In the three decades since Spy Hunter was a powerful name in videogames there have been many attempts to reboot the franchise, all of which have been received poorly at retail despite their varying quality. The latest effort, this time handled by handheld aficionados TT-Fusion, eschews the traditional desire for a big blockbuster home console release and instead opts for the path of least resistance by delivering an action-packed arcade racer on Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, the latter of which Electronic Theatre will be discussing in this review.
Spy Hunter begins admirably, with a tutorial mission that does throw a few too many text pop-ups at the player but isn’t over bearing. There’s enough action here to make its four minutes of lectures enjoyable despite the fact that the control scheme is reasonably intuitive anyway. So much so in fact, that the final step in your training simply says ‘the four weapons are on the face buttons, go nuts.’
From here on out the mission structure is a relatively standard affair, tasking players with objectives such as chasing enemy units, taking down a set number of enemies and racing to a destination without being taken out of action themselves. The experience does play at an enjoyably high speed, though the arguably the most thrilling aspect of frantic driving experiences – the perfect glide around corners sideways – is lost on the PlayStation Vita’s clunky triggers. Many racing videogames in the past have opted for drift control on the right analog stick, exactly why Spy Hunter decided against this is not known given its success in the past.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the videogame is that your car – the Interceptor – is a perfectly capable all terrain vehicle. That’s not simply referencing a four-wheel drive (though that function is included), the Interceptor is capable of adapting to any surface on the fly automatically. Should you find that the path ahead takes you off the beaten track you need not worry; should it take you off a solid landmass altogether, there’s no need for a life preserver. This allows the developers to present some interestingly varied tracks, offering multiple routes, jumps, explosions and tunnels that the player can take in their stride as they rapidly change from performance vehicle to 4×4 to speed boat.
The weapon system is obviously a key component of Spy Hunter now just as it’s always been, and here in this PlayStation Vita release each of the face buttons can hold a different weapon. The staples of machine gun, rear and side defences are available from the start with players earning new and more elaborate weapon types as they progress through the campaign. These most basic weapons are available in endless supply (though some have a cooldown period after use) whereas more complicated equipment is limited in use per level. All of the weapons can also be upgraded using RP earned during play, so finding a weapon that you like and then improving upon it’s basic function is obviously a clever strategy.
In addition to the campaign Spy Hunter offers multiplayer gameplay which is sadly limited to ad hoc matches. The lack of any online capability weakens the multiplayer option considerably, making it an ignorable extra as opposed to another reason to purchase the videogame, though that which is available is enjoyable nonetheless. A simple race to the finish line with randomly assorted weapons, Spy Hunter’s multiplayer gameplay is little more than another tick on the back of it’s box, but there is some enjoyment to be had for those who manage to organise themselves a match or two.
The visual quality of Spy Hunter – though not exactly poor – is hardly of the highest standard possible with the PlayStation Vita hardware. Obviously hamstrung by its conjoined development period with the far less capable Nintendo 3DS, Spy Hunter is at one point impressive in the detail on its environments rushing past at high speeds and the next a disappointment in it’s crushingly repetitive enemies and lifelessly dull cutscenes. In terms of technical quality the sound is notably superior in its delivery, though this still remains a provision of the hardware as opposed to the artistry behind it.
While Spy Hunter isn’t about to herald the rebirth of a franchise oft forgotten, it’s an enjoyable experience in its own right. It doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of WipEout 2048 or MotorStorm RC in terms of racing videogame thrills but then it’s a different kind of driving experience altogether, and for that it remains a unique experience on the PlayStation Vita. There are a number of design decisions that demonstrate an ability to achieve greater things if given the freedom to do so, and Electronic Theatre very much hopes TT-Fusion is handed such an opportunity, but for Spy Hunter all we are left with is an enjoyable side story rather than a headline attraction.