The original Spy Hunter - circa 1983 - was one of the best vertical-scrolling combat racing hybrids of its time (they were "a thing," back then.) In the past decade, Midway has tried to recapture the original with little success - the last one was tainted by being a tie-in to a film (starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) that never eventuated, which wasn't helped by its terrible on-foot combat. Now the series has come to the Vita, with new gameplay elements; is that a dark cloud I see?
Spy Hunter seems to have all of the necessary ingredients to be a solid combat driving title: you take the wheel of the interceptor, a supercar which can morph into various other modes of transport to suit the terrain. It handles well, and you can kit it out with a variety of weapons, including rocket launchers, machine guns, and flamethrowers - all of which can be upgraded, and swapped between levels. Spy Hunter’s classic enemies are all here, along with some new ones - including cars that drop mines, suicide bombers, and helicopters. There are also some neat set pieces, including a plane you drive through.
For some odd reason the developer, Traveller’s Tales Fusion, decided that Spy Hunter needed a story, so here it is. In short, an unknown terrorist is working to capture the interceptor and has access to various double agents. It plays out over 23 missions, spanning several weeks. This setup allows for weather changes from mission to mission - one day it could be sunny, the next it’s overcast. Its levels also feature an array of terrain types to show off the interceptor’s transforming ability, from streets, through forests, and down rivers - occasionally even featuring multiple routes to take, giving you a choice between rough terrain, busy streets, or rivers.
To give you a rough idea of what playing Spy Hunter is like, picture this: you’re cruising down the highway, shooting enemy vehicles, when suddenly time freezes because you’ve got a message. Interruptions break the flow of gameplay and could have been avoided, had the support crew used voice overs. To rub salt into the wound, the primary villain in the game taunts you with creepy voice messages. Another problem is that, for all the gadgetry you can buy, upgrades seem to have little - if any - effect on the given weapon’s power.
Spy Hunter is at its best when you are racing along taking out enemies - just like the original. The problem is it tries to mix up the gameplay by adding new elements - specifically marking out targets for air strikes, and controlling a turret mounted on the back of the weapons truck to defend it against attacks for a period. Although brief, neither portion is particularly enjoyable and can become frustrating as you are often forced to repeat the entire mission if you fail.
Visually, Spy Hunter is a mixed bag. On one hand, the interceptor looks great, you can buy a decent variety of pallet swaps, and the morphing animation between boat, car, and off-road vehicles is seamless. The enemy cars look as good, too - although there is little variety in them so they can get repetitive. When it comes to the set pieces, such as driving through a plane, or towers are falling down, it looks very low budget – explosions look less than impressive.
On the multiplayer front, Spy Hunter features ad hoc support for up to four players; players spawn with pre-selected weapons and battle it out until they reach the finish line. Disappointingly, there is no online play, so you will need four friends with Spy Hunter to play against. The advantage is it means there’s no lag for anyone.
Overall, Spy Hunter Vita is a mixed bag: On one hand, the vehicular combat is solid. On the other, it’s let down by poor mechanics and a slew of unwelcome gameplay additions.