When Midway revived the Spy Hunter franchise in 2001, the results were surprisingly good. Though nothing spectacular, the game was faithful to the arcade classic and made the transition to 3D a smooth one. For the sequel, Midway has enlisted the help of Rockstar San Diego, the development house formerly known as Angel Studios, whose previous efforts included the Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run franchises. It seemed like a perfect match, but Rockstar San Diego didn't have its A game for this one. Spy Hunter 2 is short, unbalanced, and somewhat unattractive.
Picking up where the last game left off, Spy Hunter 2 sees your character getting a proper name (Alec Sects), a saucy female sidekick, and a beefed-up new car. You continue to pursue NOSTRA, an evil organization of Bondian proportions, though its plans for world domination are vaguer this time around. Really, the game pays little respect to the story, which seems shoehorned into the game via pre-mission briefs that come up during loading screens.
But that's no big deal. The original Spy Hunter was perfectly fine without an overlying narrative, partially because the objectives were pretty cut and dried--shoot the bad guys, and try not to get shot yourself. This remains largely your goal in Spy Hunter 2, though the game also includes some of the trappings of modern games. There are some missions where you simply need to get from one end to the other with your hide intact, and these are usually the most engaging. There are also defense missions, such as where you're defending a large tanker in a harbor; escort missions, where you have to ensure the survival of a non-player vehicle; and boss fights, where you go head-to-head with a much larger, better-armed vehicle. Some of the boss fights can be fun, but, as in most games, the escort and defense missions are just tedious and frustrating, and ultimately the game relies on them too often.
Your superspy supercar, the G-8155 Interceptor, is a pretty versatile vehicle. Aside from its standard roadster configuration, the Interceptor can transform into several different forms, including a 4x4 mode when going off-road and a boat mode for when you hit the water. Also, if the Interceptor takes a certain amount of damage, it will shed most of its weight and continue on in a motorcycle or Jet Ski form. The Interceptor handles well enough, though a more pronounced powerslide would likely make for a more visceral experience, and collisions with other cars seem to favor your enemies more often than not.
You start the game armed with basic machine guns and some mines, but as you complete missions, you'll be rewarded with an assortment of new weapons, including smoke screens, guided missiles, energy shields, and railguns. These power-ups never seem to really give you a big advantage over your enemies, as the better your weapons are, the fiercer and more plentiful your enemies become.
Balance is a big issue for Spy Hunter 2. The game touts 16 missions across four unique environments, all of which is true. The problem is that none of these missions are more than five minutes long, and with the multiple optional objectives found in the 2001 Spy Hunter gone, there's little incentive to go back and revisit missions you've already beaten. So, to compensate for the relatively brief campaign, Spy Hunter 2 greets you with incredibly well-armed enemies that can quickly tear your precious Interceptor to shreds. And once you've been offed, there are no checkpoints or continues, so you'll start back at the beginning of the mission you were just on. The game ultimately boils down to trial and error and memorizing locations of weapon pickups and health packs.
If you're looking for multiplayer action, Spy Hunter 2 has a few options. You can play through the standard single-player campaign with two players, where one player drives and controls the main guns, while the other handles secondary and rear weapons, which just leaves both players without enough to do to keep things interesting. If you prefer competitive action, there's the deathmatch-style Spy Hunt mode, which pits two players in Interceptors against each other. The latter of the two multiplayer modes in Spy Hunter 2 is definitely the more entertaining, but neither is much more than a brief distraction.
But for all its gameplay issues, it's the lack of visual polish in Spy Hunter 2 that really stands out. In some respects, the game looks worse than its predecessor, especially the PlayStation 2 version. The environments are larger this time around, but they also seem much more drab, and despite the wide range of locales you'll encounter, none seem to have any real personality. Enemy vehicles will let off a nice, big explosion when destroyed, but they also break up into chunks and seemingly disappear into the ground, which just looks weird. The frame rates in both the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of the game are pretty steady, though the Xbox version runs at a smoother 60 frames per second, while the PlayStation 2 version limps along at about 30. The Xbox version also avoids the heinous aliasing seen in the PS2 version, and the texture quality and color depth both seem better on the Xbox. Though both versions are essentially showing you the same thing, the PlayStation 2 version is significantly muddier overall, which takes away from the overall experience.
The game purportedly features music by pop singer Vanessa Carlton, but you'll have to really dig for it, as the game does a fine job of burying her stuff under some decent techno funk and electronic interpolations of the original Peter Gunn theme. The in-game sound effects, which seem to have been lifted directly out of the last Spy Hunter game, sound sharp. All of the weapon effects sound appropriate and pack a good punch, and enemy vehicles explode with a satisfying boom.
The pedigree for Spy Hunter 2 seemed to almost guarantee something well-crafted. The first game created a good mold, and Rockstar San Diego, with its past experience in creating combat-laced driving games, seemed like the perfect developer for it. The results are a shade different from what Paradigm produced with the last Spy Hunter, but it's hard to say it's a better game, and ultimately, it's just a disappointing follow-up.