Reviewed: September 26, 2006
Released: September 5, 2006
Back in the very early days of the PS2, Midway surprised gamers with a 21st Century update to their popular 1983 arcade classic Spy Hunter. The title garnered near-critical acclaim for its top notch graphics and gameplay, the likes of which had not been seen on a console up to that point – with extra kudos for sticking true to the formula that made the 80’s cabinet such a classic.
But when Midway released a sequel shortly after using all the same ingredients that made the first rebuild so popular, reviewers simply shrugged their shoulders and grumbled something a Midway’s one-trick pony.
As a result of the poor reviews for the sequel, Midway seemed to put the Spy Hunter franchise on extended hiatus. Until, of course, Hollywood suddenly started showing interest in the premise. And it makes sense that Hollywood would be interested – the Spy Hunter formula is the perfect combination of James Bond and The Fast and the Furious. What could be better for the next game-to-movie blockbuster action flick?
So in the fall of 2006, for better or worse, we see the first fruit of the merger of Hollywood and Midway, and the influence and direction that this new relationship has on the seminal Spy Hunter franchise.
This first game is called Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run, and it definitely treads some very new ground for the series. Not the least of which is that first time in nearly two decades, our once nameless, faceless Agent has an honest-to-goodness persona – and it is none other than our perennial favorite Dwayne Johnson – aka "The Rock".
To accompany this new persona comes the most ground-breaking addition to the franchise – in the ability to finally step out of the prized Interceptor® assault vehicle and into the shoes of our new hero for a series of on-foot beat-‘em and shoot-‘em up levels.
The basic Spy Hunter formula should be familiar to any gamer worth his salt; in one or another stages of pursuit (or being pursued), Agent Alex Decker forges across land and sea in his high-tech shape shifting Interceptor® vehicle in the never-ending conflict between the governmental IES Agency and the evil NOSTRA corporation, which is bent on ruling the world.
The Interceptor® vehicle seamlessly morphs back and forth from car to boat (and in certain cases a motorcycle or jet ski) and is armed to the gills with various machine guns, homing missiles, and side- and rear- firing defensive weapons and mines.
These high-action pursuit stages feature a nonstop NOSTRA onslaught – from the constantly appearing chase vehicles, to the dozens of stationary armaments, to the inexhaustible air-based helicopter and airplane attacks – Midway has never been content in letting you so much as blink in their decisive series.
Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run stays true this well-established formula, and takes our hero from land to water and back again in a series of solid – albeit a bit confusing at times – vehicular combat levels.
This confusion comes not only as a result of the constant barrage of onscreen action – which is definitely amped-up over the previous releases – but also in simply trying to make sense of the numerous sub-goals that the game dishes out before the high speed stages. Gamers will barely have enough time to defend themselves from attack, much less make sure that they have blown up every single radio tower along the way.
Thankfully, Nowhere to Run introduces a new weapons armament to the fray, in the form of salvo missiles. Salvo missiles – popular with the mech crowd – are multi-targeting missile “clusters” that can be assigned across an array of enemies, and fired simultaneously with a single button press.
Nowhere to Run handles this salvo fire with a single button press that momentarily freezes the action. A small targeting reticule appears and can be swept slowly over a series of enemies – hopefully targeting each one in succession. Once the time meter runs out, the action resumes and the salvo clusters launch and destroy their targets.
The salvo clusters are quite effective when performed correctly – but it is easier said than done, as the time limit is quite short and the reticule is slow and clumsy. But by slow and clumsy, it is in a good way – adding a bit of difficulty to the proceedings.
Really, other than the fact that the assault vehicle gameplay has grown a bit tiresome over the last few years, Nowhere to Run does a solid job of amping up the action from the first two titles, while still keeping true to the proven Spy Hunter formula.
But the vehicle missions are only half of the action, because as mentioned earlier, our agent of espionage has a whole new gig outside the car – and getting out of the car is where things get a tad bittersweet.
