When Midway first announced they were bringing back the Spy Hunter franchise to the Xbox and PS2 I have to admit I was skeptical. The first “remake” of this popular franchise left a little to be desired and somehow failed to really capture the spirit of the original arcade title. What scared me even more was the fact that they were changing the concept from simply driving to a hybrid of on-foot combat mixed in with the former. Now after spending some quality time with Midway’s latest classic revival I can honestly say that while not perfect, Spy Hunter Nowhere to Run is certainly a step in the right direction.
With Spy Hunter Nowhere to Run Midway has taken the classic Interceptor from the original game and added a few new gadgets and weapons, mainly Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to its arsenal. Taking the classic driving game formula into the third person action realm makes the game feel more like EA’s recent James Bond titles and less like the drive and shoot action we have all grown accustomed to.
Playing as the lead protagonist Alex Decker is certainly a bold move for the franchise, but in all honesty a really good step in evolving the series. As Alex you have access to a plethora of firearms and combat moves that are actually executed quite well. Players will be able to pick up and figure out how to dispose of enemies without the hassles of dealing with a complicated control scheme. As you may have guessed most of Alex’s moves are derived from the popular world of professional wrestling.
You can suplex baddies into objects or simply dispose of them with your bare hands. The vast array of moves at your fingertips is quite impressive. They are also contact sensitive meaning wherever you grab an enemy from determines what move Alex will perform. There are certainly plenty of way to dispose of all the bad guys and Midway has done an exemplary job of implementing great animations and motion capture to make it all look good in the process.
The downside is that the gunplay actually takes a backseat to the hand-to-hand combat. In fact most of the time the best solution to enemy encounters is a good old knuckle sandwich; it also doesn’t hurt that there are health packs and checkpoints at almost every turn so you never have much fear of dying and having to start all over. However the array of weapons is nice ranging from simple pistols and rifles to the more complex, and fun, grenades and rocket launchers. Alex is certainly not short on ways of causing destruction and mayhem; it is just a shame that more time wasn’t spent on tweaking the aiming controls to make it more enjoyable.
Of course we can’t have a Spy Hunter review without mentioning the famed Interceptor. This transportation device, which is what I will refer to it as because well it can travel across just about any surface, has always been the backbone to the franchise. In Nowhere to Run the action is now split between these driving scenarios and the new third-person action. Thankfully the driving levels do an excellent job of breaking up the combat just before it seems to run repetitive, and not to mention they are actually fun.
The levels in this mode are cleverly designed to keep you on your toes with quick transformations between car, boat, and so on. Alex’s Interceptor is also full of new and old gadgets and weapons alike including the tire spikes, smoke screen, and of course heat-guided missiles. The weapons van also makes a return so Alex can re-stock his ammo during the mission and you can even slow down time ala Max Payne to cause mass destruction or simply target multiple foes all at once before delivering that final devastating blow.
On the visual side of things it appears Midway spent the majority of their budget on The Rock and seemed to forget about the rest of the game. Bland textures really show their true colors on the aging hardware and NPCs look downright ridiculous next to the slickly detailed model of Alex Decker. Another quick gripe if I may is the complete lack of HD support including a widescreen option for Xbox owners. Is it really that difficult to throw in some 480p support into a title this late in the console’s lifecycle? As far as the sounds go for the most part you get standard fare, but The Rock’s added dialogue really keeps the game from falling into mediocrity and the punch-landing sound effects are some of the most satisfying sounds I have heard in a while. Overall the production values are average at best with a few bright spots to make it stand out from the crowd.
While I applaud Midway for adding a new dimension to the series I can’t help but feel like this title could have benefited from more development time or possibly a move to the next-gen consoles. If you have already upgraded or are planning to upgrade to one of the expensive new machines this game can probably be overlooked. However if you are in the mood for some solid third-person action, great hand-to-hand combat, and some kickass driving sequences then this game is certainly worth a second look. Oh and it doesn’t hurt if you are a big fan of Mr. Johnson.