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by Rockstar

Smugglers-Run-14.jpg (2913 bytes)Videogames are the wicked step children of the of the entertainment industry, and it's no secret that they're responsible for the moral decay of American society. This being so, I've often wondered why it is that good guys always get to be the video game heroes. Just once I'd like to fire up a RPG and play an evil wizard who has to blow the crap out of the orphan boy, his legendary sword, and all of his lame sidekicks. I'd like to be the invading alien horde crushing the glorified monkeys and seeing how many I could put on ice in the mothership, waiting to be dined upon at my leisure. I want to be a rag tag band of terrorist freedom fighters trying to avoid the highly trained commando kill squad peacekeepers. I want to smuggle illegal contraband, take out cops, run over hikers, mow down the boarder patrol, and outwit the rival gangs out to score my stash. This one at least, I can cross of my list.

Smugglers-Run-17.jpg (3068 bytes)Smuggler’s Run is a game that plays pretty much how it sounds. Essentially a hybrid of Driver and Crazy Taxi, Smuggler’s Run has a lot of good things going for it. As a smuggler your job is to run contraband across the U.S. - Mexico border, and the U.S. - Canada border. Being a college student here in north Idaho this is an issue really close to my heart, and I have a lot of respect for the smugglers in question.

Smugglers-Run-20.jpg (3712 bytes)There's a pick up spot and a drop off spot, but the path between them is up to you. The joy that comes from doing a hundred and twenty in a busted up truck, flying off an enormous, ungodly, obscenely high cliff, landing it with an impact that would make the Duke boys cry in shame, and watching the pigs, er police, mash together around a granite boulder is just truly satisfying. Along the way to the delivery point, the terrain is violent, dangerous, and your only friend. The cops on your trail are just insane. They want to take you down in a bad way, and they're about as aggressive as physically possible. They use every trick in the book to take you down. They'll force you to stop by boxing you in, steer you off a cliff, or just use brute force if the situation presents itself. In short, the cops are brutal, intense, and smart. One slip and Bam! the Man has your stash and he's not giving it back. The only way to run the gauntlet and avoid the fuzz is to use the terrain and force the slightly faster, but more unwieldly cop cars to wipe out.

Smugglers-Run-6.jpg (2725 bytes)Doesn't sound too hard, eh? Wrong. The life of a smuggler ranges from challenging to tear the hair out of your head, scream every obscenity you know, invent several new ones, vow revenge on the masochoistics from Rockstar hard. It doesn't get hard in an even, linear, progression either. Some stages are fine, and then out of nowhere comes a level you'll be playing for the next five hours. Yet Smuggler’s Run is so much fun that I bore the burden, sucked it up, and eventually got past the level. At least until I finally hit a wall, and could progress no more. I've seen all the stages and played all the vehicles, but I haven't beaten the game yet. I don't know if I ever will. Encouraging dedication to a game is one thing, but after hours of playing and replaying a level without coming close to finishing it, I can't help but wonder at what point making a game this difficult amounts to not only shooting yourself in the foot, but blowing it clean off. If such a point exists, Smuggler’s Run has reached it.

Smugglers-Run-5.jpg (2779 bytes)There are three basic stages in Smugglers run: the desert of the Mexican border, the mountains of the Canadian border, and a return to the mountains in the winter time. The stages are absolutely enormous, and there are many levels on each stage. Each individual mission starts at a different place on the map, and no mission uses the entire map. The result is a variety of terrain that doesn't get old and provides continuously changing challenges. Being able to successfully read the terrain is key to completing a mission, and it becomes increasingly easy to see where you will be able to drive, and if driving there is going to save you any time or just slow you down enough to allow the maniac cops to bash you into submission.

Smugglers-Run-4.jpg (2740 bytes)Initially there are only two vehicles to select, but as you progress to each change in terrain an additional two vehicles become selectable for a grand total of six vehicles. Each car has a very distinct feel to it, and has different strengths and weaknesses. Different vehicles will require different tactics to complete the levels, but all the vehicles are excellent in their own way. Disapointingly, in the one player mode you are stuck with the same dull red paint job for all the vehicles. The relatively standard feature of driving games that allows you to at least change the color of your vehicle would have gone a long way toward spicing up the already rather plain looking vehicles. It is often small oversights like these that are the most disapointing because their ommission is senseless and the benefits so easy to see.

Smugglers-Run-27.jpg (3173 bytes)The control is highly responsive, although more freedom in the controller configuration would have been appreciated. During the initial stages it can be very frusturating as your vehicle has a tendancy to roll after every jump, which means it rolls all the time. After the controlls are mastered it is relatively easy to stabalize the vehicle by correcting in mid air (screw physics, this is how it should be). When you learn to stabalize, Smuggler’s Run is a lot more fun.

Smugglers-Run-30.jpg (2915 bytes)Smuggler’s Run also has a multiplayer mode that allows players to compete in a variety of different games. I'm hands down in favor of including a multiplayer mode whenever possible. In this case the multiplayer is a nice inclusion, but it doesn't capture the magic or the thrill of the single player game. In short it is a nice feature, but if your primary focus is on a multiplayer game then Smuggler’s Run is not as attractive as some.

Smugglers-Run-34.jpg (2784 bytes)Ah, but the single player is addictive so long as you don't mind a little frusturation in your life. So I say live a fantasy. Juke the cops, run over the boarder guards, defend your contraband, defy the odds. Above all else, stick it to the Man. You know you want to.

Jeff Luther


Ups: Huge levels; great arcade-style driving; stickin' it to the Man.

Downs: Really, really tough; not enough vehicle customization.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2


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