent. The music, once again influenced by the now-legendary ?gPeter Gunn?h theme, is a solid modern mix of rock, techno and heavy-thumping beats. In particular, the final boss theme is a forcefully pounding work of crunching guitars and electronic blasts. The soundtrack is reminiscent of a James Bond movie with a harder edge, and like its precursors you can hear 007?fs influence in almost every song. The sound effects are equally solid, and they represent the on-screen action nicely. There is the occasional sound glitch of audio dropping out for a few seconds (on my copy), but only happens on a rare occasions.
Control of the game is easy to manipulate. The default buttons for vehicle operation are laid out on a logical manner, and include actions to use: primary, secondary and rear weapons, employ shields, steering (using either the digital pad or left analog thumbstick), braking and the ability to switch to ?goff-road mode?h to navigate more adverse environments. Your ever-morphing Interceptor vehicle (with its six different modes of transportation) is a blast to navigate with. Driving almost immediately becomes second nature, thanks to their fine implementation to onscreen action. Even in tough situations, the ease of use of the controls will help most players get out of jams.
The game play of ?gSpy Hunter 2?h is a trickier puzzle to figure out. It plays similar to last year?fs edition, but several factors make this game a more tedious experience. The biggest problem with the game is its difficulty, with numerous aspects contributing to the frustration. The enemies- nine types populate the nearly 20 stages- are bi-polar in personality: either dumb as a brick, or relentlessly cheap and tough to handle. Many of the vehicles lay low on sides of the road waiting for you to pass, or will stay a set distance in front and behind you. If they are not firing at you with more powerful ammunition, they are often waiting on you before they attack. An annoying and frequent example of this is enemies that open fire from behind you. Since you don?ft have particularly effectively weapons to protect your rear, nearly any hit will cause you to take damage. And when they decide to gang up on you, they attack in unavoidable waves. The reverse of this is foes that will actually wait for you to move- whether they are in front or behind you- before deciding to attack. Almost like ?gCrus?fn USA?h, it seems like their purpose is to wait for you to move before they move.
A related problem is the effect of the damage your car can take. While your Interceptor can smash through parked cars like toilet paper, your vehicle takes damage early on from the weakest stray bullet. Your car is also prone to take hits quickly before disintegrating into the escape cycle. Upgraded armor and shields help offset this, but your enemies also gain improved weaponry and cheaper offensive tactics.
Missions present several problems and questions regarding their completion. With your opponents presenting a strong challenge, you?fll find yourself replaying missions repeatedly. A source of irritation is restarting a mission from scratch if you fail to complete every objective, even if you?fve almost completed the level. While it makes for a more ?grealistic?h experience, repeating the same level over and over becomes monotonous. It almost feels old school in the way you have to memorize the level and enemy layout in order to complete the levels. A minor quibble in the mission involves the objectives themselves. Some are mind-numbingly simple, but many are a nuisance to complete. New objectives may bring a reprieve of replenished health, while most will present new challenges with you having the same energy as before. Of course, the infamous weapons truck automatically replenishes your health and weapons, but sometimes you see the same effect without the truck making an appearance. It?fs an odd item of criticism, but its appearance makes you wonder why the developers didn?ft lean one way or the other.
Another problem with the mission structure is its implementation into the gameplay. The plot unfolds through loading screens, and you don?ft get a true sense of your purpose or the events of the game. In the game, you don?ft see the results of your actions, or get an explanation of why you had to protect someone from being killed. Most times, you feel like you?fre being guided by the hand through the game. The story structure is very strict, and every event must occur in order, leading to a very linear gaming experience that meanders along. Being able to wander off the beaten path or even change the events of the game through betraying the mission objectives would be a unique direction to take in future installments- if there are any.
Part 2 has a welcome addition of co-op multiplayer play with its multiplayer campaign. You can play through the missions with a friend, with the first player controller the vehicle and offensive weapons, and the second player controlling the secondary and auxiliary weapons. The ?gSpy Hunt?h deathmatch mode returns from ?gSpy Hunter?h, allowing for the same two people to duke it out in one of four stages.
Replayability of ?gSpy Hunter 2?h is another step backwards from last year. ?gSpy Hunter?h allowed you to unlock new multiplayer levels, HUD features, and even a new version of your car. ?gSpy Hunter 2?h only offers two full-motion videos for your hard work and effort. Even the unlockable fluff of the first remake- music video, making of video, etc.- would have been welcome, if only to entice players to continue playing the game and not trade it in sooner. As is, several of the unlockable features from the first game are immediately accessible in the sequel, including a Vanessa Carlton interview and music video, a documentary on the evolution of the ?gSpy Hunter?h series, and a gallery of art sketches from the game.
Numerous problems keep ?gSpy Hunter 2?h from rising above the sea of average sequels. Nipping at the heels of last year?fs release of the modern-remake, part two is a predictably rehashed game with less innovation and degradation in several key areas. The in-game graphics pale in comparison to its predecessor, with some bland textures and overall lack of eye-candy. The audio is solid and the soundtrack keeps true to its roots while remaining fresh. Control is a highlight, with a rational arrangement that makes playing the game almost effortless. The gameplay suffers from erratic AI, questionable car damage and overly linear mission-based levels. As with most quick-buck sequels, ?gSpy Hunter 2?h is a warmed-over attempt to recreate the feel and sales of its precursor. But like most such efforts before it, the first is the better version. No surprise there.