Spy Hunter is one of those games that feels like its been around since the beginning of video games. Originally released in 1983, it predates just about every modern day franchise, with the exception of only a few sustaining classics like Space Invaders and Pac-Man. The original put players in the driver’s seat of a souped-up sports car as a spy, trying to evade and attack enemies. One of the most memorable aspects of the game was its unique top-down perspective that gave players a limited view of the horizon while their car was traveling at high speeds on both land and water. The other game-defining feature was the use of an amazing arrangement of Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme song as the soundtrack. Since its original release, Spy Hunter was rebooted in the early 2000s, and now it’s seeing its second resurrection on the 3DS and PlayStation Vita.
This Spy Hunter reboot follows closely in the foots of its classic predecessor – the spy, the car, the theme song are all there, but It breaks from tradition, most noticeably by shifting the camera back behind the car, instead of providing a top-down view. This time around, the game’s nameless, rogue spy takes control of the Interceptor, the same class of car from the original, to track down who is behind his agency being compromised, as well as staging an attack on the country. This new class of Interceptor can transform into the same two states as the original, allowing it to drive on land and water; however, this upgraded sports car can also morph on the fly to accommodate off-road chases. As you may expect, the Interceptor is packed with some heavy artillery, from a machine gun to homing missiles, all of which can be swapped in and out, as well as upgraded through experience points earned from each mission.
The gameplay is pretty easy to grasp – most missions consist of getting from Point A to Point B in one piece. With attacks coming from all sides, this is easier said than done. There are some levels that mix up the formula, having the player stop at marks for certain periods of time, but they all end with you reaching your final destination. Multiple pathways through each level offer potentially safer routes, as well as a chance for the Interceptor to take to the water, or go off-road. Some levels break up the driving by letting players take control of a turret on the back of a moving truck, or target certain enemies remotely using an UAV. There is a good mix of different objectives to make it feel like each level is unique, as long as you accept the inherent repetition that comes with a single-player vehicular combat game.
When you drill down a little bit further, that’s when Spy Hunter starts to show show its warts. Right off the bat, the graphics don’t feel really polished, and feel like they could have been from a DS game (we played our review build was on the 3DS). Add to that controls that were really loose when driving, but actually felt better when the Interceptor was a boat, which seems counter-intuitive. The Circle Pad also presented one additional problem – camera control. While trying to steer the car, which was generally under constant heavy gunfire and sliding all over the road, players can switch to a rear-view by sliding the circle pad down, a move that is bound to happen accidentally at more than one inopportune time. Add to that StreetPass and Play Coin functionality that are never really explained, long load times, and the game actually crashed once, and Spy Hunter’s flaws become quickly apparent.
Overall, Spy Hunter can be fun, but the fun is marred with multiple different types of frustration. Whether it’s an accidental switch to the rear-view camera, or the Interceptor unintentionally traveling too far in the wrong direction during a slow-motion action sequence, Spy Hunter can drive players a little crazy. That being said, at its core, there is some fun to be had, and once you learn how to accept the game’s quirks, it can be hard to put down. Basically, as long as you’re not expecting too much out of the game, you won’t be let down.