Spy Hunter is an Instant Classic, Again

I love the classics. I love them so much in fact that I find it blasphemous to attempt to update them. And while there are some very impressive remakes available (Tempest 2000 immediately comes to mind) most of the remakes I have played either turned up to be slightly disappointing, or some ended up being so badly altered that it bears nothing to the classic it was based on. Frogger is a good example of the latter.

The 1983 Midway classic SpyHunter has been an all time favorite of mine. I can never forget how much money I spent on such an impressive title, only to end up crashing too much (maybe due to hitting the gas way too much). The combination of overhead racing and shooting, as well as the mass assortment of weapons supplied by that awesome red van, plus the fact that the car turned into a boat was just what I was looking for in a game. Next to Star Wars, I haven’t spent as much time with an arcade game since 1983.

When I heard talk about a new remake of SpyHunter, I was both interested and concerned, because I didn’t want to see another great classic get butchered. Images of the game and an impressive showing at E3 helped me feel better, but I was still hoping the final release would be something worth looking at.

Thank God that Midway took the time and patience to work on SpyHunter, because it was definitely a surprise: a superb remake of a classic game that truly keeps to its roots while adding a new fresh experience to attract a new generation of gamers.

The plot follows the NOSTRA Corporation as they once again emerge from the shadows. This time, their leader, Daemon Curry, unleashes his new weapon, known as the "Four Horsemen." They are four orbital satellites capable of launching an EMP blast at the Earth, blanketing it into total darkness (a la Goldeneye). He is aware that International Espionage Services (IES) will be dispatching one of their elite SpyHunters to stop him, and is more concerned since this is the same Hunter he faced in 1983. This explains in the storyline and is a nice way to link this game to the original.

The basis of SpyHunter goes through the course of 14 missions, each carrying their own set of primary and secondary objectives. While each stage can be cleared by beating only the primary objective, it will become necessary at times to complete many of the secondary objectives to open new missions (similar to Tony Hawk). While secondary tasks include preventing civilian casualties, or tagging hostile vehicles with a tracker weapon, the primary objectives are unique in their own way.

One of the more impressive primary objectives was taken from another arcade classic, Chase HQ. In this case, a weapons van was hijacked by NOSTRA, and another Interceptor vehicle (the car you drive) was stolen. This vehicle must be tracked down and destroyed while completing the other objectives.

While the new SpyHunter might be more mission based as opposed to playing until all Interceptors are destroyed, fortunately the original game’s mechanics are left completely intact. The Interceptor is as powerful as before, returning with its normal arsenal of machine guns, oil slicks, smoke screens and Stinger missiles, as well as newer weapons (EMP guns, Rail Guns, and Flamethrowers). Even cooler is the return of the boat capabilities, but unlike before, where the transformation is hidden inside a small shed, the full transformation can be shown in an impressive, Matrix-style, camera angle rotating around the Interceptor, then returning to the rear view that is used during the entire game.

In addition, when heavily damaged, the Interceptor can now shed its outer layer and become a fast Tron-like light cycle with limited weaponry. Even better, the famous Weapons Van/Boat has returned. While it might not have the same capabilities as before (it only replenishes weaponry and damage, and restores the armor when switched to a light cycle), it brings closure to the classic SpyHunter experience.

NOSTRA’s forces are also refurbished from before. Road Lord, Switchblade, Enforcer, Mad Bomber, Barrel Dumper (formerly Depth Charger), and Dr. Torpedo are all back along with tons of new bad guys: jump jets, IES-NOSTRA prototypes, Bullseye Humvees, and Mortar Amphibious Vehicles to name a few.

Visually, the game is passable. It won’t win any awards, but it runs very smoothly (much smoother than the E3 Beta). Most of the textures are basic, but watching the Interceptor transform into a boat or a cycle is a sight to behold.

The sound is a different story. Not only does the Interceptor purr like a kitten, but the soundtrack is vintage SpyHunter. The Peter Gunn theme is definitely back in a big way. In addition to the standard instrumental versions, there is a new lyrical version by heavy metal band Saliva, and it is impressive to listen to. Other music from the game is impressive as well, and when playing SpyHunter, you can never get enough Peter Gunn.

Maybe the small number of missions (only 14) can be a distraction, the fact that you need to get all the objectives (which after Mission 5 is not an easy task) and beat the set time to unlock all the cheats will keep the game going on for a while. I do wish though that there was a way to play the classic version of SpyHunter in its original form or in the new 3D engine, similar to how Tempest 2000 turned out. It might be in there somewhere (I haven’t found all the secrets yet) but if its not here, maybe Paradigm will consider it for SpyHunter 2.

In any event, SpyHunter ranks up there with the amazing Tempest 2000 as one of the best remakes ever made for a classic game, and I can’t wait to see if any sequels will be planned (to hopefully include a classic version as well). SpyHunter shoots and scoots its way to 4 1/2 GiN Gems. And for all those who are thinking about making a classic remake, I recommend they give Paradigm a call to learn a thing or two.

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