Rockstar Games has made a name and a reputation for itself by releasing games with consistently subversive themes. Though it may seem mundane when compared with Rockstar's games focused on inciting riots and committing random acts of violence, the Smuggler's Run series has done a commendable job of delivering visceral racing action with a slightly deviant twist. After a good run on the PlayStation 2, Rockstar Games and Angel Studios have brought the series to the GameCube in the form of Smuggler's Run: Warzones. Not so much a genuine sequel, Warzones is more an enhanced version of Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory. It's a great introduction for first-time smugglers, but those already familiar with the series won't find much new here.
Warzones does little to change the Smuggler's Run formula of picking up and dropping off contraband, all the while dodging a menagerie of law enforcement agencies, military organizations, and other smugglers. The single-player campaign in Warzones is identical to the one found in its blood cousin, Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory. As is explained in grainy FMV cutscenes, you represent a team of smugglers operating under the legitimate business title Exotic Imports, and your latest gig has you smuggling an assortment of contraband from Southern Russia to Georgia on behalf of a fairly corrupt Russian colonel, and eventually your dealings with the colonel will lead you from war-torn Russia to the thick jungles of Vietnam.
You'll be limited to using a simple dune buggy during your first few missions, but as you progress, you'll unlock a selection of other vehicles, including the speedy and squirrelly Special du Monde, the nimble Baja truck, and the tank-treaded Kavostov. All told, there are eight different playable vehicles, including a hidden vehicle exclusive to Smuggler's Run: Warzones: the impossibly fast hover sled. Your progress through the single-player campaign will also be rewarded with the addition of vehicle-specific offensive and defensive countermeasures, ranging from the mundane smoke screen to the impenetrable repel sphere.
Regardless of what you're driving and what kind of gear it's equipped with, Warzones consistently cultivates a sense of urgency and controlled chaos, with rival interests and different law enforcement agencies constantly breathing right down your neck, coupled with the sensation that you're constantly pushing your vehicle well beyond its intended use. The drama is increased by the game's enthusiastic AI, which will use both dogged perseverance and intelligent tactics to keep you from making your next delivery. All this makes for a fun, challenging experience, but each mission essentially boils down to going from point A to point B over and over again, and the smuggling can become repetitious after a stretch.
Unlike in the single-player campaign, the differences between Warzones and Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory are far more apparent in the multiplayer modes. You're given access to seven of the eight playable vehicles in the game right off the bat, and up to four players can partake in a variety of mission types, ranging from solo and team-based delivery missions to out-and-out races. The different mission types keep things interesting, and the support for four-player split-screen action amplifies the sense of chaos found in the single-player mode. The multiplayer mode also gives you access to the North American map from the original Smuggler's Run, as well as an Eastern European map that is exclusive to Warzones.
Smuggler's Run: Warzones features improved particle effects and higher-resolution textures, but the graphical differences between this game and Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory are pretty nominal. The game capably conveys the feel of the different landscapes--the burned-out villages, patches of snow, and scraggly brush give the Southern Russian countryside an appropriately cold, barren look, while Vietnam is marked by its dense vegetation, steep valleys, and smattering of rice paddies. Though you'll never see any core geometry being drawn in while playing Warzones, the level of detail draws in at a noticeably short distance, and the sudden appearance of trees and bushes can be quite distracting. You may also experience some minor slowdown when there's an excessive amount of onscreen action, but this is such a rare occurrence that it's almost not worth mentioning.
The graphical presentation of Warzones is pretty consistent, but the same cannot be said for the game's sound design. While the different vehicle sounds, ambient environmental sounds, and the voice instructions of your gruff dispatcher are well suited to the general mood of the game, the soundtrack is composed mostly of upbeat, dance-friendly electronic music, and it simply does not mesh well with the game's otherwise dark and serious demeanor.
Warzones is the perfect introduction to the Smuggler's Run series for uninitiated players, as it includes everything found in Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory, plus some of the better bits from the original Smuggler's Run. However, if you're already a veteran of the series, there's not much here that you haven't seen before, and the addition of four-player support, a new hidden vehicle, and a single exclusive map may not be enough to entice you.