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Smuggler's Run: Warzones

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Angel Studios
Publisher:  Rockstar
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Driving
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  9-10-02

The original Smuggler's Run was one of the few quality PS2 titles at launch, and the follow-up  managed to be even better thanks to bigger environments, refined gameplay, and basically just more of everything. Rockstar's first GameCube title is an enhanced port of Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory. Renamed Smuggler's Run: Warzones, Angel Studios has harnessed the power of the GameCube to correct virtually everything wrong with the PS2 version while providing a number of enhancements in the process. The result isn't exactly GTA3, but it is one of the best GameCube titles yet.

Like the original, you assume the role of a smuggler. The core of the gameplay experience is the "Smugglerís Missions", in which youíll have to successfully complete 36 different missions set across three different territories. Basically, in each mission youíre thrust into a very expansive area with a set of objectives to complete. These objectives are varied from mission to mission with some of them being simple "pick up and deliver the loot" missions and others having you take out a variety of targets. Tying each mission together is a very simple story delivered via FMV cutscenes and text/audio on the mission objective screen, that basically boils down to "weíre getting paid to deliver the goods, so do it". Naturally, a game like this doesnít need a real story to drive things forward, but itís good to see that an effort was made.

In addition to meeting the different objectives youíre given, you must also make sure to avoid the cops who relentlessly pursue you. If your vehicle takes too much damage (either from the terrain or the cops ramming into you), itíll cause you to stall out for a few seconds. During this time youíre open to arrest by the police. If they canít get to you before you get the car started again, then youíll be able to drive off with them back in hot pursuit. There are other ways for them to capture you as well, such as blocking off all means of escape (for example, you run into a building and they surround you) or two of them smashing your car at once (bringing you to a dead stop).

Other gameplay modes include Turf Wars, Checkpoint Races and Joyridiní. Turf Wars is comprised of several mini-games, including "Crooks & Smugglers" (one package can be delivered at a time, fill your quota before the other team does), "Loot Grab" (lots of packages are available, deliver as much as you can), and Bomb Tag (which works like any other Bomb Tag mode). Checkpoint Races includes a total of 15 different races spanning each of the three areas presented in the main missions. There are five different races in each area, and each area can only be unlocked once youíve made it to that point in the mission mode. Joyridiní lets you ride around and become familiar with the terrain. This version also features support for up to four players at a time, whereas the PS2 version only allowed up to two to compete at once.

There are a total of nine different vehicles to use in the game (one more than the PS2 version), and each of them has their own distinct look and feel. Picking the proper vehicle for each mission will prove critical to success, as some vehicles simply canít handle the terrain a mission takes place over that well. Additionally, one improvement that was made over the original is the inclusion of a couple countermeasures in each vehicle. Ranging from oil slicks to simple speed boosts (with cool blur effect), mastering these is imperative if you want to successfully fend off AI opponents. And as tough as they are (more on that later), youíll need all the help you can get.

The key to mastering any mission lies in learning the environment. This is one of the few mission-based games where the free ride mode (Joyridiní) is actually put to good use. If you donít know the terrain before you enter into a mission, youíll most likely fail that mission several times before you get to know the layout. For example, not knowing that a particular hill is insurmountable will cause you to get stuck on that hill when you try to reach the next objective, thus wasting precious seconds and opening yourself up to capture by the police or army.

Speaking of the environments, each of them is wonderfully detailed. Throughout each location, youíll encounter a wide variety of objects like buildings, fences, lakes, people, and even livestock. Each environment is laid out in a very smart manner, as these and other obstacles will come into play as you attempt to complete each mission. For example, on several occasions civilian vehicles are placed near drop-off points for your loot. Thus as youíre barreling towards the drop-off point trying to deliver the goods as fast as possible, you also have to make sure you take it at an angle that will allow you to avoid the civilian vehicle. Additionally, the player can actually lead the cops to their doom by luring them into an obstacle. There are smart touches like this throughout the game that will demand concentration and a bit of luck to avoid or use to your advantage.

As good as things looked in the PS2 version; the overall look is so much better here. The vehicles look awesome with some additional animation and reflection mapping, smoke and explosion effects look richer and more detailed, there are better lighting effects, and the framerate is now locked in at 60 frames per second versus a jittery 30. The night vision missions benefit the most, as it's much easier to see off into the distance now and avoid oncoming obstacles. In the PS2 version night vision missions were a pain; now they're a welcome change of pace.

You just havenít lived until youíve gone barreling through a field of flowers or a rice paddy at 125mph, where all you can see around you is weeds and grass. There are a ton of trees, flowers, and various other shrubberies to be found, and driving through it never gets old. And since itís easy to tell what you can and canít drive through (the trees that will damage your vehicle are rather distinct), you can drive through that plant-life worry free. Then again, thereís nothing scarier than driving through a field of flowers, only to discover upon leaving it that there is a HUGE cliff on the other side. Itís this kind of wild, oh goodness my stomach just dropped three inches, thrill that few games can deliver like this one can.

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