Spy Hunter arrives on the PlayStation Vita in a game that’s profoundly underwhelming in every possible way. Featuring levels that at times feel way longer than they are due to a difficulty level that is not easy to overcome, the game stumbles through the basics as it’s not that great to look at (even on an acceptable level), and it’s not that fun to play due to gameplay that doesn’t embrace an arcade sensibility but instead attempts to do something else that utterly fails. Redeeming factors in the game are hard to find since it’s simply frustrating to see the Spy Hunter franchise reinvented such as this.
+ The classic Peter Gunn theme is still in place.
+ Some of the action does feel like it was designed with the best intentions of providing a wow factor.
- Levels drag on at times which can be annoying due to the lack of checkpoints.
- Difficulty is unforgiving and it doesn’t help that doing weapon upgrading doesn’t balance things out.
- Graphics clearly don’t push the Vita in any way and are hard to look at.
- Not trying to create a richer story feels like a missed opportunity of creating an interesting universe.
- Vita specific features are lackluster and hardly used.
Revitalizing an old video game for a new console generation is never an easy thing to do since there are many factors that need to be taken into account. Besides trying to retain the essence of the property which made it popular in the first place, challenges such as making it accessible to a new audience and more importantly having a modern feel are things that need to be overcome by a development team; all withstanding the intense scrutiny that may come down from longtime fans of the series.
There have been a great many success stories of old franchises that have been resurrected to be welcomed with a second lease at life, but for every success story there’s always a disaster such as the Bionic Commando reboot in all its dreadlock glory. With the second reboot of the Spy Hunter series, this time coming from WB Interactive, I was excited for the project but ultimately it became a case of me wishing the game never existed or was simply in the hands of another developer since it fails to capture the would-be action packed spy adventure gamers had hoped for.
In some ways the new Spy Hunter game isn’t a complete mess since it’s not yet another case of a beloved property from our childhood being tarnished with constant moments that seem baffling all while a dubstep soundtrack pierces our ears and make us yearn for the old days of chiptune music. The central story of Spy Hunter may have been altered slightly, you don’t play as an uber spy with a fancy car but instead play an agent trying to escape an unknown menace, so we don’t have a story that makes no sense at all or feels as silly as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being aliens from another galaxy instead of mutants.
Outside of a story that’s barely there, even for an action game, Spy Hunter provides enough narrative to keep things going from level to level and to explain why I might suddenly be doing action X in locale Y. In this modern age of storytelling, albeit usually of a dudebro Michael Bay variety, I was hoping that Spy Hunter would provide a bit more substance if merely to evoke light James Bond feelings of a dense spy world in which agencies have the resources to make advanced yet stylish weapons of war. A bit of character is added through the villain of the game, who sounds like a Dalek that had one too many cigarettes, but in the end the story is presented in a sub-average way, even when looked upon from an arcade game perspective.
I will say that not having the driver of the Interceptor talk at all or be seen does create an odd feeling of sorts, almost as if the car is an advanced A.I. powered car like KITT from Knight Rider minus the voice of Mr. Feeny or Val Kilmer. I am thankful that Spy Hunter didn’t opt to go the same route as the last PS2 game did by featuring Dwayne Johnson as the driver, but it would’ve been a nice surprise to have the driver speak instead of being a Gordon Freeman type.
Not having a bit of expanded narrative didn’t disappoint me too much since I still had my hopes up that Spy Hunter would deliver on the action. After playing a relatively short but simplistic opening level which taught the basics of the game in a fashion that wasn’t too groan worthy I came to realize one thing: the game simply isn’t that great. If you stick with me for one moment I’ll explain in greater detail but that’s my general feeling on Spy Hunter’s debut on the PlayStation Vita – it’s all sorts of terrible with few redeeming factors.
Spy Hunter exists in an interesting place since it’s neither an arcade based action game nor does it have a realistic edge with slight elements of fantasy; it’s just a game that’s there and doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. One would imagine that a game which stars a high tech car that can sprout a bevy of weapons might be high on the action, and while the game is the simple truth is that it doesn’t feel or act the way it should. The Interceptor, the fancy car in the game, feels a bit squirrely to control as one minor bump may send it spinning out of control, even when it’s in boost mode. So with finesse being thrown out the window, the would-be sleek exterior of Spy Hunter slowly falls apart to show a rather broken and unpolished game.
What was more disappointing about the Interceptor is that doesn’t feel that slick at all. Unable to drift around sharp turns or do any type of stunt style e-braking results in the Interceptor feeling like a slightly fast brick moving down the road as opposed to a weaponized Ferrari that would make Jay Kay squeal with glee. It would’ve been nice if the game had a slight twitch feel one would associate with an arcade game, such as Sega’s Outrun or even After Burner Climax, but the game doesn’t exhibit any of that nor does it promote advanced driving with a slight Forza edge. Spy Hunter is merely a game that stars a car which isn’t that fun to drive since it feels like I’m driving a Mini Cooper rather than a Bugatti Veyron.
