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Stuntman

How was 1999 for you? Me, I had a nightmare. I was ‘between relationships’; I was crashing on a mate’s floor and was just starting a new job, which was really hard. I felt like there was nothing on the horizon; my Playstation was old, my PC was too old to play any decent games and, in fact, the only thing that got me through the first half of that year was the new star wars film. No, let me rephrase that, the anticipation of the new star wars film got me through the first half of that year, because lets face it, apart from Obi-Wan whipping Darth Maul’s ass the whole thing was pretty poor. Thank God ‘The Matrix’ came out around the same time. Anyhow, the world of all things bright and Sony wasn’t really doing much either until an issue of the official PlayStation magazine came with a demo of Driver.

Oh my goodness.

The level itself wasn’t one of the best, chase the bad guy or something, and it was really hard. It started (3…2…1…Go!), and the other car sped off, you gave chase. He took a hard right, so did you. He dodged the on coming traffic, you swerved, hit a lamp post/other car/wall (delete as applicable) and you had to start again, or rather pass your pad to the next sucker waiting in line, after a measly 6 or 7 seconds.

But that was Driver, and the funny thing was even though it was stupidly hard, we played and played and played that demo for 5 months until the final game came out. I’d say we played that demo more than all the other
games we had, trying different routes and stuff, beating each others times as we did it. Simply put, we loved it; we couldn’t get enough Driver. Driver ruled.

Driver wasn’t perfect though, far from it. The graphics were good, but no Gran Turismo, and the handling was questionable to put it mildly. Now, I’ve never driven a muscle car, so I can’t say whether they handle in an over the top spin out kind of way or not, but that’s exactly how they handled in Driver. Hold down left or right too long and the backend spins out. Squeeze the hand break more than just a tap and the backend spins out. Attempt a jump without it being perfectly lined up in advance and the landing will be a messy affair, usually with the backend spinning out. In fact all you have to do is sneeze and the backend spins out.

In the game’s defense, however, the replays were great. Because the cars were so hard to handle, when you finally nailed a level you’d already played it a dozen or so times before, and that level of familiarity gave the illusion that you were a brilliant driver sneaking his way through the level for the first time. Of course, the opposite was true, you usually knew a level off by heart before you could guide whatever beast of a car you’ve been given through to the end, but it still looked great when you finally did it, thanks to the dodgy handling. Let’s face it, who wants to see someone take a corner smoothly when you an see them rip round the corner, battling to control a big power slide? Not me, so maybe they did get it right after all.

But why is this all relevant?

Well, Stuntman is from Reflections Interactive, the same team that brought us the earlier Destruction Derby games and Driver (and Driver 2, but we won’t talk about that because it wasn’t quite as good). The idea of the game is great, you play a stuntman who has to perform a serious of car stunts, perfectly timed to the director’s prompts, to complete the chase scenes for several films. Predictably each level is a car chase, and after several levels the film is completed and you go on to the next one, visiting a stunt arena to show of some tricks to a hungry crowd of stunt fans between flicks.

The films themselves are cheeky copies of famous films. Firstly there’s ‘Toothless in Wapping’ (Lock, Stock and Snatch), which involves you driving around London in a fake Ford Capri (no way!) and later an old Rover police car. The second, ‘A Whoopin’ an’ a Hollering’, could only be The Dukes of Hazzard. Yes, you actually get to drive something that looks a lot like the General Lee. I bet you’ll be racking your brains when you get onto this movie, trying to remember the tune the horn played. Whatever you do, though, under no circumstances should you be tempted to program it into your mobile as a ring tone or your friends will drop like flies. ‘Blood Oath’, a Hong Kong actioner, involves lots of fast cars that look like Mitsubishis, and you can almost see Jackie Chan behind the wheel, although driving around motorways and jumping off them into office blocks is a far cry from the slippery Louisiana swamps of the previous movie. Then its off to somewhere with lots of snow for a forgettable couple of levels on skimobiles in ‘Conspiracy – Suspect Everyone’; a Patriot Games kind of thing which is pretty weak, actually. After that there’s a nice little Indiana Jones homage called ‘Scarab of The Lost Secrets’ (they even ripped off that famous Indy score and whipped up something that sounds so similar) and finally ‘Live Twice for Tomorrow’, no prizes for guessing that’s a Bond movie knock off.

All in all you’ve got around 30 odd levels, which sounds like a lot, except that when you actually nail a level it doesn’t take you more than a minute or two to complete. This means you’ve got perhaps an hour’s worth of game play if you did every level first time.

But that is never going to happen, you’re going to have to play each level over and over and over again, and there’s a chance your pad might not survive from you slamming it into the floor in frustration.

