Spy Hunter is a 1983 arcade game developed and released by Bally Midway. It was incredibly successful initially, and it has remained popular for many years. The game's novel gameplay and popular theme music are largely responsible for its success. It has also been ported to various home computers and video game systems.
As a cabinet-style arcade game, Spy Hunter was produced in both sit-down and standard upright versions with the latter being more common. The game's controls consist of a steering wheel in the form of a futuristic aircraft-style yoke with several special-purpose buttons, a two-position stick shift (offering 'low' and 'high' gears), and a pedal used for acceleration. It is a single player game.
Spy Hunter is an action/driving game with the player in the role of a spy driving an armed sportscar. The object of the game is to travel the freeway destroying as many enemy vehicles as possible while protecting civilian vehicles. The game is a top-down vertical scroller with a vantage point similar to that of a news helicopter.
Early versions of the game used the James Bond theme by Monty Norman, but the inability to obtain the rights to use the music forced Midway to change this theme. As a result, an arrangement of Henry Mancini's theme to Peter Gunn plays throughout. The use of this background music became a large part of the game's appeal.
The game begins with the player driving the fictitious G-6155 Interceptor. According to the bonus material for Midway Arcade Treasures, the car was modeled after a 1983 Chevrolet Camaro Z28. The car's name derives from the date of birth of game designer George Gomez. Enemy vehicles try to destroy the player's car or to force it off the road. Each enemy vehicle has its own special feature (discussed below).
Points are scored for distance traveled (a counter increments the score while the car is moving) and for destroying enemy vehicles. There is an initial lead-in time during which the player has an unlimited supply of cars. After the lead-in time expires the player must earn extra cars by obtaining high scores. The first extra car is generally earned at a default value of 30,000 points, but this value can vary depending on settings for a given machine. Up to 3 additional cars are awarded at similar increments.
The player must be cautious to avoid harming innocent civilian vehicles. There are three types of such vehicles — two automobiles (one pink in color, the other light blue) and a motorcycle. Destroying these vehicles causes the score meter to halt for a few seconds (in effect subtracting points from the player's score) and will result in the Weapons Van arriving only once instead of twice in that sequence. It is also possible to destroy the Weapons Van itself. Doing so produces the same consequences as destroying a civilian vehicle. A very hard, direct crash with a civilian vehicle can result in the player losing a car. If the player survives long enough (several minutes), eventually civilian vehicles stop appearing and the only other vehicles on the road are the player's enemies.
The player's car starts the game with two front-mounted machine guns with an endless supply of ammunition. The machine guns and the player's driving skill — opponents can be sideswiped off the road — are the only means of defense against the enemy vehicles in the beginning stages of the game. At regular intervals, following a fork in the road the player will enter a new 'territory' also marked by a change in the environment, such as addition of snow and ice, a transition to or from water, or merely a change in the color of the terrain and vegetation alongside the road. In each new road territory, the player will pass a red tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder — the Weapons Van. The player receives additional weapons by entering the Van, which will accelerate until it reaches a point directly in front of the player's vehicle, at which time it will extend a ramp allowing the player to drive in. Three special weapons are available: oil slicks, smoke screens, and surface to air missiles. The type of weapon provided by the Weapons Van is displayed on the Van's roof rack. The Van subsequently stops briefly at the side of the road for the player's vehicle to exit. The Weapons Van can appear twice in each territory; after entering the Van the first time, the button in the middle of the steering yoke will be lit steadily as long as the player does not destroy any civilian vehicles. When the middle button is thus lit, the Van can be manually summoned by pressing it, or if the player loses a car the Weapons Van will reappear (with the same weapon) automatically.
All three special weapons can be equipped simultaneously, although this state of play is difficult to achieve. Each special weapon has a limited number of uses. For example, the smokescreen can be used only four times (three times in some game versions). The special weapons are activated via dedicated buttons on the steering yoke. In most game versions entering the Weapons Van twice in the same territory will refill the player's ammunition supply. If the player's car is destroyed, either by being forced off the road or shot, it will reappear with only machine guns. The game's dashboard shows which weapons are available, when lit.
There are four enemy vehicles in all, each dark blue in color and possessing its own special characteristic:
- Switchblade (tagline: Never To Be Trusted) is armed with wheel-mounted tire slashers, which cause the player to veer off the road and crash if touched.
