The classic arcade franchise Spy Hunter has been revamped with a new iteration landing on the PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, this is by no means a triumphant return for the series, which could have benefitted from higher production values or a lower price point. There is an apparent disconnect in trying to build an effective game world around espionage and superspies but restricting gameplay mostly to vehicular combat. This narrative disconnect is just one example of how Spy Hunter fails to hold your attention despite how exhilarating the game aspires to be.
Your vehicle, the G-6155 Interceptor, usually looks like a sports car but it transforms into a speedboat when on water and a dune buggy when travelling offroad. Neither transformation drastically alters the gameplay, however. The car has four weapon load-outs: front-mounted machine guns, a rear exhaust flamethrower, shockers on either side of the car, and missile launchers by default. Gameplay is very attack centric but the possible options for defense include a cloaking device, a shield, and of course evasive driving.
The story is told primarily through the mission briefings that precede each level. What starts off as a strong set-up teeters off into a disappointing and jumbled mess of a plot. The big reveal at the end of the game has no impact because there is no character development or proper build up to that moment. I only saw one FMV cutscene after I beat the game and the resolution was very muddy and the action poorly staged.
Gameplay is the best part of Spy Hunter but it ends too quickly, costs too much money, and is wrapped around shoddy presentation. Each time you fail a mission you are forced to endure lengthy load times before getting another try from the last checkpoint. The only way to overcome some of the most frustratingly challenging segments of the game is through tedious trial and error. The mission variety stops the game from feeling too repetitive, but only just. Most levels involve trying to beat the clock, destroying particular foes or enemy structures, or simply surviving until the level ends.
Spy Hunter tries to put the Vita’s many features to good use but the results are mixed. At the beginning of the game you use one of the Vita’s cameras to take a photo of yourself but this doesn’t really factor in anywhere during the main game. The touchscreen is put to use mainly when the player takes command of a remote controlled UAV. With a view from the air you can strike enemies with missiles by tapping on them or drawing a line through multiple hostiles to call in an airstrike. You also have the option of assigning certain commands to the rear touchpad which are activated by swiping either to the left or the right but these feel less intuitive than a simple button press.
Graphically, Spy Hunter fails to impress. The game looks more like a PSP game than something the Vita can handle. The unimpressive explosion effects are oft repeated and the framerate tends to dip when things get too hectic on-screen. The locales start to blend together the further along you get in the campaign, mostly long stretches of highway with pines on the side. A few later levels take place inside a technologically-rich evil lair but the overall lack of variety is a shame. It would have been nice to drive through more urban settings or levels based on famous locations from around the world.
The sound design is adequate to this type of game. There is only one voice recorded role and it belongs to the mysterious villain that hacks into your communication system to discourage the player in a very harsh, mechanically altered voice. The sound effects work well in that nothing seems out of whack when it comes to the noise emitted by the various gadgets and gizmos that serve as the gameplay’s backbone. The music incorporates a very familiar score that has a strong association with espionage and high octane chases.
There are 22 campaign missions available, not including the tutorial, some of which are only optional. The length it takes to complete them varies depending on how many times you fail and are forced to retry the level. In total the game took me about five hours to complete, which is quite unsatisfying considering the game retails for $40. In terms of replay value you can replay missions to improve your performance and rack up more research points to upgrade your weapons or buy new skins for your vehicle. Spy Hunter also features multiplayer for up to 4 people, but it is restricted to local ad hoc play only. Multiplayer pits players in a competition to destroy one another using the various weapons and power-ups littered throughout the levels. It works well and plays differently enough from the singleplayer game to be worth your time if you can gather friends to play with.
I didn’t suffer much during my time with Spy Hunter but truth be told the truly fun parts were few and far between. The attempt to revive the franchise seems admirable but would have benefitted from more development resources to capitalize on what works and eliminate the unfortunate blunders that drag the title down. Sincerely, I would be more inclined to recommend Spy Hunter if it was available at half its price point. But given that it ends so soon and has many annoying drawbacks weighing it down I cannot suggest you squander your time with this game.
This review is based on a PlayStation Vita copy of Spy Hunter.