I've always been a big fan of racing games, even in the early days of the arcades and Outrun, Chase HQ etc. So when the 3DO games console came out, I will admit I bought mine for Wing Commander and The Need for Speed. But there's something that I always wanted out of a car game, high speed and ludicrous jumps - that's something that brings me onto my real point of this ramble.
Stuntmen, they're the true heroes of the film and TV industry who make the actors look good (unless the actors of course want to do their own stunts). So I've been watching the latest offering from the makers of Driver with eager eyes. I'm talking of course of the game - Stuntman. I mean in Driver and Driver 2 I spent hours looking for places to make the most nuts leaps and skids I could find, wishing that there really were a game where it was all about ridiculous heights, crashes and rolls.
Then they come along and drop Stuntman into my lap, I'd heard about it from the usual sources and I will admit I was a bit sceptical. But from the moment that I started to play around with the controls it was easily a more refined version of the Driver 2 engine using the PS2's graphics to soup things up. But the main lure for me is the singleplayer (since the game's not multiplayer at all) film career. Where you step into the shoes of the Stuntman Vic and try to make a set of the best films possible by doing all the stunts and moves you're asked to.
The game's missions (films) are broken up into scenes or segments where you have a set number of objectives to do in either a given time limit (hitting the next stunt in the set, or passing the next gap gives you a little more time) and performing a final task that can be anything from leaping a gap or rolling the car with a piston triggered by your action button. You start off as a low ranked Stuntman working on a low-budget gangster flick in England, you've got to show them you're good enough to work in the high-budget Hollywood blockbusters that make the world hold its collective breath.
A scene of Stuntman starts with a quick FMV usually of the character explaining the tricks that he's going to have to do. Or a bit about the stunt itself and how it might be done, what the technicians have done to the vehicle (Of particular interest if you've got an interest at all in the life of a Stuntman) Then the game loads, level loads are not too bad and you're soon waiting for the count to begin the scene. The director gives out orders to you as you're driving and on screen icons pop up to show you the next stunt/gap/direction you've got to take. Get it right and you're rewarded by the addition of more time when you make a gate and the fact that it's going to look damn fine when you see the replay.
Yeah, let's talk about the replays shall we? They are in one word, perfectly set up - because it's a set scene they've been able to take time to place the cameras in the level to give you the best 'film like' replay I've seen yet in a game involving cars. You can't really call Stuntman a racing game - it's an action packed stunt game really. But the real treat comes when you finally finish a movie. You're rewarded with a trailer for the film and spliced into the CGI footage are various replays of your driving in the game to make you feel as though you've actually accomplished something. Which was a touch that everyone that's played it - really liked.
Stuntman is not an easy game and you'll need to spend some time playing it to get a feel for the controls, if you're used to Driver and Driver 2 it won't take you too long to get the hang of the vehicles. Yes I said vehicles, you can expect to drive a plethora of cool cars and various other things in Stuntman including Snow Mobiles and they all have different handling designs and various tolerances to damage (What should we expect from the same pioneers who brought us the game Destruction Derby). The damage system is great, affecting the handling of the vehicle or in some cases (The Tuk Tuk for instance) trashing it outright and spectacularly too.
If you can hit all of your stunts during a scene you'll be rewarded with more money, more fame, a better rep and unlocked vehicles/parts for the additional Stunt Arena mode where you design your own stunts and then amaze/delight your friends by being the first to smash four cars into each other at high speed and fly over the top of another ramp. It's a nice little diversion that you can use to take a break if you get stuck on a scene or just need to practise those driving skills. And as in previous Reflection's games - Replays can be saved to your memory card if you so desire.
Between films you're also asked to perform a set-piece stunt for the edification of the roaring crowd in the Stunt Arena. These stunts are based on the classics of the industry - flaming loops, car crushes and various other wonderful pieces of mayhem. They also serve to give you a break from the regular gameplay. A nice touch indeed.
The graphics to the game are what you would expect from Reflections next game, much smoother and better than their previous titles, but that's not hard considering this is the PS2 we're talking about and not the PS1. The vehicles are all well detailed and crunch/crumple with the right feel. They leave skid marks on the ground and sparks fly from the metal as they collide with each other, surfaces and the tarmac. Textures are suitably crisp and the levels themselves are well detailed and packed with nice little touches. Expect to see a lot of it, explode, deform and come crashing down as you run through the scripted scene for the film - and it works really well. Explosions on the action movies and visceral enough to almost feel real and get too close they'll knock you a little of course - and in a game like this, on course means everything. The downside is sometimes I've noticed the game will slow down for a few seconds, and this can be forgiven but really shouldn't happen at all - rather than a problem with the PS2 I fear it's a problem with the game's engine itself, and let's hope they iron things out for Driver 3.
Sound in Stuntman is great, with some nice chase tracks and some pumping music performed by a couple of bands. The roar of the engines and the squeal of tires echoes to the skidding of the car on the gravel or dirt roads as you hare round the next corner. The satisfying crunch of metal as the car impacts the side of a building or even goes roaring over an impossible gap on turbo is particularly heart stopping for a moment. The voice work is great and lends itself to the feel of being the guy behind the wheel (Although you only really hear it in FMV's, CGI Trailers and Pre game talks). The director's voice is clear and crisp so you always know what you're doing.
Stuntman will take a little time for you to get into, but the whole concept is blindingly good fun and with the amount of vehicles and parts to unlock it should keep you coming back for more. It's a game about skill, timing and spatial awareness, knowing your machine and what you can do with it. It's a game about a profession that I very much admire. So to Vic Armstrong and all the other Stuntmen out there - I salute you as you continue to entertain us.