Smuggler's Run: Warzones Preview

Find out about all the enhancements to Smuggler's Run: Warzones for the GameCube in our hands-on preview.

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Rockstar recently stopped by the GameSpot offices to show off a 60 percent complete build of Smuggler's Run: Warzones for the GameCube. The game features a wealth of enhancements when compared with Smuggler's Run 2 for the PlayStation 2, and it stands as a nice compilation of all the vehicles, courses, and gameplay modes found in the first two games in the franchise, with plenty of added features to increase the incentive.

Coming up on the air drop.
Coming up on the air drop.

The premise behind the Smuggler's Run franchise is that you're a smuggler for hire behind the wheel of one of many off-road vehicles. It's your job to pick up contraband, drive across sprawling terrain with the fuzz hot on your tail, and deliver the goods unscathed. The authorities will stop at nothing to keep you from making the delivery--including running you off the road or otherwise bashing your vehicle until it is no longer operative. With plenty of jumps, tight squeezes, and straight-aways to test out your vehicle's top speed, there's hardly ever a moment free from worry. The formula works well, and thanks to the game's heavy story elements, the player is sucked into its world.

Where basic gameplay is concerned, not much has changed in Warzones when compared with previous installments in the series. The A button is the gas and the B button is the brake. To throw your vehicle in reverse, you must hold the Z button, and orienting your vehicle while in midair is accomplished with the R trigger. With some of the more agile vehicles, you can use this feature to perform barrel rolls and flips, though there is no legitimate reward for doing so. Rockstar stated that the steering has been tweaked, and it's a noticeable improvement on the steering in the PlayStation 2 versions of the game. It's easy to weave in and out of buildings in a village or squeeze between an obstacle and a tree to leave the authorities in the dust. Handling is drastically altered depending on the surface your vehicle is driving over. Water will slow it down, mud will make the steering sluggish, and snow or sand will make it hard to keep control while turning.

Each vehicle has two countermeasures or special attacks, which are performed using the X and Y buttons. In addition to the bombs, smokescreens, nitro boosts, and oil slicks found in previous Smuggler's Run games, several new countermeasures have been added to the mix. There's a vertical boost that allows vehicles to hop like in Crazy Taxi 2, an acid drop, a repulse shield, and a cloaking device that causes the vehicle to disappear. While they may not seem like much on the surface, the new countermeasures add quite a bit of intrigue to the multiplayer modes.

Speaking of which, Warzones includes four-player multiplayer support, which is yet another first for the franchise. We played a great deal of the multiplayer offerings with Rockstar, and they are admittedly a great deal of fun. The fox and hound mode asks you to protect contraband from other players, essentially requiring you to play hide-and-seek. Domination requires that you drive through all the checkpoints with contraband before the other vehicles. Other multiplayer modes include crooks and smugglers, loot grab, and bomb tag. While the multiplayer modes add a great deal of longevity to the game, most players will still be spending the majority of their time playing through the single-player quest.

The competition is heating up.
The competition is heating up.

The single-player mode includes 36 different primary missions and three training levels. Mission objectives include traversing borders, dropping off contraband, receiving air drops from helicopters, dropping off bombs before they explode, and much more. Before every mission, you choose from one of the game's many vehicles, each of which has its own unique handling characteristics and countermeasures. There are dune buggies, ATVs, traditional off-road trucks, and armored vehicles to choose from. There's also a new vehicle included in the GameCube version of the game called the hover bike. While it may not be able to inflict much damage, it's the fastest and best-handling vehicle in the game.

There are five huge environments in Warzones, including North America from the original Smuggler's Run and a brand-new level exclusive to the GameCube version, Eastern Europe. Russia and Vietnam round out the environments we were shown, so the fifth environment still remains a mystery. Regardless of the locale, the levels in Warzones are enormous, and it can take several minutes to drive from one side to the other. Ramps are hidden throughout the environments that will allow you to drive across rooftops or just catch some air. Rockstar stated that the enemy AI has been improved for the series' GameCube outing, which should make an already challenging game even more difficult.

A gorgeous sunset reveals an amazing draw distance.
A gorgeous sunset reveals an amazing draw distance.

From a visual perspective, Smuggler's Run: Warzones features several improvements on its PlayStation 2 cousins. The most obvious improvement is to the game's textures. Now in a higher resolution, they feature a greater clarity than what was found in the earlier games in the series. The small details have also been improved such as particle effects for dirt and snow being kicked up and the reaction of water as you drive through it. Cars have also been equipped with reflection mapping, and they will be damaged in real time as they collide with environmental objects and other cars. Other improvements include more trees and other obstacles in the North America stage and a frame rate that hovers around 60 per second in the single-player modes and well above 30 per second during split-screen multiplayer. Other graphical niceties include real-time shadows that follow each vehicle around the environments, trails left in the snow, and a variety of weather effects. Races will also take place at night--forcing you to make use of your headlights. As mentioned previously, the levels are absolutely huge, and any hill or vista that you see can be driven to. Despite the impressive amount of polygons being pushed, there is no polygonal draw-in whatsoever. In between each mission there are FMV sequences that play to keep you locked into the story. While Warzones looks good on the whole, there are still a few visual issues that should be cleared up before its release. The most obvious issue is with the level of detail. You can see many of the textures drawing in about 10 yards in front of your vehicle, and it can be hard to look past.

Leading the pack.
Leading the pack.

According to Rockstar, the soundtrack for Warzones will feature licensed tracks from a number of different bands, but the songs had yet to be added to the version we were allowed to play. The game will also feature improved sound when compared with the PlayStation 2 versions of the franchise, though it's not yet known if it will make use of Dolby Pro Logic II. There is already noticeably more chatter on the radio between teammates and the engine sounds are different for each vehicle. Ambient sound effects are already in the game, though they are admittedly nothing extraordinary.

Smuggler's Run: Warzones is shaping up to be the definitive game in the series. The graphics have been improved, the levels, vehicles, and modes from the past two games have been compiled, and there are new vehicles, an exclusive level, and four-player multiplayer support. Those who have refrained from buying either version of Smuggler's Run for the PlayStation 2 will likely be happy that they did, and those who are completely new to the franchise will find it to be a thorough introduction. Smuggler's Run: Warzones is currently scheduled for release in July. Look for more on the game from E3 later this month.

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