- The Road Lord (tagline: Bullet Proof Bully) is shielded by bulletproof armor plating, rendering it invulnerable to machine gun bullets.
- The Enforcer (tagline: Double Barrel Action) is a limousine featuring a shotgun-toting thug who fires at the player's car. If you drive too slow, the limo will wait for you on the side of the road, and shoot your tire out.
- The Mad Bomber (tagline: Master Of The Sky) is a helicopter which drops bombs on the player.
The Mad Bomber is the only opponent who can only be destroyed with missiles. Missed bombs leave craters which can destroy other cars or the player in most game versions.
It is possible for the player to convert his car into a cigarette boat by voluntarily driving through a special boathouse which appears infrequently at the side of the road. At certain intervals the words "Bridge Out" will appear on the screen, and the player will be forced to enter the boathouse. The boat sequence is very similar to the normal driving sequence, but it provides a break from the regular action. When in the water the three road-based enemies are replaced by two others:
- The Barrel Dumper, a speedboat which travels ahead of the player and ejects barrels into the water which must be avoided.
- Doctor Torpedo, another speedboat which launches torpedoes at the player's boat from behind.
Using the oil slick while piloting the boat releases flaming oil, which instantly destroys any boat that contacts it. There is no weapons van in the boat sequence; if the player's boat is destroyed and the player has another vehicle remaining, a replacement boat (armed only with machine guns) is towed on screen by a tugboat. At the end of the boat sequence, the player drives through another boathouse and his vehicle is instantly changed back to a car. A sequence featuring the player flying a helicopter was also planned by the developers, but it was omitted due to lack of memory. The cabinet artwork on some versions of the game feature a jet with the same color scheme as the car/boat, leading some players to believe that it would be playable at some point during the game.
Also, at irregular intervals the words "Icy Road Ahead" will appear on the screen. A few seconds later the background will change to a winter setting, and the road surface becomes more slippery which makes driving even more treacherous. The upside of the new terrain is that certain weapons — most particularly the oil slick — become more effective.
Following the success of the arcade version of Spy Hunter, a pinball version of the game was released in 1984 by Bally. The original Spy Hunter was followed by an arcade sequel, Spy Hunter II in 1987. It retained the Peter Gunn music and incorporated a cooperative two-player mode, but the top-down view was replaced with a more 3D perspective from behind and above the car. Though seemingly more realistic, the different perspective was unpopular and clumsy. The game achieved little success and remained largely unknown as it never went into large scale production. There is also a Nintendo Entertainment System game called Super Spy Hunter.
Spy Hunter itself is regarded as one of the "Top 100 Videogames" of all time by the Killer List of Videogames (KLOV).
This game inspired an enhanced remake/sequel for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, Game Boy Advance and Microsoft Windows. The 2001/2002 version of Spy Hunter was developed by Midway Games.
In March/April 2008, Pontiac aired a commercial featuring Spy Hunter with the Pontiac G8 GT taking over as the hero car after the original car is destroyed.
Because of its success, Spy Hunter was ported to several home video game systems and home computers of the early 1980s era. Versions were developed for DOS, the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit family, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Apple //, ColecoVision, Game Boy Advance, and the BBC Micro.
The Nintendo port of this game has extremely buggy collision detection. If the road turns, the car will not crash if it remains pointed straight. It is possible to drive for hours over dirt, rocks, river banks, etc. If the car's tires are slashed while near the top of the screen, the car will often spin off the top of the screen and reappear at the bottom. The car becomes indestructible and can drive anywhere on the screen without being damaged, but the car's weapons no longer function.
The Commodore 64 (C64) and Atari 8-bit versions had a similar apparent bug. Immediately after starting (being dropped off by the Van), one could continue driving on the side of the road without any enemy cars being able to damage the spy car. In the C64 and Atari 8-bit ports one could even drive further out on the black border on the side of the screen. However, in the arcade version, after exploiting this effect for a few tens of seconds, the Enforcer would appear on the opposite side of the road, forcing the player to take evasive action and resume normal play, or be destroyed. Screenshot of the ZX Spectrum port
In 2001, Midway resurrected the game, this time using full 3D graphics. Midway published this consumer version for most major systems: Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo GameCube.
In addition to these consoles, Spy Hunter was included in Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits: Volume 1 for Nintendo 64, and Midway Arcade Treasures; a compilation of arcade games available for the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles, released in 2003.