If I was to name one of the most important arcade games from my youth, I would have to give a big shout-out to Spy Hunter. I’m not sure what it was about the game that had me hooked: it could have been the simple controls; it could have been the Peter Gunn theme; most likely it was the fact that the car in the game could have all kinds of cool weapons, allowing you as the player to feel like James Bond. TT Fusion has attempted to breathe new life into the original arcade game. While I am still undecided as to whether the game does a good job truly recapturing the magic of the original Spy Hunter, it is safe to say that the game is definitely worth a try – but you will need patience.
The single-player campaign is a bit light on plot: it starts with you being introduced to a new mobile weapon called the Interceptor. The interceptor is a car with a cadre of hidden weapons and diversionary mechanisms. You play the part of an agent, putting the Interceptor through its paces when something goes horribly wrong and the Interceptor is placed in jeopardy, turning the test run into a trial by fire. Being the quick-thinking agent that you are, you use the Interceptor to take care of business and escape the situation. So, begin your adventure, trying to figure out the mysterious force behind the attack.
Truthfully, the introduction was probably one of the best parts of the game in terms of the experience. It has a good enough amount of action and the tutorial aspect is decent and does a good job of teaching you the controls. However, most of the 23-mission campaign lacks the same dramatic punch – which takes away from the fun, slightly. But it’s not for lack of trying: narrative delivery is consistent; new weapons and upgrades become available relatively easily; and controls make sense. One of the nice features in the game are the number of branching paths in each mission. These lead to different kinds of terrain (or lack thereof) that allow you to see the full power of the interceptor; it will automatically turn into a water craft, or an all-terrain vehicle once you hit these different surface types. I cool nod to the original, to be sure.
The missions each have a number of baddies to take down; this shines a spotlight on what I consider to be the main problem of the game: the responsiveness of the Interceptor. I suppose if one was a secret agent driving the latest weaponized supercar, one would imagine that there wouldn’t be any problem cutting through enemies. However, the controls, while simple, make that prospect difficult. All of the button assignments make sense: acceleration mapped to the right shoulder (press twice for boost); each of the four right-hand-side face buttons are mapped to a weapon (and the weapon load-out can be customized between missions); the left analog stick is for steering. This is great in theory, but fails in reality due to the controls feeling unresponsive, the car being too sensitive to environmental obstacles, and the weapons feeling under-powered. There is no drifting or fancy driving, nullifying any feeling of being a super agent. The weapons on the Interceptor, even when fully upgraded, don’t seem to damage the enemy as much as their weapons do to you. Those gripes aside, having some patience will reward you with a working knowledge of the game’s quirky controls and lack of weapons damage parity – but this will require some work on your part and still amounts to a decent challenge.
Graphics are pretty good, but heavily favour the cars and the action in the foreground. Car models are well-designed and some of the explosion sequences look amazing, due to a theatrical slow-motion effect. The environments are not quite as detail-oriented and look somewhat plain, especially in comparison to what is front-and-center. Let me be clear: you’re not going to get something that looks like Gran Turismo 5; you’re getting something akin to a decent arcade game with very few moments of stuttering. Sound design is impressive, sounding good through the Vita’s speakers and great through a decent set of headphones. The remixed Peter Gunn theme song is pretty slick and brought a smile to my face.
Good ol’ weapons truck to the rescue!
Despite some of the disappointing aspects of Spy Hunter, I still enjoyed it. Mission-to-mission variety is pretty decent, offering some challenging scenarios to navigate and some cool boss fights. Touch-screen and touch-pad implementation is sound, allowing you to assign two functions to the rear of the Vita and perform specific attacks with the front touch-screen. There is an achievement system that allows you to gain more credits to be used towards upgrades (double kills, airborne kills, etc.). Really, if you remove any expectations that you might have from the original arcade game, you’d probably look at this release as a decent game to pass the time.
All in all, Spy Hunter is a decent enough game to play – but it’s nothing revolutionary. Taking it too seriously is going to frustrate you, which would do the game a disservice because while sometimes repetitive, it has some fun moments. Mission re-plays, achievements and 2-4 player ad-hoc multi-play add some re-play value to this title. Spy Hunter is a game of concessions, with the player having to drive a little bit past the half-way point of compromise to reach a good level of enjoyment.