Let’s take the first level from ‘A Whoopin’ an’ a Hollering’. This is my favorite level and also one of the hardest in the whole game, even
though it’s only about four of five levels in. The premise is The Dukes of Hazzard, like I said before, so you have to drive a yellow sports car across country, avoid the obstacles and then hit the nitros at the end to pull of the big finale jump. You glean all this from the intro movie, which is surprisingly useful for this level and you actually see the falling chimney stacks you have to drive under; very exciting. Usually though, the intro movies are poor and show empty sets with not much going on, giving you know idea as to what you’re supposed to do. Why they wasted this opportunity to let the player into each level is beyond me, money and time I guess, but it was an opportunity wasted. Anyway, the director yells action and you hit the gas. The first section is a slow left into a sharp right smashing through the fence. Behind the fence is a tractor just plonked there, and a couple of trees right in the way, so you inevitably hit one of them. As you try to drive off from your little accident the director yells ‘Cut!’ and it’s back to the start. So, left turn, fence (oh, made it!) big hill and jump. ‘Hit the chimney!’ screams the director, so you panic and smash into the house, or you skim the house and hit a tree, or whatever, but it’s back to the start. So, left, right through fence, avoid tractor, up big hill, hit the chimney, land it (yes!), hard right and burn up this wide country lane, although you can see it’s a dead end at a train track. This is where the director calls, ‘Jump through trains!’ and you spot a ramp and a gap in carriages between the two trains, which you can make. At least you could if you hadn’t just a split second ago had too deal with hitting a chimney, so you miss time it, get smashed up and it’s back to the drawing board.

By now the clipper board guy’s given up calling out the scene number, you’ve done so many, and just calls, ‘…And rolling!’ A bit rude, if you ask me. Anyhow, you get the picture by now, so considering each little new thing will probably throw you out, it goes like this. Left, right through the fence, up the hill, hit the chimney and land it, hard right. Accelerate to make the gap between the trains, land it missing the cop car, right through burning shed, accelerate right through the gap in the buildings and jump through another train. Land it with a hard right, missing the tree that’s right there in the way and speed back towards the track. Overtake the train with a hard right at the crossing and pull a hard right. Squeeze between the cars, get close to the explosion, left through the garage, right through the gap. Drive under both falling chimneys (very hard, very funny if you screw it up) swerve right, left, and through the billboard. Finally, back onto the road, weave through the traffic to the broken bridge, hit the nitros and hold on to your lunch. After that there’s nothing else to do except sit back and watch the replay, maybe with a cigarette if you’ve got them.

The first time I did this level it seemed to take forever. I’d regularly miss one of the train jumps, or I’d crash into the tree after jumping the second, and I’d always, always get crushed under the second falling chimney stack. In fact it probably took around 30 attempts, usually pushing it closer to completion until I finally nailed it. When I’d done it, I realised I was shaking with the kind of arcade rush I hadn’t had for years. Since I first played Driver, actually.

And believe me you can almost smell Driver in ever scene, which is good
and bad, so let’s get the bad out of the way. The game engine feels exactly the same; just as easy to flick the back end out, just as easy
to over compensate, just as easy to hit a lamp post/other car/wall (delete as applicable) as it was before, but with better graphics. Once again, the graphics are good but it’s no Gran Turismo 3, they’re what I’d call functional. The frame rate too is a questionable 30 frames-per- second, but this can annoyingly dips in the heat of the action, just like Driver used too. All bad, just like all the bad bits in Driver.

But were you one of those people that loved Driver and could easily ignore those misgivings? I was, and if you are too you’ll love this game. Did you love the ropey handling in Driver? I did, and if you did too then you’ll love how the cars do in this; you can swing out corners, skid forever, and no two attempts at a level go the same way. The tension mounts up in every scene, you slowly but sure will get through every stunt (although you won’t believe it until you do on some of them) and you will grin through every replay. Between films the stunt arena goes can be great; formation driving, monster truck car crushes, what have you, then it’s on to the next movie. In actual fact it’s a shame when it all finishes, which it inevitably must.

There are extras, a few driving games and that, but I doubt if you’ll actually play them much when you finish the game, you’ll just be yearning for Driver 3, trust me. There’s a little movie for Driver 3 in the extras, which is exciting but it doesn’t have any vehicles, only backdrops, although if they can build cities with this game engine, Driver 3 could really be something special.

So let’s round this up. Stuntman is a great, original driving game which will have you hooked for a good couple of weeks. It’ll deliver thrills and spills, and more than a little frustration, and it’ll all come to the end too quickly. Still, it should give you a really good ride, and I think you’ll feel like you had your moneys worth. Not a triple ‘A’ title like GTA3 perhaps, but still very good all the same.

It’s just nice, sometimes, to play something a little different.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2002.

Gentle persuasion

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