Smuggler's Run 2 Review
The gameplay in Hostile Territory is largely unchanged from last year's incarnation. You're still a young man with criminal tendencies, and it's still your job to move illegal items from place to place. There are eight vehicles to choose from, including: Super Buggies, ATV's, Baha Trucks, and the Grenadier. Each vehicle has its own strengths and weakness' 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. They'd 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 hasn't 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 you've 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 you're a glutton for punishment you can go to the theater mode and view the cheesy FMV's that you've unlocked, but if you've made it through them once, chances are you won't be checking them out again.
Smuggler's Run's expansive environments may have been eye catching a year ago, but its bland, repetitive visuals weren't terribly impressive then, and they certainly wouldn't be now. Angel Studios has taken steps to improve the game's appearance by spicing up the terrain, and adding details to the vehicles. This year there are more objects populating the game's 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 doesn't necessarily translate well to the videogame world.
The game's 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 you'll also notice that the areas with exceptionally long lines of sight are sparsely populated. It's not really a bad thing, just a little programming trick to make the game look a little better. Something that doesn't require any smoke and mirrors is the game's framerate, it's fast and steady throughout the game. Each of Smuggler's 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 game's extras section. All in all the game isn't a bad looking effort, but it's not a stunning visual masterpiece.
Hostile Territory fixes last year's 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 - it's much better. The bad news is something has gone terribly wrong with the game's music, somebody decided to give the game a techno/dance soundtrack. Not only is the music incredibly out of place, it's just plain bad. There may have been a few different composers for the game's soundtrack, but they seemed to all be tone deaf third-graders. Most games have made great strides in improving their soundtracks, but Smuggler's Run 2 is certainly not one of them.
Also quite low quality is the game's 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 game's numerous cut-scenes is pretty horrible. The cut-scenes are only there to try and make a cohesive story, something which isn't too important in this game, so their poor quality isn't too much of a detriment. The rest of SR2: HT's sound effects, the engine noises, explosions and gunfire are all acceptable, and sound even better if you've got a nice sub-woofer backing them up.
In a nutshell, Smuggler's 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 it's compared to Rockstar's flagship GTA3, it can't 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