To me, Smuggler’s Run was probably my first dip into an open world environment. The fact that I was driving a vehicle and could leave the road at any point for a zip through the desert, going left or right as I pleased, felt revolutionary at the time. In fact, this type of driving was encouraged, especially when the U.S. border patrol began chasing after you. I wasn’t locked into a course with walls and barriers or even invisible walls, forced to follow the path that the developer wanted me to follow, doing the same thing as anyone else playing the game was doing. I was a smuggler on the run, running how I saw fit.
Like I just said, in Smuggler’s Run, you play a smuggler who needs to prove himself in this underground world and has a number of different vehicles at his disposal to do so, including dune buggies, rally cars, and military vehicles. These vehicles are used to smuggle assorted cargo through three different large, open levels. It’s a fairly weak plot to begin with, and your mission objectives are spelled out for you via some quick narrative before each mission. The missions range from basic smuggling operations that involve moving the contraband from point A to point B, to customized versions of a checkpoint race and the loot grab modes, to completely original objectives like destroying a series of radar towers.
Smuggler’s Run had a couple of different modes to explore, and I’ll cover ’em briefly here because, honestly, I really only played one mode over and over again before eventually using this game and some others as a trade-in offer for…well, I have no idea what I got for them, but that’s beside the point. Smuggler’s Mission mode is basically the story campaign I described in the previous paragraph, seeing you go through three consecutive levels (forest, desert, and snow) with about ten missions per level. Turf War mode had three different mini-games, two of which involved smuggling cargo while fighting against a rival gang; the final mini-game involved a race through a popular spot in a level. Lastly, Joyriding mode allowed you to freely roam to and fro in any level without having to deal with the U.S. border patrol or CIA, and it was a great way to get to know the ins and outs of any level before taking it on via the story missions.
If I recall correctly, your vehicle will take damage not only from collisions with other vehicles and objects, but also from bouncing all over the particularly rough terrain. When your damage meter runs out, your engine stalls, and if a police vehicle touches you while you’re stalled, you’ll be placed under arrest. If no cops are around, you can restart your engine and continue on your merry way…though chances of that were seriously unlikely. The AI-controlled police were absolutely relentless, chasing you everywhere you go, which is why I mostly spent my free time in the Joyriding mode, free from such hassles.
For its time, Smuggler’s Run looked fantastic. The game’s terrain is large and detailed, and pop-up and fog were nowhere to be found…though that giant green arrow pointing you to your mission objective was then and is now beyond fugly. Each of the three maps are massive, with the missions taking place in smaller sections, but you aren’t limited in where you can roam. There’s also quite amount of small details everywhere, such as tire marks, active wildlife, train tracks, and actual hiking trails, which are just things you expect nowadays, but really helped add a bit of realism to the game on the PlayStation 2.
Evidently, they made a sequel with Smuggler’s Run 2, though I never played it. The only interesting factoid I know about it is that the game was originally supposed to take place in Afghanistan, but following the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, as well as the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, the developers changed the Afghanistan levels to the deserts of Georgia/Russia instead. Rockstar also later released downloadable content for Grand Theft Auto Online named Smuggler’s Run, which added a customizable hangar and additional vehicles to play around with. At least they didn’t completely forget about this IP.
GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.