PUBLISHER: Rockstar Games
DEVELOPER: Angel Studios
RELEASE DATE: 10/25/00 (US), 11/10/00 (EU), 12/28/00 (JP)
Back before Rockstar focused on the same GTA game for nearly a decade, they published and developed a wide variety of titles, including the Christmas favorite, Manhunt, the world’s finest ping pong simulator, Table Tennis, and today’s feature, the zesty criminal enterprise known as Smuggler’s Run.
Smuggler’s Run is both an incredibly rewarding romp that highlights the most bonker car physics ever seen in an arcade racing game, and a terribly frustrating experiment into the depths of video game madness. Rarely has a game so delighted and infuriated me, usually at the same time. Careening your buggy off the top of a tall hill while five slightly upset Canadian border patrol agents are on your back is truly sublime. But if you land slightly crooked and all five agents slam into you with the fury of a thousand moose, woe. Woe is you!
The bulk of Smuggler’s Run has you driving across one of three landscapes – forest, desert, and snow – and collecting “lost cargo” for your “friends.” The cargo is conveniently highlighted with green gas, while the cargo drop off point is highlighted with red gas. Between your first pickup and your first drop off, cops are alerted to your wicked ways and begin to chase you. Complicating matters are the incredibly bumpy and hilly surroundings, which threaten to knock you off course while driving at high speeds.
Other types of missions appear occasionally, including racing against rival gangs for street cred, and gang warfare that pits you and some buddies against rival gangs. The latter missions only involve – once again – picking up cargo and taking it to the drop off point before your rivals do. Still, the increased vehicle involvement makes for some nutty pileups. Thank goodness everyone’s insurance is top-notch.
“No rest for the wicked.”
“You want a medal? Get to the next pickup!”
“Drive like a man, baby. Drive like a man!”
“We all know how you like playing with yourself baby, so let’s run a solo job. No women, just you.”
These quotes (and many more) come from Radio Girl, your unseen smuggling partner, again and again and again, until out of desperation, you check the options to see if you can turn off her voice. Thank the Lord, you can. When you do, she says, “You’re on your own, baby.” Finally, some peace and quiet.
This constant aural bombardment is one of Smuggler’s Run‘s defining features. If you’re not getting told off by Radio Girl, you’re being told to “Slow the car down, sir!” by Canada’s border patrol, all of whom sound suspiciously like Dan Aykroyd. I love the cops’ polite belligerence and, unlike the constant prattling of your partner, could listen to them attempt to pull me over all day. Other gangs will yell at you, cursing you and your mother, which seems about accurate for faux gang language circa 2000.
Smuggler’s Run is not to be taken seriously. This is what makes the game’s sudden jump in difficulty so perplexing. Around stage ten, the proceedings veer from slightly challenging at times to replaying the same mission fifty times. No, not all missions from Stage ten onwards are tough, but those that are will make you question your hard-earned sanity. Isn’t Smuggler’s Run supposed to be a light, breezy experience? All I want to do is speed down hills, get chased by the border patrol (or the army, or the CIA), and make a ton of money in five minutes or less. I do not want to have to try.
Despite my frustrations, I still sort of love Smuggler’s Run. It is the definition of a ramshackle game that feels like it should fall apart at any minute, but doesn’t. I’m not sure I’ll ever beat all thirty-four missions, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the brief endorphin rush I receive from beating a few Smuggler’s Run levels is enough in today’s high stress society. Either way, I miss when Rockstar focused their attention on more than just a singular cash cow to finance their entire enterprise. Smaller budget games like Smuggler’s Run – for better or for worse – are all but extinct these days.
Listen to our Smuggler’s Run podcast here.