This 2-year-old PlayStation 2 game may have been enjoyable on the PC--had the graphics and gameplay not been compromised so much in transition.
Nearly two whole years after the game's original release for the PlayStation 2, publisher Aspyr has taken on the task of bringing Midway's 3D Spy Hunter game to the PC. It's a bit surprising that Midway didn't handle this port job itself, seeing as how the game has already appeared on every other major gaming platform out there--and not to mention that it was actually a pretty enjoyable game in its own right. With Spy Hunter 2 only a few months away from hitting the console market, Spy Hunter's fundamentals are strong enough to have made the game enjoyable on the PC--but the graphics and the gameplay have been compromised too much in the transition. The end result is a game with shoddy controls that looks more dated than the source material.
The game's story plays out like an unmade James Bond movie, pitting you--the lone superspy--against an evil organization known as the Nostra, which is conspiring to drain the planet of its power. Taking to the road in the G-6155 Interceptor, you'll travel around the world to such foreign locales as the canals of Venice, the autobahns of Germany, and the Panama Canal. The core mechanics of the classic 2D Spy Hunter remain intact. That is, you can drive down stretches of road or water and blow up any enemy vehicles that cross your path. Aside from the smoke screen, oil slick, missiles, and front-mounted guns--all found in the original--defensive flamethrowers and even more exotic weaponry, including an electromagnetic pulse cannon, equip your supercar. The Interceptor is also a versatile vehicle, able to transform from car to boat and back again. This is good because you'll find yourself going back and forth between the two forms in many of the levels. If your vehicle takes enough damage, it sheds the majority of its weight to reveal a slimmed-down motorcycle or Jet Ski, depending on the environment.
Though previous versions of Spy Hunter have featured tight, responsive controls in all of the Interceptor's forms, such is not the case in the PC version. When on land, the Interceptor has trouble sticking to the road, and it seems to drift too much when rounding corners. Overall it just feels loose. The same issues apply when you're on the water, so that, when in boat form, the Interceptor also has a nasty habit of wobbling from left to right on its own accord. There are also some low-level issues with the physics in Spy Hunter. Rubbing another car up against a railing will occasionally cause the other car to magically appear on the other side of you. Catching a bad edge when landing from a jump can cause your vehicle to launch high up into the air, and a forceful collision will sometimes cause the controls to temporarily run in reverse. Granted, these are all patchable issues, but they're issues that simply should not exist in a retail, boxed product.
Unlike in its old-time, arcade predecessor, blowing things up is no longer the sole purpose of Spy Hunter. Each mission charges you with a primary objective, as well as a handful of secondary objectives. These objectives include escorting friendly vehicles, blowing up stolen Interceptors and enemy communications towers, and simply escaping from an enemy warehouse before time expires. While certain goals, like collecting all the satcom icons, are found in every level, the objectives are varied and keep things relatively interesting--on the whole. As you complete mission objectives, you are awarded points, which you'll need to accumulate to advance to the next level. This makes it necessary to run through each level several times to complete all the objectives. However, with only 14 levels in all, and with each level taking only three to seven minutes to complete, Spy Hunter doesn't have much initial length nor does it inspire much replaying.
The game features a multiplayer mode, though as if to prove that this mode is mostly just a frill, the game forces you to play through the single-player mode in its entirety before you can access it. Most of the multiplayer games consist of picking up more items than the other player or just straight racing. Without any kind of networking options, and presenting a split-screen as the only means for viewing multiplayer play, the multiplayer mode hardly seems worth including.
What would Spy Hunter be without the classic Peter Gunn theme? It certainly wouldn't be Spy Hunter, and Midway knows it, as the soundtrack consists almost entirely of electronic interpolations of it. A cover of the Peter Gunn theme is included as well, complete with lyrics from nu metal outfit Saliva. The in-game sound effects are serviceable, with the Interceptor emitting different growls and hums depending on its form. There are crisp weapon effects, some decent explosions, and a predictably cool, calm, and collected female whose voice serves as your in-car computer.
Though Spy Hunter lost some of its initial shine when it was ported from the PlayStation 2 to the Xbox and then to the GameCube, the PC version takes the cake as the worst-looking version of the game. The Interceptor and the enemy vehicles still look pretty sharp, though the damage decals that appear on the Interceptor are noticeably pixelated. The environments, which were never particularly large or complex, also suffer from lots of shockingly pixelated textures. It's especially noticeable in the large background bitmap and in the explosion effects. Aside from being rather unattractive, Spy Hunter is also saddled with some bad graphics glitches. Usually when you destroy another vehicle, it gives off a little explosion and falls to pieces. Though sometimes, when you're shooting a target from a bit of a distance, it will simply just disappear. There are several occasions--on any given level--where the draw distance is within plain sight, and, despite the relatively modest graphics of Spy Hunter, the game suffers from some slowdown. This can occur even when using a high-end machine that is well in excess of the game's system requirements. Topping it all off are some horribly compressed, prerendered cutscenes that would've looked antiquated even without the amazing amounts of artifacting that plague them.
Though there was nothing groundbreaking about it, the original PlayStation 2 version of Spy Hunter was a pleasant surprise simply because it was a capable update of the classic Spy Hunter formula. Even in a no-frills package, had it been faithfully ported to the PC, Spy Hunter would still be pretty entertaining--even two years later. But in its current state, Spy Hunter for the PC is a very modest arcade driving game that's simply not worth playing.