Enter a world that is not too far off from our own, where competing smuggling organizations vie for power and money by breaking international trafficking laws. Enter the world of Smuggler's Run: Warzones for the GameCube. Warzones is the latest installment in Rockstar's Smuggler's Run franchise, and it includes many of the vehicles and environments from the first two games on the PlayStation 2.
Smuggler's Run lets you assume the role of a smuggler for one of several criminal agencies that must constantly avoid the law while delivering contraband. Much like the previous versions of the game, Smuggler's Run: Warzones allows you to choose from a wide variety of missions, placing you in the employ of different factions and in the driver's seat of various tricked-out vehicles, each built with custom specifications that make them ideal for avoiding the law enforcement agencies standing in your way of delivering the goods. New types of countermeasures have been added for this installment in the series, expanding the options available to you in both the single- and multiplayer modes. The sheer variety of multiplayer options has also been expanded upon, with the addition of new play modes and new environments to plow through.
Smuggler's Run: Warzones may appeal to a broad audience for a variety of reasons--be it the intense multiplayer action, the live-action video cutscenes that set up each mission, the sheer quantity of single-player missions, or the game's significantly enhanced graphics. Perhaps most significant to those who have already tried their hand at Smuggler's Run is the new vehicle that has been added to Warzones: the hoverbike. The hoverbike is, hands down, the fastest vehicle available, and during our play sessions, it proved incredibly useful during missions where top speed and acceleration were key. The hoverbike's low tolerance for damage made it vulnerable during many of the multiplayer modes, which often involve a lot of contact between vehicles, but its evasive capabilities make up for that in certain game types. Unlocking the hoverbike can be quite an incentive to perform well in all the single-player missions.
The new countermeasures that have been added to the game enhance your personal capabilities significantly. When added to the game's previous arsenal, the new countermeasures make for a healthy set of special abilities that can be called upon during crucial moments. The vehicles in the previous Smuggler's Run games employed the oil slick, the bomb drop, the speed boost, and the smoke screen, and Warzones adds the acid drop, the repulse shield, the vertical boost, and the cloaking device to that list. The coyly named acid drop releases a stream of caustic green liquid that is capable of instantly liquefying an opponent's tires. The repulse shield looks much like a personally contained electric field, and it protects your vehicle with a 360-degree sphere of damaging electricity, keeping opposing smugglers and the law at bay. The vertical boost can be the most versatile of the new countermeasures, as it propels your vehicle into the air. It can be used to avoid collisions, get greater amounts of air when flying over hills, and soften landings when dropping from great heights. The last of the new countermeasures, the cloaking device, makes your vehicle disappear from view in the single-player modes and removes you from opponents' radar in multiplayer matches--especially useful if you happen to be carrying the contraband. While you can use only a single countermeasure when begin your career in Smuggler's Run: Warzones, you can unlock secondary countermeasures for each vehicle by defeating the single-player missions. As a further incentive to explore the single-player campaign, you can unlock the North American territory by seeking out the hidden tokens.
We tried our hand at the single-player missions in Warzones and found that their objectives and mission types are suitably different from those of the previous games. The missions began with an in-engine cutscene, setting the backdrop for those particular tasks. In one mission, we had to follow a military helicopter across mine-littered terrain, picking up its dropped-off cargo and delivering these goods to the signal markers within a strict time limit.
We spent even more time with the multiplayer modes in Smuggler's Run: Warzones, especially the new turf war modes: domination and fox and the hounds. Domination is a team match in which two groups of players attempt to capture tokens on the battlefield and then take them to checkpoints to capture figurative strongholds--much like a game of capture the flag, although with multiple bases. Fox and the hounds is a different type of game, in which players race to capture and then hold on to a token on the battleground. When you capture the token, a meter that slowly diminishes over time and will be further depleted when your vehicle is damaged appears. When the meter is empty, the token will disappear, and another one will pop up in another part of the battleground. The longer you are able to hold on to a token, the more money you'll accumulate, and the player with the most cash at the end of the round wins. We found that the different vehicles in the game provided different experiences when playing in these game types--the larger, more unwieldy vehicles such as the grenadier and kavostov were quite useful during the domination matches, while faster vehicles such as the hoverbike and super buggy proved difficult to catch in fox and the hounds. The multiplayer modes in Smuggler's Run: Warzones allow you to take advantage of terrain using the different vehicle types--for example, larger trucks can leave ATVs stranded in water. They also encourage players to recognize the different vehicles and their roles on the team--not dissimilar to those on a sports team, with some drivers racing forth to nab and deliver contraband, and others playing defensively. Working with your team is vital in the loot grab game mode, which accompanies the returning crooks n' smugglers and bomb tag modes.
Smuggler's Run: Warzones impressed us with how smoothly it ran during four-player split-screen matches, especially considering the great variety now found in each level, as well as the game's incredible draw distance. The frame rate held at a smooth and steady 60fps throughout, even when multiple smoke screens, explosions, and other visual effects were going off simultaneously. The final version should prove to be a capable party game contender, with solid single-player aspects to boot. Rockstar plans to ship Smuggler's Run: Warzones on July 23, but keep your eye on GameSpot for more details as the game approaches release.