Watch any summer blockbuster and you're bound to see a sports car flying off a bridge, a mad street chase or some other variant of the unbelievable. There have been many games that offer a similar experience, but nothing that puts the spectator in the seat as the actual stunt driver. It should come as no surprise, then, that developer Reflections Interactive would create Stuntman. Best known for creating Driver and its physics-impressive predecessor Destruction Derby, Stuntman puts gamers in the role of a veteran Hollywood stunt driver. What makes Stuntman particularly challenging is that the stunts for one entire scene need to be pulled off in one take. That's right, one take.
Each movie in Stuntman typically consists of five scenes that feature many stunts. They range from the basic (avoiding objects and oncoming traffic) to the more demanding (hitting a corkscrew ramp at just the right speed to land on all four wheels or driving at breakneck speed head-on with a freight train, turning at the last second). With constant guidance from a director, the player executes stunts for a number of films.
The more demanding feats I speak of can be pretty damn exciting on replay, but are a frustrating tasks at first and well into the fifth retry. More often than not I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants—only I thought I was actually going to lose my pants. Within five seconds of starting a scene I hit the gas and was told what to do at every turn. In Stuntman, the director is essential in getting you from one stunt to the next, yelling things like "hit the crates" and "turn right" or "jump over the gap", usually within seconds of the event.
If I'm supposed to be a veteran stunt driver, wouldn't there be some sort of training or practice so that I wouldn't feel so unprepared? I simply had no idea of what was going on and hardly felt like a "professional." True, practice makes perfect, but retrying means reloading, and this is one of the game's biggest flaws. Even the shortest loading time (at a blazing fifteen seconds) had me asking myself, do I really want to try this again? Oh, I persisted, and amazingly finished the game many hours and curse words later.
My expectations of what Stuntman were different from what I experienced; I hoped for some non-linearity. Perhaps the player could choose from several stunt paths, allowing him/her to approach things differently. What I experienced instead was linear and restrictive, making the entire game feel instructional rather than entertaining.
The few things that prevent Stuntman from hitting an even lower mark are its graphics and level design. Collisions with objects, insane car jumps and dirt & debris look gorgeous. The variety of scenery moreover kept things far from boring. The films featured offer challenges in the city, the U.S. southern countryside (think Dukes Of Hazzard) and more international landscapes including urban areas of France and Thailand.
Replays made stunts I performed seem even more impressive. It's just a pity that the best ones weren't showcased properly. Completing all the stunts for one film yields a special trailer. Again, the load time is painful at almost a full minute: pre-rendered CG pushes the narrative with various, real-time stunts that the player pulled off previously thrown into the edit.
Its a nice idea—put the player in the movie. But movies are a passive experience. I felt like my time was wasted—the levels themselves were so frustrating that this delayed reward added injury to insult. The final trailers were unflattering; some of the crazier stunts I expected to see inserted in the trailers didn't make it in. I felt, in a word, cheated. Like with any bad movie, I would watch the completed trailer and say, I want my time back!
Even Stuntman's bonus games and "DVD Extras" are unflattering. The stunt construction mode is fun if you can finish the game first—only a handful of ramps and vehicles are offered at the very start, with others available only after the player has passed certain scenes. The extras section is also uninteresting. While full of snazzy video effects and techno music, the interview is trite. Worse, the game trailers (including a horrid CG teaser for Driver 3) are boring as well, tacked onto the disc in hopes of adding value.
The concept behind Stuntman has a lot of potential, but is marred by gameplay that's far too claustrophobic. If the game were less suffocating, then perhaps I would give it a chance. You'll just get too frustrated with this game waiting (read: reloading) at your next chance to drive through a frustrating trial. Save your time and money on something that will treat you like a gamer and not a test dummy.
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