In this third 3D reincarnation of the legendary Spy Hunter, Midway enlisted the services of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson to breathe life into the main character, Alex Decker. This effort works well to give players someone to root for, and Johnson does an incredible job of making the character come alive with both his voice and motion capture work. Unfortunately, the game suffers from some major problems that prevent it from being a must-play game.
While the Interceptor's car, boat, and motorcycle controls are fine (if a bit too sensitive), the on-foot controls are a disaster. The camera never centers itself, leaving you to control it while also shooting and/or pounding your way through waves of enemies. While it's nice to have total control over the camera, in an action-heavy game like this, there must be some kind of default option to place the camera behind the backs of the player. Here, the camera just swings around until you take control of it - leading to needless damage and countless deaths through the course of the game.
The control troubles don't end there. Even basic shooting is a chore since it requires two button presses to accurately aim, and then using a skittish cursor to shoot. The bullet time homage “Salvo time” doesn't really help matters, as the cursor moves far too quickly to accurately hit targets on a regular basis. The sparse stealth elements that crept in (like wall hugging) are done poorly, and hampered by terrible collision detection that allows you (or foes) to reach and shoot through walls to land attacks. Fortunately, hand-to-hand combat is done far better. While it isn't perfect, I appreciate the variety in attacks, and quick combos that can result. A fast stun punch is all that's needed to do grappling moves, and if you so desire, you can press slam foes, give them a straight-from-Japan head-dropping brain buster, a Rock Bottom, a British Bulldog-esque shoulder mount power slam, or even a Test Drive. The last move being included would seem to be evidence of the Rock once again using his extensive wrestling tape library to prepare for an on-screen role.
Visually, this is a good-looking game in the Interceptor, and an occasionally-ugly one on foot. The Interceptor portions hold up quite well to scrutiny since they're full of action and never suffer from framerate drops. The on-foot portions muck things up though. Most environments look and feel fairly sterile, with few signs of real life reflected in them. Metal-heavy areas would be perfect havens for rust spots in the structures, for example - but nothing of the sort is here. You're just left to battle a ton of foes in a seemingly perfect setting. It's odd to see stuff like that missed when things like multiple levels of glass shattering and bullet holes appearing in walls.
Animations also appear to be fairly stiff in spite of the motion capture process. My guess is that they tinkered with the animations too much after they were completed, since the video on the disc showing the motion capture process features very smooth movements being done. Of the ones in that video, only the Rock's nip up appears to have gotten through unscathed - as it is flawless, while his (and everyone else's) moves are jerky. Character models are fairly plain, which again makes the on-foot portions seem very generic. The in-game cinematics only serve to reinforce this, since they're usually a huge leap forward from what is seen in the game (although water looks better in the game than in the cinematics, oddly). Those cinematics are used very well though - as they have action movie-style cutting, and feature a broader range of emotions than I was expecting.
The audio is a mix of great, good, and disappointing. Johnson's voice acting is the best in the game, but the rest of the cast performs their roles well. Some sound effects also shine, as evidenced by the many gunshots echoing loudly over even the meekest of audio setups. Unfortunately, others don't turn out so well. The lack of ambient sound effects during the on-foot sections makes them feel fairly interchangeable. Early in the game, there's a jungle setting - an area that would be perfect for ambient noises like animal sounds to make you feel like you're really fighting for your life in a jungle. None of that is to be found here, and it only serves to reinforce a lifeless feeling in on-foot missions.
Disappointingly, the Peter Gunn theme isn't found anywhere in the game. In its place are many action movie-styled songs with quick music cues that do a good job of getting you into the game, but they pale in comparison to the legendary signature song of the series. Chasing down bad guys in the Interceptor without is like a classic Miami Vice chase scene without “Crockett's theme”. It's an essential part of the franchise, and its absence reflects badly on the end product.
Not even the “Spy Hunter Arcade” game included (really just a reimagined version of the original with new vehicle types and graphics) has it. The remake also not having the song makes me think that some kind of licensing issue is the cause for its omission. It's bad enough that every single sign in the game (right down the original arcade cabinet being shown) leads players to believe that the original arcade game is included, but it just feels like even more of a slap in the face without the original's signature song.
In the end, Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run turned out better than I expected it to in some ways, and worse in others. I thought for sure that it would just be a completely generic affair outside of the Interceptor, and instead Midway made good use of the Rock and added some character to the franchise. I think Nowhere to Run suffers from having far too many on-foot sections. They aren't as well-done as the driving areas, and the overabundance of them makes this feel less like a Spy Hunter game and more like a generic 3D action game with a cliche plot.
I would love to see another installment with this alternating on-foot/on and off-road style - but it would have to balance things out better between the two styles, and feature a lot of enhancements to the on-foot areas. As it is, players are left with a very exciting driving game and a fairly lifeless 3D adventure game. Had the driving portions been the focus, the game would have turned out much better overall, and the on-foot section's flaws would have been obscured somewhat. Unfortunately, I can't recommend anything more than a rental right now. When the price dips to the $20 or less range, then it might be worth a purchase to die-hard Spy Hunter fans. Given how little traditional Spy Hunter stuff is here, it's impossible to justify spending full price for just those areas, and the on-foot gameplay certainly isn't strong enough to make up for that.