Friday, 6 April 2007

Stuntman PlayStation 2 video game review ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Stuntman icon

★★★★★ ★★☆☆☆
Reflections take a genius game design (a mission-based driving action game which is NOT violent) and wraps it up in a cruel package which delivers exhilarating rewards but is more likely to make you want to cry and stab your PlayStation 2 to death. With two stunt sequences left in the game and an urge to throw the PS2 controller only just resisted, I had to retire.

Classified OK 11+ by ELSPA. Content OK 11+.

Indicative of the meanness of this game is the fact that the director has the same voice clip for a successful scene and an unsuccessful scene. He simply says "Cut" in a rather unimpressed voice. Surely, for a successful scene it would have been nicer for him to say "That's a wrap. Great work." or something.

Here's another one. The director calls out instructions. However, he doesn't call them all out. For example, in the Bond-alike movie "Live Twice For Tomorrow" you are tasked with "Get close and overtake on the right". You do that and he promptly fails the take for not staying ahead of the helicopter. This is needlessly, sadistically cruel.

Another item on "Live Twice for Tomorrow" tells you to overtake on the right but there's always been a car in the way every time I've attempted it. He then tells you to overtake on the left but the icon turns red (indicating stunt failure) before you even get there.

How about invisible scenery? In the Indiana Jones-alike movie, you bash two trucks out of the way in order to tackle a jump. But there is a piece of invisible scenery on the right of the road so if you head down there your car will crumple up as if you'd just driven into a concrete block. On that movie's Temple Trap level there is a rock which is much wider than it's graphic. Not quite as bad as invisible scenery is scenery which you can get caught on way too easily. The worst culprit here is roadside kerbs. Sometimes you can ride them. Sometimes it will throw your car up in the air removing your control and destroying the take. This isn't different kerbs on different kerbs, this is the same kerb on the same level. A kerb you ride a few times may end the take the next time. Also this is a game where you have to snick through tight spaces, yet the game designers thought it would be fun to put tiny little jutty-out bits of scenery, added detail and flavour presumably. These simply shouldn't exist.

The other vehicles in the game are also unfair. They speed up into you and never avoid an accident with you. Aren't they supposed to be highly trained stunt drivers aswell? It is anachronistic for them to keep causing accidents.

The handling of the car is a sore point. You can never quite get used to it because Reflections have kept a little invention from the "Driver 2" PlayStation game: the automatic handbrake. This means that sometimes when you turn strongly left or right, the handbrake is automatically applied making for a more spectacular cornering style. Unfortunately, it is not consistent and you never know when the auto-handbrake is going to be applied. Because it is always a surprise, your car always ends up facing in completely the wrong direction whenever it is applied. Take the same corner twice and once you'll understeer, once your car will spin around. In "Driver 2" this 'feature' could be disabled, making the game playable (in fact, most negative reviews of that game were clearly conducted by people who left the auto-handbrake enabled). Here there is no choice. You have random cornering ability whether you want it or not.

In fact, this is largely a game where none of the sharp bits were sanded down and, as such, reflect a game that is not finished and where such important gameplay details were simply not considered as important as Atari and Reflections bank balance.

The game also suffers from technical issues with the occasional ugly popping of textures (textures that are blurry and become clearer when you get closer but you shouldn't be able to spot when the game does this) and, much more critically, frame rate fluctuations. These fluctuations normally occur at the absolute worst time. For example, one occurs as you attempt to land a motorbike and sidecar on a very small temple rooftop making an already tricky stunt significantly harder.

Outside of the entirely brilliant premise there are some other things that the game does well. Probably the most notable of these is the trailers for the movies you film the stunt sequences for. Brilliantly, these trailers feature your actual stuntwork, not a pre-rendered or pre-driven sequence. For example, of the "Dukes of Hazzard"-style movie, I missed a chimney during a jump and that miss was in the trailer. Likewise on the Bangkok thriller Blood Oath, a bizarre but successful landing of mine was in the trailer. This is an exceptional detail, great appreciated.

Largely speaking, the replays are good and generally make your driving and stuntwork look better than it felt or did while performing the stunt.

This is such a missed opportunity, it is so close to greatness that it is upsetting. The Stuntman franchise is getting a belated sequel in 2007 but Reflections are not involved at all and, sadly, that may be a good thing.

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