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Smuggler's Run 2: The lost Rockstar game

A look back at a forgotten Rockstar title...

Burnout going open-world with Paradise - and dragging Need For Speed and seemingly everything else with it - was a big, brave pioneer, right?

An entire revolution of the wheel in the drive to the future? Wrong. Smuggler's Run offered open world racing from the day PS2 went on sale, way back in late 2001, and Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory improved it considerably just a year later.

What's more, it came from Rockstar. Rockstar became pretty successful on PS2 with another open world driving game - Granny Theft something or other - and you couldn't even knock down camels in that one. Soon, Rockstar could do no wrong (unless you worked for a tabloid, in which case they could do no right).

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So where the hell is Smuggler's Run now? Why isn't it famous? Bar one final sputter as it was ported to Nintendo's GameCube, the series died with this follow up. And that's a shame, because there's a lot to like. The most obvious thing is the setting - though Smuggler's Run wasn't the first open world racer, most such games before and since have chosen cities.

Indeed, Angel Studios' other racer, Midnight Club, was resolutely urban... and Midnight Club, though inferior at first, still exists. Even now Midnight Club is exciting players by being quite good. By contrast, the two Smuggler's Run games remain firmly in the past, a rural driving game anomaly; a dusty yet noisy bumpkin, like Noddy Holder on wheels.

FREEDOM TO ROAM
Racing fans eventually rediscovered the pleasures of caning a stinking death-truck through a rolling, bucolic landscape in the hills of Rockstar's own GTA San Andreas, but even that was short-lived. The free-spirited grass soon disappeared under the PS3 tarmac of Liberty City and Burnout's Paradise.

Even Test Drive Unlimited's green-hilled island of Hawaii on PS2 was essentially concrete. Gamers forgot the energising smell of daisies and chunks of fresh roadkill. And what does that tell us? It tells us you lot are deficient cretins for whom suffocation is too good. Well, not you personally. But see that bloke over there? Yes, him. That boy is a fool.

Ludicrously, this game's huge, mountainous landscapes are also warzones. This means you're frequently dealing with exploding shells, the Army, the police, rival gangs and unforgiving time limits, all at the same time. You're also dealing with rivers, lakes, rockfalls, rain, fog, night-vision, spiky ruins and the kind of towns that leap out from the hills and smash your face in.

For those of you thinking, 'Oh, like Cardiff,' don't be so politically incorrect - we mean the kind of low settlement you plough into having only seen it as you leaped, salmon-like, hundreds of feet from the hill above. Avoiding unexpected and annoying collisions in this game is like avoiding unexpected and annoying charges on a Ryanair flight. It just can't be done. Smuggler's Run 2 is hard.

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You begin near the border between Russia and Georgia (a place budget airlines refer to as 'Berlin'), then progress to the relative peace of Vietnam. Nothing if not politically correct, SR2 hammers home the racial stereotypes with live action cut-scenes full of gruff American mercenaries, massively-mustachioed Russian generals and bowing South East Asian messenger boys.

It's entertainingly odd to see real people in cut-scenes, and the acting is like a fine red wine: stinky, with strong hints of wood, cheese and ham. Your gang leader is a particular triumph. He's a silver-haired paramilitary who looks just like George Clooney would if Lidl sold George Cloonies for three quid each.

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