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by Rockstar

snap_23-01.jpg (5623 bytes)Those of us lucky enough to play lots of games saw it coming a long time ago, and it becomes a increasingly evident with every new title; Rockstar is a name synonymous with kick-ass games. Rockstar publishes games that make us feel like, well, like rockstars. With games like GTA 3, Smugglers Run 2, and Max Payne currently on store shelves, it’s hard to go wrong when you see the Rockstar icon. In my book it’s increasingly becoming a "buy me" sticker. The future looks equally bright with titles like State of Emergency on the imminent horizon. I like Rockstar games because they’re fun to play, they’re cool, and they aren’t afraid to deliver the goods. Screw political correctness; the games I’ve mentioned here are dirty, raw, violent, brilliant, unique, and most importantly they’re among the best games made on any platform, ever.

snap_35-01.jpg (6356 bytes)Smugglers Run 2 is no exception to the Rockstar tradition of making fun games. Essentially an upgrade of the first Smugglers Run, SRII brings the old school thrill of all-terrain evasion racing, but also brings enough new tweaks to the system to warrant a sequel. While the basic premise is largely unchanged, improved gameplay and graphics are the big draws. The story has a little more unity to it this time around as well, as missions are united through cut scene driven narrative.

snap_50-01.jpg (6380 bytes)Much like the original installment, SRII pits you against the police, army, and rival gangs in a smuggling free for all. The terrain is brilliantly crafted; no racing around a cement track here. It’s all about enormous hills, sweeping valleys, and monstrous cliffs to fly off of. The terrain has become much more lively this time around. The terrain poses new threats, such as avalanches and landmines, just to make things more interesting. Grass and foliage are rendered much better, making the surroundings much more real. I would have liked to see trees and brush interact more with the vehicle, sweeping across the windshield and so forth, but the current level is still a substantial improvement. This is by far the most attractive aspect of the game, and off-road gamers should take note. While SRII isn’t a traditional racing game, it crushes the competition and delivers a vastly superior off-road experience.

snap_30-01.jpg (6474 bytes)The various law enforcement agencies are still gunning for you, and they’re really good at what they do. What they lack in strategic thinking they more than make up for by being relentless evil bastards. The police and the army will hunt you down and run you over till you scream for mercy, and then they’ll run you over some more--for as long as they damn well feel like it. Your only hope is to use the terrain to your advantage. Discover early what your vehicle’s strong points are, and choose your route accordingly. This time around vehicles are equipped with various counter measures for an added edge; counter measures include a speed boost and landmines, among others. Each different vehicle is equipped with one type counter measure, and that can make all the difference.

snap_62-01.jpg (6618 bytes)There are eight vehicles to choose from, ranging from an ATV to a heavy duty armored giant. The variation in vehicles allows a lot of different play styles to be entertained. While there is a great deal of variety, many of the vehicles are of questionable value (useless), while others are almost always a good choice. While I don’t need a lot of options to tweak on the vehicles, a few, such as multiple colors to choose from, would have been nice.

snap_72.jpg (7057 bytes)Smugglers Run II: Hostile Territory, like its predecessor, is an extremely challenging game. Actually, it’s a really tough game to beat. I found myself replaying almost all of the stages on the second half of the game over and over again, slowly making progress through the game. At times I would sit down for a session and give up in frustration before beating a single stage. Of course the upside to this is that when a stage is eventually beaten it’s that much sweeter. Often the trick is creative thinking and careful planning. When this game was fun it was really fun, but after a while the abuse started to run me down.

snap_81-01.jpg (7374 bytes)Hostile Territory is a sequel that makes enjoyable and significant improvements on the last version, but doesn’t take any major risks is bringing the game in a new direction. For me, this is enough to warrant a go--particularly if you enjoyed the first game. For those looking for an adrenaline rush, or for those too cool to be caged in a race track, Smuggler’s Run II is a must play.

Jeff Luther   (01/31/2002)


Ups: Graphics; level design; counter measures;

Downs: So tough it gets frustrating.

Platform: PlayStation 2