Review: Retro ravaging abound with Spy Hunter Vita
Back in the 80's, when arcade gaming was king, Bally/Midway thrived with the release of a game called Spy Hunter, a top-down driving/action game where you tried to keep on the road while battling enemies both on the ground and in the air. It was the closest thing you could get to driving around in James Bond's Aston Martin, complete with headlight-mounted machine guns and rear oil slicks.
Spy Hunter has made a comeback or two since then, but we haven't seen much from the franchise since Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson took the starring role in Spy Hunter: Nowhere To Run a few years back. But now it's back to basics with the release of Spy Hunter on the PS Vita, a game that doesn't go overboard on frills, but keeps its heart in the right place when it comes to the arcade-style action that made it so appealing in the first place.
In Spy Hunter, you're driving the Interceptor, a car loaded with all sorts of spy goodies. You're given a handful of missions to complete throughout the game, whether it's snagging a weapon from enemies and trying to get back to your weapons van with it, or tracking particular targets. The plot itself doesn't really have much creativity to go on (the original PS2 reboot told a better story, courtesy of Angel Studios), but it does set the stage for some fun driving/action sequences.
You control your speed using the Vita's shoulder buttons, and use the four face buttons to activate your different weapons. You've got machine guns, a rear afterburner that can torch cars behind you, a "shocker" that rams enemies into side rails and a blinding flash that can disorient anyone within your range. Other tools of the trade are introduced with each new mission, including lock-on missiles and other various goods.
The gameplay is enjoyable when it comes to racing up enemy kills and doing stunt-related activities, and there's an unpredictability factor when it comes to your vehicular transformations. Run along water and your car automatically transforms into a speed boat; hit some dirt roads and your tires bulk up, giving you the equivalent of Bigfoot. The controls are easy to maintain in each vehicular form, even though sometimes too many enemies can come bearing down on you, whittling away your life bar to nothing. Just try to keep your energy in check, and don't be afraid to use your weapons.
Over the course of the game, you can change out your weapon load-out however you see fit, which is a nice touch. If something's not working right for you, you can change what you carry and see what results may follow.
The single player campaign offers up a good variety of missions to take on. However, the multiplayer feels like an afterthought, as it's local only and doesn't really offer much in the way of working together for huge team kills or bonuses. It's worth trying once or twice, but otherwise you can forget about it.
In terms of presentation, Travellers Tales – usually known for their Lego fare – did a solid job with Spy Hunter. The 3D visuals, while not the best the Vita has seen, provide a reckless, wild atmosphere that's similar to the original arcade game. Plus, the explosions are fun, with some slo-mo effects thrown in for good measure. Ryan Shore's soundtrack is also worth a listen, mixing elements from the classic "Peter Gunn" theme (from the original game) with techno and hard rock themes. The automated female narration might get a little bit on your nerves, though.
Though Spy Hunter may be a bit too basic compared to other racers out there – Need For Speed: Most Wanted comes to mind – it's a blast from the past for fans of the franchise, and those seeking quick, arcade-style action for their on-the-road endeavors. You could certainly do worse than get behind the wheel of this ride.