Developer: TT Fusion
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Spy Hunter has always been about high-octane fun, and the long-overdue portable sequel delivers it in extraordinary amounts.
It's impossible not to crack a smile as you thunder down the road in the G-155 Interceptor supercar, blowing up an army of enemy vehicles with an array of James Bond-esque weaponry. Should you encounter a body of water, your fun level only increases as the versatile automobile dynamically transforms into a hydrofoil, seeing you blast across seas and lakes without losing a single Newton of momentum. With upbeat jazz and a funky remixed version of Blues Brothers' Peter Gunn Theme blaring over the Vita's speakers, punctuated by a mocking arch enemy who presents himself as the melodramatic lovechild of Dr. Claw and COBRA Commander, Spy Hunter often feels like a zany Saturday Morning cartoon.
Though you'll sometimes have to briefly stop to hack a communication tower or defuse a bomb, the vast majority of your time will be spent in traditional arcade vehicular combat action. Only a recharging boost bar and some intuitive drift mechanics need to be mastered in advanced handling terms, allowing you to effortlessly hammer down a selection of tight tracks as sideways as possible in search of your mission objective. As a rogue agent with a score to settle, you'll hunt down enemy executives and blow them sky high, counter attempts to destroy entire cities, run from the police and bring explosive destruction to entire battalions of vehicular pursuers - whether on the tarmac, water or off-road.
Once again, the G-155 Interceptor proves itself to be one of the most versatile and deadly vehicles to ever grace a videogame. Before each mission, you're free to equip the gorgeous supercar with an array of weaponry such as impact overriders, mines, machine guns, rockets and missiles, each of which is a simple face button tap away. Destroying an enemy car, tank or helicopter usually results in a slow motion cutscene that displays your prowess to advantage, providing plenty of adrenaline-soaked thrills.
The accessibility and relative simplicity of the action belies some deceptively thoughtful level design. Most of the surprisingly numerous stages offer branching routes, some of which give you the choice between land, sea and ridiculous jumps. Using the best shortcuts and routes to advantage greatly bolsters replay value, as does a persistent upgrade system that lets you re-attempt earlier missions to power up your arsenal.
It's simple stuff, but predicated on offering as much fun as humanly possible. Sadly, it's clear that TT Fusion weren't given either the time or resources to match raw enjoyment with raw quality.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the visuals. To be blunt, Spy Hunter looks absolutely awful. While the 3DS version is unbelievably muddy and resembles a DS game in parts, the Vita edition packs all the graphical grunt of a low-end PSP game. Textures are low-res to the extreme, particle effects are practically non-existent (hooray for pixelated 2D explosion sprites), humans aren't modelled at all and the vehicles all resemble angular poorly-animated boxes. I'd be amazed if TT Fusion didn't originally start developing Spy Hunter as a PSP game, or at least used the same toolkit.
I usually don't punish games for weak graphics too harshly if they offer enjoyable gameplay, but here, the primitive visuals actively stop you from engaging with the sheer ridiculousness of the action, making what should be an exhilarating and intensely visceral experience feel flat and malnourished. Fundamentally, it's also not fair to expect players to spend good money on a game that would have looked mediocre on last-generation hardware.
Noticeably rough edges betray this lack of polish and development time. Handling, though reasonable in the main, is let down by inconsistent collision detection and physics that will spin or derail you upon contact with the tiniest of scenery elements. Cutscenes are unskippable and sometimes fail to pause the action, resuming to reveal that you're several hundred metres off course (notable in a strictly timed battle with a fleeing aircraft carrier). A dearth of checkpoints, either one or none per mission, can see you replaying much more than should be strictly necessary and suffering through inexplicably long loading screens. More development time would have meant more playtesting, which would have revealed these basic flies in the ointment.
But it's unfair to lay all of Spy Hunter's failings at Warner Bros' door, because TT Fusion make a few missteps of their own. Many missions force you to dock the Interceptor into a slow-moving lorry, which you'll subsequently have to defend with a stationary turret. A wonky off-centre perspective makes it difficult to aim your sluggish mounted gun precisely, and failure will almost always force you to restart the entire level rather than replaying the offending section. In a game featuring a supercar that would make James Bond green with envy, the very idea of having to sit in the back of a truck for several minutes is utterly nauseating.
I personally feel that TT Fusion is on the verge of greatness with Spy Hunter, but they need more time to realise it. They need more money and more comprehensive quality assurance. And, to be honest, they could probably do with console hardware. With a fully remastered engine, tweaked campaign and a complete moratorium on those godawful turret sections, Spy Hunter would be a perfect fit for PSN or XBLA.
- Uncomplicated and gleefully fun arcade action
- Gratuitous weapons and slow motion taketowns
- Meaty campaign, replayable missions and persistent upgrades
- Horrendous primitive visuals don't live up to the gameplay
- Unbelievably rough around the edges
- Some poorly-conceived design decisions and rail shooting sections
The Short Version: If you're willing to look past its primitive visuals and numerous rough edges, Spy Hunter is fun in its most concentrated form. We hope that TT Fusion will be given another attempt to refine the core concept with more time and resources at their disposal.