Besides the Interceptor not feeling like it’s the fastest thing on the road, Spy Hunter also suffers from some disappointing action. The game does handle the various weapons the Interceptor is outfitted with rather well since each one is outfitted to a specific face button on the Vita. So if I wanted to fire my machine guns I would simply press the Triangle button and if I wanted to drop a Mine I would just press the Cross button to make a car go boom. What’s better about the weapons system, at least in theory, is that before each mission I could swap out a weapon with a new one, such as forgoing the Mines in favor of the Flamethrower. This does add a bit of customization to the game since each weapon can be upgraded to three levels and new tools are unlocked during the course of the game.
The sad thing about the weapons is that they don’t feel that powerful nor do they look the part. Upgrading the machine guns to level 2 made me think I would have a slight advantage against the enemies I was facing, but such a thing wasn’t the case since it still took a good amount of time to put a mine dropping SUV out of commission. It would’ve been ok if the game opted to forgo powerful weapons in favor of combat skill, though that isn’t the case since each battle plays out the same in the same almost frustrating way it does throughout the entire game.
Maybe I was expecting too much out of the game, but Spy Hunter isn’t the most forgiving game out there as the enemies are nearly unrelenting in their attacks and for how advanced it is the Interceptor has weaker shields than the Starship Enterprise i.e. they’re complete garbage. It’s possible to go unscathed in the game during a few missions, but the less than powerful weapons and their touchy aiming can result in dying with less than one second to go during a timed mission – a thing which made me want to throw my Vita since the game doesn’t have any checkpoints of any kind. So if you fail a mission it’s time to start from scratch and hope for the best. This rather unforgiving mission and level design makes the game feel more like an endurance run at times since I was trying my best to simply make it to the end instead of blowing stuff up and having a huge smile on my face the entire time.
The way Spy Hunter handles the moment to moment action is rather disappointing since it had so much potential and there are signs of greatness. Missions have variety in respect to their objectives and locales along with having some cool setpiece moments such as trying to escape the wrath of a massive truck causing all sorts of damage. At times it did seem like developer TT Fusion put some care and attention into how certain missions play out since trains are being destroyed in a wonderful fashion, the Interceptor is destroying aircrafts by jumping through them, and there are even branching paths in the levels which take advantage of the Interceptor’s all-terrain and water alt modes. The thing holding back the game from true greatness is the aforementioned combat/difficulty problems along with how dreadful everything looks.
At this point I’m slowly entering a point as a gamer where visuals don’t matter that much to me but playing Spy Hunter on the Vita was a tough thing to do. With a very basic look that isn’t pushing the console in any fashion, Spy Hunter manages to pump out visuals that only look marginally better than the PSP game Pursuit Force and somehow look a step below obvious sub-par games such as Asphalt: Injection. Textures in the game have small of amounts of detail but everything else literally have a flat look to it thanks to the absence of any lighting techniques. It’s just plain flat daylight during each mission and for that the game suffers in the style department since it makes the graphical flaws and shortcomings that much more noticeable.
Having a lot of special graphical and lighting techniques may not be required in a handheld game, but the graphical fidelity of Spy Hunter does hold it back as certain action scenes look more comical than badass. Seeing some freight trains be rammed by an enemy truck could’ve provided a nice moment that evoked feelings of Uncharted 2, but instead the ensuing result is one of humor since the action looks like a kid decided to small their toy trains since there’s no weight or other effects to sell anything; it’s just a bunch of mediocre models doing a less than convincing animation. The less than stellar graphical moments of Spy Hunter also come with some optimization issues since the framerate came to an obvious grind during some levels and the draw distance isn’t that large so pop-up is common.
The debut of Spy Hunter on the PlayStation Vita could’ve been something special since the concept is perfect for a handheld device. Controlling a high-tech car armed with half a dozen weapons may have result in a nice action romp, but instead it’s marred with missions that drag on way too long, feel repetitive in the action department, and at times feel underpowered due to the graphics that are being presented. I didn’t expect Spy Hunter to be some kind of triple-A action game for the Vita as it could’ve found a nice place in the middle ground; almost like how a Jason Statham action movie can fulfill our need for entertainment and action even if it’s not the greatest film ever made since the badass moments and profound yet enjoyable dumbness can outweigh the bad.
Instead of being presented with a game that sees the franchise return with an impact, Spy Hunter for the PlayStation Vita feels like one of the biggest missed opportunities this generation. Even compared to the old PS2/Xbox games, Spy Hunter for the PlayStation Vita is better off to be skipped entirely since it doesn’t even get the basics right.