" The odds are better youíll hurl your controller through your TV than finish this game. "
Title: Smugglerís Run by Rockstar
Format: PS2 Racer
Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult
The Hype: Tapping into one of the great under used story lines in history, Smuggler Run pits you against the border patrol, running contraband on the US-Canadian and US-Mexican borders. Its law breakiní fun at itís finest.
What This Monkey Thought...
Graphics: Overall, the graphics certainly do kick ass. huge maps, fairly detailed and destructible cars, and vehicles that come apart faster than a stripperís pants all work into a very nice visual feast. The most dazzling display by far, however, is the suspension. Yes, thatís right, I said suspensionÖand yes, I am a geek. But still, watching those shocks and tires bounce in time and tune to precisely what it is theyíre rolling over is entertaining as hell. We spent what could only be described as "far too much time" driving around in the dune buggy (with itís entirely visible spring shock system) just to watch all four tires move and react independently. Still, with all its pluses, the graphics will be defined (as youíll find most of the game) not by what was included, but what was left out. Insufficient minutia detail on the cars, damage that is not reacting to what actually happens to you (your car just sort of comes apart when it feels like it), and not nearly enough environment interaction (things like kicking up snow from your tires and doing impact damage to stuff you hit would have been cool) keep Smugglerís from the coveted 5. 4 out of 5.
Sound: Engines go "Vrrrrroooooommmmmm", sirens go "Wwwwoooooooowwwwww", and crashes go "Crrrraaaaaassssshhhhh". You will enjoy them, but undoubtedly turn the volume down in exchange for your favorite driving music. I suggest "Radar Love", "Kick Start My Heart", and "Lunatic Fringe" myself. 3.75 out of 5
Game Play: Game play, in short, can be defined with two statements: Killer physics engine, piss poor missions. To elaborate weíll start with the bad. The missions are, without a doubt, frustratingly lame. They all revolve around the same two central themes: Race or Pick up and Drop off. Now, while limited, that in itself isnít too awfully bad.
The problems really are that 1) the missions are designed to require ridiculous amounts of repetition in order to complete (which I always hate). 2) The largest hindrance will not be your ineptness at driving or the time limit given but rather in the near immortal and often infallible cops/border patrol who are hunting you down. The mission "compass" you are given instead of pointing in the direction you should head or some other thing useful like that, it only points towards the goal. So, while you attempt to follow it, you will run head long into any number of dead ends, mountains, rivers, etc. so that the only way you will eventually win the tougher levels is by doing the mission often enough that you begin to memorize the route you should take instead of the route it shows.
The cops (your primary nemesis) are also ridiculous- being faster, stronger, impossibly better drivers than you can ever be. Even though you might be driving the exact same cars (or for that matter, that all of the cars available to both of you are exactly the same) they will be faster than you, corner tighter; take exponentially more damage, and always land impossibly perfect. Hell, even their slowest car is faster than your fastest and their weakest car will take apart your strongest. They also never actually get destroyed or stalled, so as you go through the mission you will simply pick up more and more cops on your tail until it looks like youíre being followed by a pack of killer bees. This was obviously Rockstarís way of getting around having to make more dynamic missions and, let me tell you, it sucks ass (falling right back into that "not quite enough" theme). You will become so frustrated at the ridiculous level of repetition required (usually do to the god like cops) that the odds are better youíll hurl your controller through your TV than finish this game.
Not to be all bad news, however, the physics engine is amazing. Life like, dynamic, but just tweaked enough to make game play fun, Smugglerís Run from a driving perspective really is a joy to play. And, for the first time ever for me in a driving game, I actually have enjoyed the "free driving" mode almost as much as the missions. Damned Keen.
Still, with all itís near game ruining problems, the rating is drug down to a mere 3 out of 5.
Level and Environment Designs: Level designs, as with so much in Smugglerís, falls into the "not quite far enough" category. On the plus side, the levels are huge, detailed, and incredibly fun. You can drive around for hours and rarely do the same jump or run the same course on the vast expanses offered. On the down side, there are only 3 of them (actually, only two but one comes with or without snow). Yes, my Monkeys, I said 3. Who the hell makes a driving game with only three environments??? This is often forgivable because any given mission will only use a quarter or so of the total map- but stillÖThey couldnít have taken a bit of extra time a packed some more levels onto it. Frickiní lame. 3.5 out of 5
Multiplayer: Multiplayer gives you what basically amounts to four options. You can both drive around in "free drive" mode, you can play what amounts to capture the flag/tag, you can run races, or you can run a relay rally. All in all, itís entertaining- but not for all that long. The lack of more game options will leave you wanting, the inclusion of only vs. play will have you wishing for more, and worst of all, the fact that all multiplayer games take place on the same sections of the same 3 maps (each play type has one, and only one, small section of the environment) will make you put this game back on its shelf to collect dust rather than stay in your collection. 3.5 out of 5
Replayability: You can tell that Rockstar really wanted to give you some reason to keep playing with their inclusion of a couple of dozen single player missions and a variety of multiplayer styles. But, for me, it all ended up falling short. I finished this game pretty much only because I had to and now that Iím done, it will only come off the shelf when I want to spend a little surreal time driving around the countryside. 2 out of 5
Story/Dramatics: As is far too typical in this business, what could have had a killer story filled with intrigue and drama has none. Your mission briefs are given in decidedly unhelpful short voice-overs, which are done by, a woman who is way to impressed with her own attitude. There are no cut scenes, there is no story arc, and when youíre finished all you get is a lame ass "Thank you for playing Smugglerís Run" splashed on your screen. A very disappointing 1 out of 5.
Instructions and Learning Curve: Finally, a truly shining point. The instructions are straightforward and helpful, if not a little bland. Plus, the game is strictly driving, so the learning curve is pretty non-existent. 4.5 out of 5
Installation and Real System Requirements: Due to the incredible map size, the load times can be a bit stiff, but itís one of the first games to make good use of the PS2ís capabilities. While the graphics could have stood to be improved, itís worth the loading wait. 4 out of 5
What should have been a killer racing game breaks down on the final lap. Still worth picking up, but make sure you get it used.
The Good: Huge levels, great physics, fun concept.
The Bad: You donít get to use all that much of the huge and limited in number levels, ridiculously powerful cops, and way too many places that the game just falls short.
The Overall Ugly: Fun, but not great by any stretch of the imagination.
What it's Worth: $20-25 used.