Hope you have good insurance.
Spend five minutes channel surfing during prime time these days and you're bound to come across some wacky new show featuring people doing ridiculously dangerous things for money. But long before the days of Fear Factor, good old-fashioned stuntmen performed death-defying acts purely for our entertainment.
It was only a matter of time until someone figured this would be a good game idea, and lucky for us, that someone is Reflections Studios, the folks behind Driver, everyone's favorite mission-based driving game. And in many ways, Stuntman gleams with Driver-like goodness. However, Driver was never as strict on the player as Stuntman. Very little freedom and long load times are the worst of it.
But the story is pretty loose as well. You're a stuntman in low-budget films struggling to make it to the big-time. Your job is to make the director happy by performing pre-planned stunt driving maneuvers. Riveting, isn't it?
The story may be a lemon, but the premise is oh so sweet. Playing the digital equivalent of Jackie Chan behind the wheel is great fun. You begin as a small time stuntman working for pennies, doing relatively simple stunts for movies no one is going to see. The director shouts "Action!" and away you go, swerving through sets, pulling 180s and jumping over everything - all on the fly at the director's behest.
Directions are called out as you progress through the stunt. "Pass on the right and overtake!" "Squeeze past bus!" "Crash through the office building!" "Crash through construction work and aim for the moving train!" There are colored icons and other indicators signaling the type of maneuver coming up, but they're small and you can't make them out until you're right up on them.
The main Career mode lets you work on six movies at six different locations. Each movie has a series of stunts that must be completed before you can proceed to the next film. As you progress, you will unlock other vehicles and stunt props that can be used in the game's Custom Stunt Builder.
When a film is completed, you are shown a trailer for the movie with your stunts spliced in as part of the action. This is easily one of the game's more interesting and innovative elements, as watching your handiwork can be quite rewarding.
And you better be good, because all of the director's instructions must be followed to the letter or it will effect how many zeros you see on your paycheck and, in turn, whether or not you are able to proceed. Time of completion and how much damage you cause to the vehicle also factor into your wallet and your progression. If you're too slow or too careless, it's take two...or three...or four hundred.
But you'll have plenty of time to mull over your plan of action due to the long load times. The initial loading is brutally long, and then if you botch one of the director's instructions and have to start over, you're treated to another load screen, albeit not quite as long as the first.
Plus, you're going see that load screen a lot because you have no idea which way to go or what the stunt entails. There's no stunt flyby or prep screen. I'm sure even Lee Majors got a few peeks at the storyboards before they threw his dumpy butt in whatever movie we were suppose to believe he was a stuntman for. Here it's all trial and error, which means a lot of load screen gazing. Zzzzz!
This all leads to a potentially frustrating game. Doing the same stunt over and over again can get repetitive and aggravating, though nailing it feels great. It's not a great game for impatient gamers.
The game looks and feels essentially like Driver with a better framerate. While the intricate and incredibly precise damage modeling amazes, the game honestly doesn't look that much better than Driver on the PSX. Given, there's more on screen, the framerate is solid with no hiccups, the areas are larger and more detailed and debris is scattered randomly. But the graphics are still very grainy, human characters are made up of about 8 polygons and there are jagged edges all over the place.
You will get the chance operate a range of of vehicles. Drive wily muscle cars, twitchy high performance imports, SUVs, a snowmobile and more. Each handles differently and complements the stunts accordingly. This is helped by the physics, which are tweaked to perfection with believeable suspension, fishtailing and powerslides.
The most notable of my Stuntman grievances is also one of its greatest appeals. Stuntman is very specialized for its target audience...the stunt fan. Those looking for a good "racing" game need to keep looking. Stuntman is purely about skilled, balletic driving. The redundancy of trying the same stunt over and over again is an exercise in tedium, yet the visual pay off is huge.
Filling your "Filmography" with saved replays and movie trailers is as much fun as driving through the chaotic stunts (only after you know where you're going). Plus, you get to build your own stunts with the Stunt Builder - which is fun and definitely extends the life of the game, yet often time consuming. I wish it included a random stunt generator.
Stuntman is all about brief moments of frantic fun, and the lack of a simple "Take-a-drive" mode will likely leave some players hanging a bit. Trading Driver's freedom for much more controlled chaos, the game is teeming with scream-out-loud thrills, but for $50 it doesn't seem like it's doing quite enough.