We caught up with them at a recent press event in deepest darkest Windsor to find out more about what could be one of the more creative launch titles for the Playstation 2 when it arrives in Europe...
Head For The Hills!
While Midnight Club is set in an almost realistic rendition of New York and London, Smuggler's Run takes the cars out into the countryside for some off-road racing.
Mixing traditional monster truck action with Grand Theft Auto style criminal activities, Smuggler's Run has you racing over hill and over dale to pick up contraband goods and drop them off at their destination, all the while facing the unwanted attentions of police and rival gangs.
To begin with you will have to take them on single-handed, trying to out-run or out-think them. There's something strangely satisfying about leaping over the crest of a hill, swerving to avoid a rock or tree, and then watching as the police car behind you drives straight into it, pieces of bodywork and doors flying in all directions.
But as you progress through the game, some of the thirty missions will allow you to "roll with the homies", selecting sidekicks to assist you. Exactly what they do will depend on which vehicle you tell them to drive - one in a heavy truck will take on an interference role, blocking off or demolishing any pursuing vehicles, while one in a buggy might try to grab the loot and deliver it for you.
And while the balance was somewhat askew in the beta version we played, with the police cars almost impervious to damage, the developers assured us that "if you have the balls" you will be able to take on the cops head to head...
Mission : Improbable
To make things more interesting, the contraband which you are carrying is fragile. The more often you collide with the scenery, the police, other road traffic and even stray animals, the less valuable it will become.
It's a bit of a trade-off really. Race along the roads and you will give your cargo a smooth ride, but the police will find you more easily, and can set up makeshift roadblocks to try to stop you. On the other hand, if you head off into the countryside you will avoid some of the police, but it will probably take longer to reach your destination, and even if you get there before your time runs out, your reward will be less because of the damage caused by your little off-road excursion.
On the bright side, as with Midnight Club the focus is very much on fast-paced wheel-to-wheel action rather than ultra-realistic physics. Driving off-road is far easier than you might expect, and although different terrain has noticeable effects on your vehicle's handling, it doesn't make driving across the wilderness a chore.
Every Man For Himself
While the game is focused on the linear single player "mission mode", the fun doesn't stop there. Melee mode allows you to take on the computer in a more free-form deathmatch style environment, as well as letting two players work together or battle it out for some split-screen mayhem.
The most basic form is a straightforward race, with up to eight cars making their way through a series of checkpoints as quickly as they can. Crooks And Smugglers, on the other hand, is more of a capture the flag style game, with the two teams racing to grab a piece of loot and take it back to their hide-out to score.
The most chaotic and enjoyable melee mode option though is "Loot Grab", a kind of high octane cross-country "tag". I had to be physically removed from the premises to stop me playing this, only giving up when the staff came to disconnect the Playstation 2 that the game was being demonstrated on at the end of the day.
A piece of contraband appears in the map, and everybody races towards it, pedal to the metal. Whoever gets there first then has to try and get it to the drop-off point in one piece, all the time pursued by the rest of the cars. If one of them manages to collide with the carrier they will steal the loot, a little arrow appearing over whoever is currently holding it.
With several cars all tearing through the scenery as they chase after the same contraband, and other vehicles, pedestrians and animals getting in the way as you battle it out, the game often descends into anarchy and confusion. It's a simple enough idea, but great fun in practice, even with this early preview build.
There's Gold In Them Thar Hills
One of Smuggler's Run other stand out features is its graphics, which are (in a word) stunning. The game has three landscapes to play on, and each of them is vast, open, and incredibly detailed, showing just how impressive the Playstation 2's capabilities are.
The forest level comes complete with clumps of trees and bushes, little towns linked by roads and lines of telegraph poles, railway tracks, and everything from gently rolling hills to towering mountains. The final winter level is essentially the same, but covered in snow, and the effect as the cars slide through the winter wonderland is a pleasure to behold.
Between these two comes the desert level, dominated by massive mesas, twisty canyons and sheer sandstone cliffs that wouldn't look out of place in a John Ford western. Pueblo villages dot the landscape, along with rusted oil pumps, wind turbines, and Mexican border posts.
The sheer attention to detail is impressive. Everything is lovingly modelled, the landscapes are enormous and varied, and you will even find deer running around in the forests. The cars themselves are just as carefully crafted, from the intricate bodywork to the independent four-wheel suspension that bounces your buggy around as you drive it along a railway line.
Amongst a horde of Tekken style fighting games and Gran Tourismo style racing games, Smuggler's Run stands out as a simple but innovative and downright fun title - exactly the kind of thing the Playstation 2 is going to need for its European launch later this year. Release Date - November 2000