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PS2/Xbox Review - 'Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 23, 2006 @ 1:32 a.m. PDT

Spyhunter is a time-tested series that most gamers are quite fond of. The latest iteration changes the formula and puts you in the driver's seat ... and takes you out of the car, as well.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Midway
Developer: Terminal Reality
Release Date: September 5, 2006

From its earliest days in the arcades to its most recent adventure on the current generation of consoles, The Interceptor has been everywhere and done everything, from running evil agents off the road with oil slicks to transforming into a submarine. However, the newest game in Midway's popular Spy Hunter series takes The Interceptor to a place it's never been before: the sidelines. In Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run, Midway has taken the focus off the vehicle and moved it to the driver. Alex Decker, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, is a secret agent working to thwart the schemes of the evil NOSTRA organization. During a routine mission, The Interceptor is stolen, and it's up to Alex to get it back and stop NOSTRA once and for all.

The biggest change from the previous titles is the fact that most of Nowhere to Run focuses on Alex, not The Interceptor, which was the star of the previous games in the series. The game is divided into two parts: on-foot segments where you control Alex, and driving segments where you control the Interceptor. Unfortunately for fans of the series, the on-foot segments outnumber the driving segments by a significant amount and appear to be nothing more than an attempt to show off The Rock.

The game starts in the middle of the ill-fated mission, opening with one of the least impressive pre-rendered videos in recent memory. Full of weak pixelated explosions and more pointless slow motion than a "Matrix" film, it sets the tone for the rest of the game quite well. It's difficult to tell where the cut scenes end and the gameplay begins, not because the latter is of an extremely high quality, but because the graphical quality of the former is so horrendous. Character models are simple and boring, with hardly anything making one character stand out from another. Alex barely resembles The Rock, looking more like a crude attempt to paste his face onto another model. Even The Interceptor is poorly textured, looking nothing like the slick sports car it should resemble. In some ways, Nowhere to Run actually manages to look worse than its prequels.

Of course, the main reason anyone buys a Spy Hunter game is for the vehicular action. The preceding titles have been a fun, if not particularly great, series of action-packed driving missions, but sadly, Nowhere To Run deviates from that trend in a few crucial areas. When Alex gets The Interceptor back, NOSTRA has upgraded it with a series of new features as well as all the classic abilities you'd expect. The Interceptor is able to transform from a car to a boat or motorcycle at will, meaning seamless switching between terrains. However, The Interceptor's controls are very loose and functionally the same between modes (with a few minor differences), which isn't so bad in the boat segments, but it can cause the car and motorcycle segments to be a bit frustrating, such as when you accidentally ram into a wall because you wanted to scoot slightly to the left.

The driving segments are action-packed and full of explosions and enemies coming from every angle, but most of the time, you feel like you're watching a movie, not playing one. Whenever you are about to enter a fairly cool segment, such as performing a leap over a series of deadly lasers, the game will cut to a cinematic scene which makes you to watch, instead of live, the excitement. This means that many segments are broken up by repeated movies, further dulling the already watered-down excitement.

The Interceptor wouldn't be The Interceptor without a wide variety of weapons, and they're all back in Nowhere to Run. Everything from missile launchers to oil slicks can be found somewhere on the vehicle. On the other hand, despite this wide variety of weapons, it's rarely necessary to pay attention to what you're shooting at because the game features a too-helpful auto-aim feature. This means that defeating enemies tends to come down to pounding the attack button, which makes any combat in The Interceptor feel unexciting and repetitive. One bright spot is the new Salvo feature, which causes you to enter "Bullet Time" as you use the analog stick to target every enemy on screen before releasing a massive attack towards everyone you've targeted. While it's still auto-aim, it's rather satisfying to target each enemy yourself and watch the screen fill with explosions. However, everything changes once you get out of the car.

Making up the bulk of the game, the on-foot segments are where the Nowhere to Run really begins to fail. Instead of the high-speed action of The Interceptor, these third-person shooter segments are slow and heavily uninspired. Rather than racing along ice-slicked highways or along mine-filled waterways as has become iconic of the series, you spend most of the game trudging down identical corridors, shooting the same three enemies over and over.

Nowhere to Run's controls and setup will be familiar to anyone who plays shooters. The gunplay is effective, if not very interesting. Alex can hold two guns at a time and switch between them at will, forcing you to decide if you'd rather carry that Uzi or a grenade launcher for emergencies. Ammo and health are plentiful, and Alex has the ability to regenerate part of his health bar over time, much like Halo's shield system. This tends to make the game fairly easy, and deaths should be rare and far between. Death simply sends you back to the most recent checkpoint, which seem to come after every room, making it nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

As one would except from a character played by The Rock, Alex is a master at hand-to-hand combat, using his wrestling moves and physical strength to easily overwhelm most foes. Despite a fairly detailed melee system, almost every battle can be won in the same fashion – by pressing Triangle to stun your opponent and then finishing them off with one of four wrestling moves, including The Rock's signature Rock Bottom attack. Since there is no disadvantage to stunning the enemies, it becomes a matter of simply performing this same combination over and over again.

The enemy AI doesn't make things any harder. Many times, the enemies face the wrong direction, randomly run in circles, or throw a grenade at their own feet. As amusing as it is to see an enemy wipe out his entire squad trying to blow you up, it ultimately makes the corridor-crawling segments more boring, since you rarely feel like you're in danger. A few boss fights serve to liven things up but rarely do more than provide a different thing at which to shoot. The level design tries to make things interesting, occasionally adding puzzle segments or escort missions to pep up the otherwise monotonous segments, but they only provide a brief respite from the tedious combat.

The Rock gives a solid performance, bringing a sense of charisma and charm that the title sorely needs, making the rather boring Alex Decker just a bit more interesting. Regrettably, not even The Rock's performance can bring up the game's plot from anything but mindless Hollywood filler between sets of explosions, but that's to be expected from a game like this. The soundtrack is extremely bland filler, with not a single memorable song to be found. On top of that, the music is too soft and often drowned out by the sound effects. The sound effects themselves are dull, with bullets that sound like tiny pings and muted explosions. The NPC voices are fairly well acted and come across loud and clear, which is very helpful, as the game doesn't offer a subtitle option.

Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run had a lot of potential. When it's on, it has some good moments, and the transition between the on-foot and driving segments is seamless, with nothing but a few seconds and perhaps a cut scene between them. Unfortunately, neither of the two gameplay types is very satisfying. Altogether too short at only 12 stages, Nowhere to Run doesn't feature much replay value; with only a few unlockable bonus missions, weapons, and the original Spy Hunter arcade offering, there isn't enough here to merit you picking up the controller again once you've completed the game. With more time and polish, Nowhere to Run could have shown that Spy Hunter can move beyond the car, but for now, The Interceptor is still the more interesting main character.

Score: 5.0/10

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