The quality of spies has really gone downhill since the cold war/space race/hilarious haircut era. Sure, there are a few exceptions, such as Agent Cody Banks. Frankly, though, I'm slightly perturbed by the dubious legality of that 14-year-old operative's ordering a dry martini. If I don't see some full-fledged, fully grown spy material soon, I'm going to have to question whether the Queen even has a secret league of superspies ready to fight crime or to serve her spotted dick, along with other British delicacies, during peacetime.
Fortunately, Spy Hunter provides a blissful, digital escape from this barren, spyless world. Plus, it's in trendy 3D, and you get to blow up crap in loose accordance with Goldeneye-like mission objectives such as, WREAK MASSIVE DESTRUCTION and avoid civilian casualties.
Chances are you've played one of the Zodiac version's predecessors--two games on current-generation consoles, and approximately 9,000 iterations of the game of various systems of the four and eight-bit eras. If not, allow me to summarize Spy Hunter's less-than-complex play mechanics: You drive around in an amphibious car and shoot baddies using a variety of spy weapons. The Zodiac version adheres to this old arcade formula, adding only lush 3D graphics and Bluetooth multiplay to the mix.
These are great additions, however. The game's graphics are near-PlayStation quality. Its local multiplayer mode, while suffering from moderate latency issues, is as enjoyable as it is nerve-racking. I am currently the office champion, but live in constant fear of being unseated.
The game's two single-player modes are no less immersive. Arcade mode, as the title would imply, is just there to appease your trigger finger. Your goal is to navigate the game's tortuous highways, blasting everything onscreen from enemy choppers to the civilian Saab in the slow lane. Missile Crisis mode, however, is the real meat and potatoes. In Crisis, you seek out and destroy the forces of Nostra, a familiar-sounding crime syndicate equipped with futuristic combat vehicles of land, sea, and air. You travel to the remote recesses of the globe, completing your objectives with cruel efficiency--all while minimizing collateral damage.
To aid you in your fight against Nostra, you've got a myriad of weapons fit for a spy. Some of these weapons fire from the front and some from the rear--all are deadly, except for the tire grease weapon--that's not so deadly. By far, the most useful toy is the homing missile, which automatically targets the closest baddie. These missiles are, incidentally, the only way to hit helicopters. Your standard machine gun just doesn't cut it when it comes to aerial assailants. Occasionally, you will run into upgrade trucks, which, if you enter them, will restore or upgrade your weaponry. This process takes up precious time, however.
One of the most striking aspects of Spy Hunter is its visual variety. Alexandria really does look markedly different from, say, Venice. While this might not surprise jet-setters, or Lonely Planet readers, it's not something to be taken for granted in a mobile game. A couple of years ago, my hunger for variety was sated if a game's color palette was occasionally varied. Oh, progress.
Spy Hunter falls short of perfection, however. While virtual symphonies accompany its thrilling menu navigation, the game itself is devoid of music, save for the rhythmic rumbling of engines and the percussive rat-tat-tat of machine artillery. In addition, Spy Hunter's biggest bugaboo is its awkward control scheme. Instead of the more traditional use of an acceleration button, a player is forced to use the Zodiac's analog stick to control acceleration as well as steering. Leading to sore thumbs and broken dreams, this control scheme should be filed in the book of 1,001 poor design choices. Also, the buttons that control secondary-weapon switching and firing are counterintuitive and clunky.
These issues aside, Spy Hunter is one of the best games in recent memory and a blast to play alone or with friends. Sure, the game may not have much to do with actual spying, as it has more in common with Knight Rider than with a James Bond flick, but is that such a bad thing? Short answer: No.