Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory Updated Preview

So begins our week of Smuggler's Run 2 coverage.

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We've recently been allowed a long look at Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory. Anyone who was around during the PS2 launch is definitely familiar with its predecessor--it was among the highest grossing of the system's launch titles, and it probably got the most attention from the press. The game was built around a set of solid elements: expansive play areas, tight play mechanics, and a consistent theme--that of criminal evasion of the law. The game put you in the role of a rookie smuggler who must transport contraband from area to area while avoiding the vehicular assaults of lawmen and rival smugglers. The game's emphasis on wild, hilly terrain, coupled with the relentless AI of the enemy vehicles, made it quite the frenetic experience. The game suffered, though, from an overall bareness--the environments, however expansive, seemed quite repetitious from a visual standpoint, and the AI was often overly dogged, making completing some missions nearly impossible. While it was definitely among the more interesting PS2 launch titles, it felt, just as many of the system's early games did, overly rushed.

The environments are much more busy and lively, this time around.
The environments are much more busy and lively, this time around.

Smuggler's Run 2 seems to be closer to what Rockstar and Angel Studios set out to accomplish. It seems to remedy all the previous game's weaker areas, and it expands on what made the concept interesting to begin with. To speak about numbers, briefly, this second installment presents a whopping 36 missions (taking place in Afghanistan and Vietnam, primarily) and 17 vehicles (ranging from nimble ATVs to macho tank/truck hybrids). The variety both of these bring is definitely welcome--each vehicle genuinely feels different from the next, and the environments look unique, mostly due to the diverse textures and props populating each group. The AI has been eased up quite a bit as well. Though enemy vehicles still provide a good deal of challenge, they seem less able to intercept you at every foothill and less inclined to swarm on you from every direction. Their assaults, this time around, seem almost scripted, at least during initial contact, and they actually make mistakes, albeit believable ones.

The game's story is also told in a much more substantial way this time around. Both in-game cutscenes and full-on FMVs tell the story in this installment, the latter of which seem especially amusing. They're actually shot on film, with real people and environments, and their look is deliberately harsh and grainy, to complement the similarly harsh and grainy personalities of their stars. As the story goes, you're part of a gang of smugglers, and one of your more prominent clients--who's quietly referred to as "the general"-- approaches you with a very profitable proposal. Specifically, you have to move some contraband through a war-torn area of Afghanistan. Due to moral implications, though, the leader of your gang requests that the nature of the contraband not be revealed. The leader of your gang is undeniably the star of the game's cutscenes, and his voice will howl through many of the game's missions, providing you with input and color commentary. He's a suitably rough looking, rougher talking personality, and his presence is pretty strong throughout most of the proceedings--which is a huge change from the game's relatively faceless predecessor.

The whole of the game is also much more thickly atmospheric.
The whole of the game is also much more thickly atmospheric.

Things definitely seem to be on the track. Angel Studios undeniably has a handle on the technology it's created, and Rockstar has done much to imbue the game with the personality that was lacking. The game is much smoother and prettier, and its mechanics have been fine-tuned. We got to play quite a bit of it, recently, so read on for some impressions of the early missions.

As mentioned previously, the game's early missions take place in Afghanistan. The landscape is brushy and rugged, and there are whole bunch of hills, dips, and lakes in the environments. The environments are also home to a variety of props that provide a good bit of color--bunkers, stationary tanks, dilapidated huts, fragments of walls, and the like are all gingerly scattered throughout, serving the dual role of obstacles and visual filler. While it seems like a minor addition, you merely have to look at its predecessor to realize just how much these things do for the game's environments. The zones seem much more moody now, too--a subtle rain effect permeates many of the sequences, and Angel has paid much more attention to the subtleties of time of day, with some missions taking place during a hazy dusk and others in full-on darkness, complete with night vision. Seemingly random explosions are also pretty common, adding a great deal to the game's intense pacing. It must be said that the once-featureless expanses that made up the environments of Smuggler's Run have been fully reworked. The results are quite pleasing.

The AI has also relented, a bit, making the game much more playable.
The AI has also relented, a bit, making the game much more playable.

The first three missions in the game seem to deal out the action quite consistently. Riding in your rugged little buggy, you'll be doing a good deal of bouncing, zipping, and crashing through some of Afghanistan's crazier areas. The first mission is fairly straightforward--it sets up your contraband pickup points in fixed locations, and the drop-off points are never too far off. The heat is also fairly thin, with no more than four of them riding you at any given time. If things get thick, though, you have access to useful speed boost to help get them out of your hair. The speed boost is just one of many newly implemented "countermeasures" that you'll have access to, which include, among other things, rear-deployed barrel bombs, smoke screens, and oil slicks. You start each mission with a set number of boosts, and your supply replenishes at the start of each new one. It's worth noting that the visual effect accompanying the boosts is extremely cool--it's a sort of combination blur/saturation, combined with a backward camera pan.

The second mission mixes things up a bit. It introduces the concept of moving contraband pickups, in the form of helicopters that traverse the game's environments. Though helicopters were present in the first mission, they were largely eye candy. Here, they actually serve to move the pickup points periodically. Basically, if you take too long reaching a certain point, the chopper will get sick of waiting and move to another area. Given the amount of heat on your tail, this can complicate matters severely. The area is similar in look to the first mission, though you'll likely get to see a lot more of it, as you'll most likely be moving more in this mission.

Levels that take place at night feature a cool night-vision effect.
Levels that take place at night feature a cool night-vision effect.

The third mission is probably the most exciting of the three. It involves a rival gang with whom you're competing for clientele, and you must beat them to pickup points in order to win. Once you acquire contraband, however, you can easily loose it if you come into contact with a rival, much like a game of tag. Luckily, you'll have some "wingmen" with you who can also do pickups and delivery, and they actually seem pretty competent. In any event, the combination of cops and rival gangsters makes for some pretty hectic sequences, making netting the five points required to win more eventful than you'd imagine.

As you can imagine, we're pretty impressed with what we've seen of Smuggler's Run 2. It seems to build a great deal on its predecessor's simple premise, and it's a very nice looking game to boot. Check with us every day this week for coverage, starting with a breakdown of all the game's vehicles tomorrow.

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