Content Test 3

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Smuggler's Run 2
Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 7
Sound: 5
Control: 7.5
Replay Value: 6
Rating: 6.8
One of the sleeper hits of the Playstation 2ís launch came courtesy of Angel Studiosí Smugglerís Run. In it you played the role of a young, aspiring criminal whoís job it was to smuggle various contraband items from place to place or country to country. The gameís biggest strength was its massive environments which wowed people who were used to the small, constrictive environments that the Playstation had delivered for so many years. While the game had an interesting concept, a few large flaws held it back. Key amongst these was repetitious gameplay, followed by killer AI, and some bland graphics. Angel has taken much of last yearís criticism to heart, and implemented many positive changes into Smugglerís Run 2: Hostile Territory. While the game is improved over the original, the same repetitive gameplay persists, which means people that quickly grew tired of the original wonít be endeared to the sequel.

The gameplay in Hostile Territory is largely unchanged from last yearís incarnation. Youíre still a young man with criminal tendencies, and itís still your job to move illegal items from place to place. There are eight vehicles to choose from, including: Super Buggies, ATVís, Baha Trucks, and the Grenadier. Each vehicle has its own strengths and weaknessí of speed, handling, acceleration, and weight. The controls of the game are simple enough, X is to accelerate, square brakes, and triangle handles reverse. The analog stick controls steering, but for some reason, pressing down on the analog stick (the L3 button) honks the horn. This weird button mapping results in a few beeps of the horn anytime you are forced to make a sudden turn, which is most of the game. Overall, the controls are responsive and easy to learn, making the game easy to pick up and play.

Mission Variety, a key weakness in the original, has been addressed but it still leaves a lot to be desired. You are still basically nothing more than a courier picking up things and taking them from Point A to Point B. Sometimes you have to fight off other gangs, or perform a special task, but the gist is still the same. This problem might not have been as glaring last year, but when a game like Grand Theft Auto3 gives you similar missions and dozens more, the lack of variety can make the game dull too quickly.

Perhaps the biggest complaint from the original game, and one that was certainly not unwarranted was the relentless opponent A.I. Theyíd pursue you in huge numbers without any regard for their own safety, they were too hard to destroy, and basically they were just too good. The A.I hasnít necessarily been dumbed down, but Angel has implemented a learning curve that gradually increases game difficulty as your own skills improve. A negative result of this gradual learning curve is that many of the first levels are going to be too easy if youíve spent any time with the first game. A training mode is always good, but once you start making sequels, an option to skip over the training portions should be implemented.

There are several multi-player games to challenge your friends at, but none of them are deep enough to make you want to spend a whole lot of time with them. In general they are just variations of some of the single-player levels like seeing who can deliver the most loot to their base, or who can reach their quota first. In a nod to the DVD-like extras that many games appear to be getting these days, Hostile Territory has a few bonus materials. There is a gallery where you can view vehicle concept art which is nice, but not as interesting as seeing character designs for a fighter or an RPG. If youíre a glutton for punishment you can go to the theater mode and view the cheesy FMVís that youíve unlocked, but if youíve made it through them once, chances are you wonít be checking them out again.

Smugglerís Runís expansive environments may have been eye catching a year ago, but its bland, repetitive visuals werenít terribly impressive then, and they certainly wouldnít be now. Angel Studios has taken steps to improve the gameís appearance by spicing up the terrain, and adding details to the vehicles. This year there are more objects populating the gameís vast levels; anything from trees to bushes, buildings to tanks, and many other items to make the levels feel more alive and realistic. While there are in fact more things filling the areas, there are still times where things get very dull and repetitive. Sure, the hills of Georgia may all look similar in real life, but that realism doesnít necessarily translate well to the videogame world.

The gameís graphics engine provides a long draw distance, which sometimes is deceiving due to the amount of hills and mountains obscuring the horizon. You might not ever notice any pop-up, but youíll also notice that the areas with exceptionally long lines of sight are sparsely populated. Itís not really a bad thing, just a little programming trick to make the game look a little better. Something that doesnít require any smoke and mirrors is the gameís framerate, itís fast and steady throughout the game. Each of Smugglerís eight vehicles are nicely detailed and well designed, something which the developers are obviously proud of since they added a concept art gallery in the gameís extras section. All in all the game isnít a bad looking effort, but itís not a stunning visual masterpiece.

Hostile Territory fixes last yearís biggest audio problem, but adds a whole new problem this time around. The good news is that the ridiculous, horribly repetitive cop voices that grated the nerves in the original version are gone, as well is the porn actress that infested your radio airwaves. The cops just follow silently behind you and try to knock you off the side of a mountain Ė itís much better. The bad news is something has gone terribly wrong with the gameís music, somebody decided to give the game a techno/dance soundtrack. Not only is the music incredibly out of place, itís just plain bad. There may have been a few different composers for the gameís soundtrack, but they seemed to all be tone deaf third-graders. Most games have made great strides in improving their soundtracks, but Smugglerís Run 2 is certainly not one of them.

Also quite low quality is the gameís voice-acting. It looks like Angel dug up a few of the rejects who lent their voices to the original Resident Evil, because the acting in the gameís numerous cut-scenes is pretty horrible. The cut-scenes are only there to try and make a cohesive story, something which isnít too important in this game, so their poor quality isnít too much of a detriment. The rest of SR2: HTís sound effects, the engine noises, explosions and gunfire are all acceptable, and sound even better if youíve got a nice sub-woofer backing them up.

In a nutshell, Smugglerís Run 2 is a superior game to its predecessor, but not a great game. Angel Studios took much of the criticism the original received to heart, and implemented many positive changes this time around. Unfortunately, a second tour of duty for the title exposes how shallow the gameplay really is, and when itís compared to Rockstarís flagship GTA3, it canít come close to being as good. Anyone who has never played the first game might get a good 10-12 hours of fun out of Hostile Territory, but veterans may want to pick this one up as a rental.

6/26/2004   Aaron Thomas