Why take an old eight-bit arcade game and make it into something it's not? This was the first thing that I said when I found out that they were remaking Spy hunter, an old, old favourite of mine. I couldn't have been far wrong and for once I'm so glad. Yes you see Spy hunter for the PS2 is a good solid Arcade Action game that blends racing fun with frenetic driving skills and button mashing to blast foes into oblivion and it really is that good. It's an adrenaline charged race against the clock, the poor driving skills often of the player and the evil bad guys who turn up in such vast numbers one could be forgiven in asking if they were handing out the annual 'Most Evil Sod of the Year' awards.
Spy hunter takes the old top-down view of the early game and replaces it with a powerful and fast 3d Graphics engine that moves along at a blistering pace and doesn't seem to slow down when things really hot up. There are literally dozens of things on the screen at one time, from tiny effects to enemy vehicles and the all-important car you drive.
You drive the G-6155 Interceptor in the game, which has to be the coolest car since James Bond rolled out of the Garage in the Spy who Loved me with the Lotus Esprit that could go underwater. This vehicle can't dive beneath the waves of course but it can and does morph smoothly into a high performance jet-powered speedboat and back into a car. Take too much damage though and the outer shell is ejected in favour of a nippy motorbike that has faster manoeuvrability and handling at the cost of armour and protection. But you don't care about this as you marvel at the smooth outer-shell ejection sequence as the female onboard computer voice informs you in quite sultry tones that vehicle damage critical, initialising vehicle transfer mode, or some such secret-agent malarkey.
The Interceptor is armed with two front mounted guns and a roof mounted rocket launcher, as well as being armed with an oil slick dispenser and a smoke screen deployment system. Over the course of the game you'll get to add to this heat seeking missiles and an E.M.P cannon, flamer and other such devices; Weapons are gained at the end of each level usually in the form of upgrades to the Interceptors arsenal and can be selected fairly quickly while tearing through the various locations.
What about game play and the levels I hear you cry?
Spy hunter looks as good as it plays and plays as good as it looks, the car handles like a dream, the boat handles like a dream and the bike handles like a dream that the car and the boat are having at the same time. Get the impression that I was impressed, you're right, and I'm not often one to be impressed with a conversion from a much-loved classic. Game play is fast, it's furious and often it's brutally against the clock. You'll spend a lot of time in the early stages trying to just complete set objectives as many as you can and then going back to replay the other stages of the game to get better and better scores. Why? Because that's how you get further in the game, levels are unlocked based on a points system, the better you do, the more points you can gain and the better off you'll be when the level ends. Do really well, beat the timer score and achieve every goal, you'll unlock a cheat which can range from a funky night vision option, to a DVD video of the making of the game. There's a lot to unlock in Spy hunter and you'll be there for a while trying to winkle every secret and best score out of it.
It's a nice package when you load it up from the stirring and exciting intro set to the famous Henri Mancini 'Peter Gunn' theme used in the old Arcade game to the graphical interface and front end, name selection and the various screens are presented in a quick to use and easy to navigate manner. I spent most of my time with the demo of the game just sitting in the music player rocking out to Saliva's Spy hunter theme, vocal and instrumental versions. It really is that cool, and I never even heard Saliva before this. When I got the full version, I did the same, then I went off and played the game so I could give you my impressions.
This is one very tight package of rocking sounds, treatments to Peter Gunn's theme and smooth Arcade Action. The developers and Midway rock for bringing such a cool game into the arms of the PS2 well, disc tray.
How about the graphics, what is so special about Spy hunter that marks it out above the rest of the current crop of games?
It's Spy hunter! No just kidding, it's the modelling and the attention to detail in the graphics of the main vehicle and the enemy vehicles that abound in the game, the whole look of the Interceptor is drool making, when it shifts from the car to the boat or you see the bike break free, actually or you see the bike shift to a jet boat too. Your jaw is going to hit the floor. Mine did on the training mission that leads you into the style of the game very nicely. There's one part where the car leaps into the water and the game goes into a rotational Matrix cam just so you can watch how the car transforms, it's so cool. I had to play that level several times over to see that again and again. It's not so much morphing as the whole damn thing is carefully designed to look as though it might work, the wheel arches folding in and the front sliding back, when you think there's a small bike inside that shell you start to see that the developers have put a lot of time and effort into the aesthetics and the physics of the design.
The levels are richly designed with exploding features, tables and chairs you can knock over, people to avoid, short cuts and some places where you can get some serious air using the Interceptors turbos. Did I say people to avoid, yep, Spy hunter has a good old, do not kill the pedestrian or civilians shtick thrown into the missions which means you have to be extra careful with how you drive and fire those weapons of yours. Spy hunter takes place on land or on the water usually alternating once or twice per level but it also features some of the coolest game levels that I have seen in a game of this type, from the sudden drop into underground tunnels to the open waterways of Venice you're going to spend time just cruising around for a while and trying to see the sights, all the while being shot at and harassed by the forces of NOSTRA.
NOSTRA often throws everything it can at you from the evil black Sedans and Big Articulated Trucks from the intro, to the fast and nippy Motorbikes replete with machine gun toting NOSTRA agents, Swamp Boats, Fast Cars, Helicopters, Apcs, the list goes on and on, and in great numbers. Fortunately it only takes a few well-placed blasts with the guns or missiles to render them into scrap.
And I'm glad to say the BOOMS in Spy hunter have not been neglected at all, adding to the ferocious graphical engine and the top notch sound effects are the special effects themselves and it's got that much eye candy in it you'll be lost at where to look on the darn screen. Explosions are nice and meaty with a feeling that you really just did unload enough lead to make seven hundred pencils, into that Sedan, as it totters over to the side of the road and expires in a world-class fireball that'll leave you whooping and yelling. 'Kicked YO ass!' as you roar off down the road in a burst of turbo charged speed.
I really don't want to say too much about it and spoil the game for you because it really is as an astounding title, but I warn you, it's bloody well hard and often your objectives will leave you wondering where the hell you're going next and what the hell you're doing and you rip past a turning that leads to another one of them. But if you stick with it, if you stay with it you'll find that Spy hunter will be well worth it. I love the game myself and it's staying firmly in my collection as a #1 classic turned revamp that is worthy of the title best Arcade Shooter/Racer of the year if I could have my way that is.
One more thing the water levels in this game are great fun and the transformation of car to boat, or bike to boat just kicks ass as I said, the way the water bobs and reacts to various bombs and bullets is nice too, wakes are left by speeding boats and your own Interceptor.
Finally Spy hunter has thrown in a nice two-player race mode devoid of any objectives that can be played on any map that you've unlocked and this particular mode is great fun as a straight race or a race with weapons and dirty tricks. Prepare for it to become a firm favourite at sleep-overs or laddish beer nights. Note: You can't race without the weapons, you need to actually have an honour system set up whereby you ask that none be used, the drunker you are of course the more that will slip and eventually it'll be a mad race to the end with guns, flames, smoke, oil and anything else.
As they say in the game. Prepare to be Hunted!