Spy Hunter Nowhere to Run was developed Terminal Reality – most famous for the BloodRayne series. And while the two BloodRayne third person survival horror action games might not have garnered tons of critical acclaim in their time, they do have a dedicated fan base and are well respected in the industry.
With all of the pre-release press regarding Nowhere to Run’s on foot missions – I was hoping that agent Alex would show the same fluid nature as his vampiric cousin Rayne. He does not. In fact, Alex’s overall movement is a bit rigid and clumsy, and more akin to Gabe Logan from the old Syphon Filter games, than the Sam Fisher-esque fluidity we have come to expect in our 21st century action/espionage characters.
And the fault of this rigid nature is as much the awkward level design and item placement – which results in stiff right-angle movement and our hero’s often snagging on corners, boxes and barrels. As you can guess, this always seems to happen at the worst possible moments, and leads to a bit of frustrating fumbling about under a shower of bullets.
This lack of fluidity extends beyond simply moving about within the levels, affecting the aiming mechanic as well – making it difficult to zero the small reticule on individual targets. As a result, the gamer will generally find it just as effective to simply use the pray and spray technique and hope to find one of the generously placed ammunitions cabinets nearby.
Health is likewise doled out liberally via a series of health cabinets strewn about each level, and seldom will the gamer find himself without at least half a health bar to survive on.
I’m not saying the on foot missions are a total disaster – there are some honestly cool elements in the game which really help differentiate it from the plethora of other Spy titles out there. Not the least of which is the fighting mechanic, which seems tailor-made for The Rock and incorporates a number of unique pro wrestling-influenced sleeper holds, headlocks, and body slams.
I must admit that as a non-wrestling fan, I fully expected these moves to be the silliest element within Nowhere to Run. Ironically enough, they proved to be the most rewarding and effective means of dispatching enemies. The sensation of sneaking up on an unsuspecting foe and quickly and quietly snapping his neck is so much more rewarding than firing a dozen rounds in his general direction and hoping he stays down after the smoke clears. Really though, none of the enemies are all that difficult to handle – especially since it seems like only about half of them actually seem to be aware of your presence.
Featuring a darker, grittier atmosphere than the previous Spy Hunter games, Nowhere to Run looks good while kicking along at a rock solid (excuse the pun) framerate – no matter how many enemies are onscreen.
While the game is not the best we’ve seen on the aging PS2 hardware, the overall visual package is still quite impressive.
The vehicular levels definitely look better than foot missions. Whereas the vehicular levels feature impressive effects and a sense of speed, the foot missions feature too many recycled elements and are just too visually unexciting to keep the gamer’s attention for long.
However, the slow pace of the foot missions does help showcase some of the best visual qualities in the game – like the virtually jaggy-free edges and surface texturing.
The Rock and crew do a great job voicing the characters in Nowhere to Run. Alex is your typical wise cracking action hero, and The Rock nails the character type as well as any action hero has before him – not that that is really saying much of course, but The Rock really does a nice job.
In fact, from the music to the sound effects, Nowhere to Run exhibits a level of quality that only comes from Hollywood’s involvement, and is definitely a step up from the previous titles.
From start to finish, an experienced gamer should be able to complete Spy Hunter Nowhere to Run over the period of a weekend. So, it’s definitely not your longest of games – but there really is enough here or a rewarding gaming experience.
The game has some added value – in the form of an unlockable version of the original Spy Hunter arcade game (check the internet for details) – but to be honest, this isn’t the first time we have seen the old cabinet classic on our current gen consoles, and the excitement is not what it used to be.
Spy Hunter Nowhere to Run is definitely one of those bittersweet releases that make reviewing them more difficult than it really should be. While the vehicular levels definitely showcase continued improvement for the franchise, the on foot levels just aren’t executed as well as they should have been.
I do think that the on-foot levels are the proper direction to take the franchise; but some of the bugs need to be worked out first.