I have fond memories of playing the original Spy Hunter in the 80's, back when it was an overhead-camera action game that, given the limits of technology at the time, was as addicting a game as I've ever played. I was surprised that the resurrection of the title in 2001 turned out as well as it did; it certainly didn't reach the iconic status of its forbearer, but it was a well-made piece of visceral videogame pap.
With the sequel, the developers have gone and done just what one would expect: add more stuff. That means more vehicles, more action, and some minor tweaks to the previous game's formula such as a new emphasis on rear attacks and upgradeable weapons. It still retains many of the same weapons from the first game, from your standard-issue hood-mounted machine gun to various rockets and bombs, while adding some new vehicles that include a snowmobile and a 4-wheeler.
That would all be great if, conceptually, Spy Hunter 2 had a little more going for it. It's only the third Spy Hunter game ever and the second in 3-D, and the gameplay is already wearing thin. Even though there is a nice variety of vehicles and objectives, the gameplay suffers from a feeling of sameness. Unfortunately, I don't think that it's something that the developers at Angel Studios really could have changed. Rather, it seems that the concept has been milked dry, and it's just not that exciting anymore. Even though the game can be extremely difficult at times, there is never a sense of suspense to match the challenge. It's on-rails gameplay that we've seen a hundred times before, and it's not particularly polished nor is it remotely innovative.
The real Achilles' heel of this sequel is that it actually abandons some of the simplicity that made the first one work. This time, there are more objectives and greater variety of them, including some defense/escort missions that require you to protect another vehicle. These end up being brutally boring; they're always hard and never particularly fun. As soon as I began the very first escort mission, which is fairly early in the game, I was reminded of escorting the bone-headed Natalya in Goldeneye 007 years ago, as it often seemed impossible to prevent her from walking into a bullet. Likewise, protecting other vehicles in Spy Hunter 2 is akin to keeping rednecks away from a can of Pabst. There is an overwhelming sensation that chance, rather than skill, determines success—and taking the feeling of control from the player is always a losing bet.
The game has a nice sense of speed, but the controls never feel quite right. The car feels too sluggish for an arcade shooter, but the physics don't feel realistic either. Something on par with a good arcade-style rally racer would have been more respectable. The boat is even more sluggish, and none of the vehicles feel responsive enough to keep up with the pace of the action. The vehicles don't seem to have much weight to them either, making for rather dull impacts and unexciting turns. I suppose this lack of physics was done in the spirit of the arcade-inspired gameplay, but it ends up sapping the game of any white-knuckle suspense.
It's also a pretty tough game, and playing through it was a chore. So little characterization is given in the game that the objectives seem unimportant and disconnected from the gameplay. Combined with the repetitiveness of the action, the excitement quickly gives way to predictability. There was never a moment that demanded my attention and made me say, "Wow, I wasn't expecting that!" Well, nothing except for some of the bizarre glitches in the game, like the enemy boats which magically disappear.
Spy Hunter 2 isn't intolerably bad; it's merely average and uninspired. Despite some new additions, chugging through stage after stage of repetitive action sequences felt disappointingly routine. Even at its best, the game would only be the same kind of short-lived escapism that the previous game was. But, like a good B-movie action flick, even such flights of cognitive downtime need their nuances to be entertaining. Spy Hunter 2 offers a lot, but falls just a little too short on the basics to make the nostalgia worthwhile.
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