Spy Hunter The Return Preview

The sequel to the arcade legend is getting more than a face-lift for its upcoming arrival on the PlayStation 2. Spy Hunter: The Return hopes to recapture some of the James Bond or Peter Gunn charm of the original Spy Hunter game, with intriguing gameplay additions and polished 3D graphics.

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Watch enough TV, and you'll suffer plenty of reruns. Play enough games, and you'll likely experience a similar phenomenon. Sequels--the video game equivalent of the repeat--are the answer to practically any game that's turned a profit in the last 20 years. However, these second or third repeats do offer some new things--like minor improvements in gameplay and graphics as well as new options and features. Of course, every new sequel runs the risk of saturating the market or diminishing the entire franchise altogether (think Tomb Raiders 2 through 5). In the case of Midway's upcoming sequel, Spy Hunter: The Return (which is based on the nearly 20-year-old arcade favorite, Spy Hunter), developer Paradigm Entertainment knows that the game needs a total overhaul in both graphics and gameplay if it hopes to appeal to a new audience. To this end, they've done the inevitable--they've brought the classic game to 3D.

Anyone who's played the original Spy Hunter knows that the game's title is really a misnomer--you play as the hunted, not as the hunter. The game also lacks a coherent story. So far, Spy Hunter: The Return doesn't appear much different in either regard. You've the latest prototype automobile, the Interceptor G-1665, which can transform from car to boat to even aircraft, just like in the original. As each mission begins, your interceptor is dropped somewhere behind enemy lines. You'll have to accomplish several objectives each mission, like destroying Nostra truck convoys, activating SatComs, and committing other acts of espionage and subterfuge, before you reach the rendezvous point. If there is some plot floating around here, it hasn't been revealed yet.

Spy Hunter: The Return will feature much more dramatic locales than its predecessor. Rather than rumbling down anonymous roads and canals, The Return is set in exotic locales like Panama, the Key West highway, the German autobahn, and the streets and canals of Venice. Take a grip of the wheel, and you'll find that the game isn't too far removed from the original. Spy Hunter trademarks, like the red weapon-carrying semis, are back, and classic weapons (smoke screens and oil slicks, for example) are back too, promising to be both useful and cool looking. A new gameplay addition to The Return is the secondary extraction vehicle (SEV), which lets you transform your automobile into a motorcycle (or boat into a Jet Ski), if your craft is taking too much damage. Sure, a Jet Ski or bike won't have the firepower or stamina of your sleek boat or car, but you'll at least be able to survive and continue your mission. The SEV is Paradigm's attempt to extend your play, without forcing you to start a level all over again.

To get you acclimated to this new version of spy hunting, The Return will include a training level; however, old-school gamers will be happy to know that much of what made Spy Hunter so cool remains unchanged. Those gangsters taking potshots out of the windows of their stretch limos are back, as is the fiendish helicopter that will try everything from laying down hazardous oil slicks to planting high explosive bombs at your cruiser. The game's new intuitive lock-on feature makes taking out enemies much easier than before, though, and you'll be actively hunting enemies in The Return much more than in the original. Also assisting in your destructive tendencies are displays that give you information on the status of your car, how much ammunition you have left, your current speed, and how much time you have remaining.

Paradigm is working to make the visual experience in The Return capture some of the cool atmosphere that classic James Bond car chases inspire. For starters, the game moves extremely smoothly, and maintains 60 frames per second during most onscreen action. Backgrounds are bitmapped, but there's a tremendous draw distance and a good variety in environments. Venice is a perfect example of The Return's attempt at an exotic, high-speed beauty: You begin the level racing through the tight, historic streets before suddenly transforming into a boat and jumping into a watery canal complete with reflective surfaces.

While Spy Hunter: The Return's gameplay has its roots in the original, Paradigm makes it clear that its goal with The Return is not to simply rehash a 20-year-old arcade game and put it in 3D, but rather to take the original's best features and build on them. What we've seen so far gives us good reason to believe this is a reasonable goal. The additions of objectives to missions, cool locations to race around in, and new technological gadgetry demonstrate that The Return is a worthy successor to one of the coolest games to play in the golden days of the arcade.

Spy Hunter: The Return is expected sometime this winter. We'll have more information on this game after further details are revealed at E3.

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