When first announced by Reflections, I’m sure a lot of people have high hopes for the game. Coming from the developers of the hit Driver series on the PlayStation, Stuntman carries forward Reflection’s passion for re-inventing the driving game genre. As opposed to Driver, where you play an undercover cop posing as the wheelman for organized crime syndicate, in Stuntman, you take on the role of a fresh stunt driver looking for work on movie sets.
The concept behind Stuntman is simply brilliant. You start off in a low budget gangsta comedy movie, hilariously titled "Toothless in Wapping", which is not unlike Guy Ritchie’s masterpiece "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and the recent "Snatch". And as you successfully performed the stunts required, you’ll be able to move on to more prestigious movies, which includes a Dukes of Hazard style movie, and also a James Bond rip-off "Live Twice For Tomorrow".
Great graphics aside, gameplay is how we separate the best from the rest of the pack. Fans of the Driver series might be thrilled to know that Stuntman employs virtually the same controls as Reflections’ previous masterpiece. The controls, while being simple, are also very responsive, which is essential to a game that expects perfection and precision on the part of players.
Stuntman offers several play modes for games, the first being the Career Mode. In this mode, you play as a stunt driver fresh out of driving school, looking for your first big break. After sitting through a rather lengthy loading screen, you’re shown a short FMV of your character talking about the stunt is general, which serves absolutely no purpose at all. This is followed by another loading screen, after which you’re already in your vehicle, ready to do the stunts.
With absolutely no prep time whatsoever, the director shouts for you to begin driving, yells instructions on what you should do next. For example, in the first stage, you’re required to accelerate, and then in the space of a few seconds do a 180 degrees turn. The director’s instructions are also reflected on the screens via directional and pictorial icons. If you overshoot the yellow scoring zone, or take too long to turn, the director yells "Cut!," and you’ll have to do the whole scene again, after staring at the loading screen again, of course.
This is where Stuntman falls miserably after an encouraging start. As the movies you participate in have many parts, each more complex and lengthy than the last, you’ll be seeing a lot of that loading screen, as the game’s draconian and exacting nature takes a toll on your patience. Stuntman demand perfection and precision on your part, and it doesn’t do anything to help you at all. The inclusion of a simple map that highlights the stunts in a particular segment would have been sufficient. Shame on you, Reflections!
After all that trouble, you’ve managed to finish the first film. As a reward, you’ll be presented with the movie’s trailer, in which your stunts will be shown interceded with the FMV for the movie. This is quite a unique approach by the developers, but as all the stunts need to be precise, it just doesn’t feel like your stunts, rather what they want your stunt to be.
In addition to the ’personalised’ trailer, you’ll also unlock vehicles and interactive stunt objects (called toys) in the Stunt Arena. This enables you to make your own stunts, making use of the various vehicles, ramps and interactive objects such as boxes, crates and even a school bus. The Stunt Arena offers those with creative mind some fun in the sense that you can perform any kind of stunts that you want, although it’s quite limited in the selection of toys that you can employ.
Another gripe that I have is the aural aspects of the game. The in-game music, while quite fitting to each movie or scene, is not as exciting as it should be. As you’ll keep on doing the same set over and over, the music turns from decent to annoying quite fast. This is made worst by the mediocre voiceovers, and the fact that you’ll hear the same director yelling instructions in all the movies! Definitely needs major improvements if a sequel is planned for this game.
On first impression, the graphics are a quite good. The first movie have you doing stunts in a London, which looks quite decent, if a bit bland at times. The backdrop looks uninspiring, but it doesn’t bother you much. After London, you’ll be performing stunts in various locations, including Bangkok, Swiss Alps, Egypt and exotic Monaco, all of which look quite stunning and breathtaking.
But what really impresses me most is the attention to detail that Reflection has paid to the interactive environment and car damage system. All objects that you interact with are realistically modeled, and they behave as their real-life counterparts. For example, when you blast through the crates, they all fall down just like the real thing, adding to the illusion that you’re really doing the stunts. Similarly, the all vehicles in Stuntman have a nifty damage system, with bits and pieces falling of them as you drive through obstacles. Fantastic.
The vehicles themselves are well varied, and handle great. You start with regular car in the first movie, processing to a rather fun "tuk tuk" in "Blood Oath" to exotic machines in "Live Twice For Tomorrow". All of them handle differently, but they do tend to fishtail out of control every once in a while, much like Reflection’s own Driver.
The game could be fun, if your idea of fun is sitting through long load screens, trying to finish the stunts as the director shouts his instructions as you listen to the horrible music. I imagine that many gamers would be frustrated by the game’s rigid structure and exacting gameplay. The fact that the game only has two play modes seriously undermines its replay value. A ’free roaming’ mode like PlayStation’s The Italian Job would have been a nice addition, since the locations in Stuntman all look quite impressive.
The only plus side to the game is its slick presentation, and the amount of excellent DVD extras features crammed into the disc. Here you can find some entertaining features, ranging from the ’Making of Stuntman’ video, interview with leading Hollywood stuntman Vic Armstrong and a teaser for the upcoming Driver 3.
Stuntman is the prime example of the great concept let down by poor execution. Its start-stop gameplay, long load times and lack of replay value means that only a select group of gamers would really enjoy this game. If you have the patience and determination, and willing to overlook the game’s core flaws, then I might suggest that you rent it first before buying. Otherwise, stay clear of this disappointingly average title.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com