Racing games have been an important part of video games from the very beginning. Like First Person Shooters, racing games often push gaming technology to the limit. Smuggler’s Run was one of the first games for PS2 and, although interesting and fun, the reception was somewhat lukewarm. Angel Studios decided to give it another shot and I think that the results were quite pleasing.
Smuggler’s Run 2 follows the same premise as its prequel: barrel across immense terrain as fast as physically possible, don’t get wrecked by the law, and get your contraband to the drop zone intact. Gameplay is fast and furious and to be honest, sometimes quite challenging.
The first time I loaded Smuggler’s Run 2, I was blown away by the sheer size of the levels. They are huge with detailed terrain, rolling hills, sheer cliffs and a fair amount of buildings. I continually find it amazing how this game is able to render such far distances while not using fogging or skipping a frame. The terrain is populated with tons of bushes and shrubs and I especially enjoyed the look of the Vietnamese marshes and valleys. Car models are smooth and detailed, most noticeably the truck, which has incredibly detailed shocks. With such attention to detail, you are able to see the shocks compress as you fly over hills and through valleys. I was unable to notice any tearing and the smoothness of the graphics really gave me the feeling that I was speeding along at 120. This smoothness dramatically increased the perceived realism of the game. I enjoyed some of the little touches like cows and farmers that dot the landscape. I wish some of the trees had been slightly more detailed but that’s being a little nit-picky. Fog effects and lens flares are well used, and the lens flare even has the ability to blind you at times. My least favorite effect was night vision; it looks great but makes the game extremely difficult to play. One little detail I particularly liked was that objects remained solid once they were hit, and didn’t just fade away instantly like in other games. Often I was barreling through signs, enjoying them bounce off myself and other cars in my rear view mirror.
Cutscenes are full-motion video, and while by no means an Oscar performance, manages to do the job. Menu graphics are well done and very functional. I especially liked the loading screen, which is an image that gradually increases in resolution as the game loads. Overall, a lot of effort has been put into the graphics engine and I feel that this is one of the more graphically impressive racing games I have seen on the PS2.
The sound in Smuggler’s Run 2 is quite good but not excellent. Unfortunately, voices sound muffled at times and engine noises are a little weak. The sound does have a large amount of variation however, and I liked that there are three or four different radio communiqués for the same message. The music is quite good but once I paused the game, I began to notice its repetitive nature. Each mission can take several minutes so I understand the need to repeat measures but I feel it’s a little overdone. The music is fitting and my complaints are minor.
I am finding it quite difficult to comment on the gameplay Smuggler’s Run 2 offers. First off, this game is a good mix of vehicular combat and off-road racing. The game offers a variety of modes but I found the main mission mode to be the best single player experience. The missions are a little varied; most often they involve picking up a series of packages and getting them to their destination as fast as possible. The player has the ability to choose from a selection of vehicles. Each vehicle handles differently and I found that some just didn’t cut the mustard. I found that only two of them really offer the speed and handling required to complete most missions. Towards the end of the game, missions become very challenging and there were definitely moments I got a little frustrated. The huge size of the locales makes navigation sometimes difficult, so it pays to spend some time learning the levels. Thankfully, Smuggler’s Run 2 has a mode that allows free level exploration and I enjoyed being able to casually explore, instead of having to look around amidst the chaos of a mission. The physics in this game are incredible and the good use of weather effects impacts the handling of vehicles greatly. I liked that there was a good mix between fantasy and reality, and I really enjoyed bouncing around the levels. Checkpoint and turf war modes allow you to race or compete against other smuggler teams. The player has the ability to choose their team from computer players with each vehicle serving a different team role. In reality, the choice of roles matters very little, as speed and handling is the determining factors for success. I found the computer team AI to be good but not spectacular. It is quite frustrating to watch your hard work undone by the computer’s mistakes. Overall, the gameplay is very quick and fun, but sometimes provides a little too much of a challenge.
Mulitplayer modes add some split-screen excitement to the game but I feel much is lost with the limited view size. As it is not a straight racing game or a car combat game, Smuggler’s Run 2 has a difficult time finding its multiplayer groove. I did enjoy smuggling against my friends, but found the excitement limited and the replay value not as high as I had hoped.
Smuggler’s Run 2 is a very enjoyable game with just a few stumbling blocks to surmount in its next iteration. I enjoyed the graphics, sound, and gameplay, but was not as blown away as I had hoped to be. The sometimes challenging ramping difficulty makes the game seem impossible at times, and reaching the end sometimes feels very, very far away. I would recommend picking this up if you are looking to break away from the typical racing fare and want to experience some hardcore driving action with a twist.