“Lights, cameras, cue the exploding monkeys, and… action!”
For all the dramatic action, so carefully scripted and staged in Stuntman: Ignition, the game still uses the implausible concept that you are a professional stunt driver who is completely uninterested in learning the stunts ahead of time.
Like videogame WWII veterans who instantly heal with health packs, or would-be carjackers who fool the police with a Pay-and-Spray, Stuntman isn’t a realistic experience, despite Hollywood’s real-world influence and THQ’s attempts to make the visuals life-like.
For example, the Taurus awards, the annual recognition of stunt work in Hollywood, are all over this game, with special three-part stunts that unlock Taurus nominations. But no real Stuntman gets their directions at the moment they’re supposed to be driving, and no director would waste millions setting up elaborate, one to two minute obstacle courses when each stunt should get its own shot. The whole thing is kind of silly on its face.
However unrelated to real stunt work, Stuntman: Ignition still has a level of polish that is usually reserved for blockbuster movies. Forgetting the plot or script for a minute, and focusing purely on the visuals, this Stuntman burns hot like a tanker truck blowing up in slow motion. There is nothing lacking in the graphical detail of the environments, vehicles, and explosions that rock Stuntman: Ignition. In fact, the amount of stuff flying at you in every scene can be absolutely overwhelming if you’re the one holding the controller.
Stuntman controls similarly to any other racing game– your triggers are the brake and gas, and you have a hand brake and an “action button” for select stunts. However, instead of lengthy races, you have brief scenes, generally less than two minutes, where you must pack in as much swerving, drifting, and jumping as possible. Hit your marks and you are rewarded with a score of one to five stars, with five stars only being possible if all the tricks are linked together without delay.
This brings us to the true challenge of Stuntman, which is both its best and worst feature–the difficulty of linking together an entire scene for five stars. This accomplishment is only for the most exact driving perfectionists, and while much of the rest of Stuntman is appealing to non-gamers, there is high-end content here that only the most dedicated drivers will unlock. Technically the game makes this easier with no-load resets and a five star replay video that you can watch when you get four stars, but it’s still maddeningly hard to beat any scene with five stars. If you encounter a gamer on Xbox Live with the five star accomplishments notched in their gamertag, you should nod with respect at their many hours of sacrifice.
Even though the game is very challenging at its hardest, and completely accessible at its easiest (an easy mode lets you skip through scenes while making up to seven mistakes), Stuntman is just as good when you’re not actually playing. The humorous cutscenes, which spoof various directors, and the trailers that are your reward for wrapping a movie, are very entertaining. Sometimes after the intensity of a big scene, it’s nice to just sit back and watch the replay.
Stuntman is a tough game with good graphics, but its limited vision ultimately hurts it. Some wish-list items for the next Stuntman game include a planning stage for stunts, where you could get a Rainbow Six-like overview of every drift and ramp. Also, Stuntman could exist in an open world where you could create your own runs. And finally, it’d be nice to see more of the different kinds of professional stunt work, like being lit on fire, or falling from great heights, in the next Stuntman game.
But enough wishful thinking. The single player career mode is slightly limited, even though the six films you help create are quite interesting and unique. What fares better are Stuntman’s online and bonus modes. In MultiClash, you can engage in some backlot battles, and steal your opponent’s stunt strings by ramming into them. It’s a perfect compliment to the single player mode, where the skills you learn become useful in a competitive setting. The Stunt Constructor mode is pretty limited, but the ability to unlock new items throughout career mode adds a lot to Stuntman’s replayability.
It’s the kind of project Hollywood can really get behind–a game that recognizes professional stuntmen and provides focused driving action at the same time. If movie visuals are the new standard to which we will hold videogames, then bring on the sequels! However, gamers want more freedom in their games, so we can only give a moderate thumbs up to a game that lasts for 10-15 hours and plays the same way for everyone from opening title to end credits.