On paper a stunt driving simulator sounds like a perfect idea; action movies are full of over-the-top special effects and plenty of daredevil action. But so far the idea of a stuntman video game just hasn't gelled; instead we get repetitive "racing" games that are far too linear for their own good. Stuntman Ignition, the sequel to the 2002 PlayStation 2 game, attempts to right these wrongs by offering next-gen graphics, plenty of explosions, online multiplayer and much, much more. I had an opportunity to experience Stuntman Ignition for the first time thanks to THQ's Gamers' Day event that took place in San Francisco last week, and I have come away mostly impressed with what they have been able to pull off.
When it comes to developing a sequel it's always important that you build on what originally worked and fix what was broken. In the case of Stuntman Ignition, Paradigm Entertainment had a number of problems they were going to need to address in order not to repeat the mistakes made by previous developer Reflections. For the most part Stuntman Ignition appears to have addressed most of our biggest concerns, but it's still up in the air whether or not the idea of a stuntman simulator is as solid as it sounds.
Anybody that played the original Stuntman will no doubt know that it is a frustrating game. In fact, frustrating may not be a strong enough word for what Reflections put game players through. With its harsh difficulty and unfair tasks, Stuntman caused many a gamer to throw their control in disgust. This is something that publisher THQ seem to be taking into account, and for the most part it looks like they are making a concerted effort to not only make this Stuntman sequel more accessible, but actually make it fun to play.
Stuntman Ignition still follows the same formula as the original, only this time with more of an emphasis on fun and fairness. After you've chosen your location and vehicle you're off to do whatever the director instructs. If you've seen an action movie in the past thirty years you will no doubt recognize many of the tasks that are asked of you. You will be ramming into other vehicles causing multiple car pile-ups, driving through boxes, making huge jumps through burning buildings, and escaping other crazy drivers. What really sets Stuntman apart from the traditional racing games is that the backgrounds are constantly changing and require you to keep on your toes.
At THQ's recent event they showed off two different levels, one set in San Francisco and another set in the Pacific Northwest. The level set in the Pacific Northwest is called "Aftershock" and looks to be a direct parody of Dante's Peak, the volcano movie starring Pierce Brosnan (however, unlike Dante's Peak you cannot drive through the hot, hot lava). The San Francisco level, in contrast, has more of a Bullit theme. This movie is called "Overdrive" and features an exciting police chance through the streets. In this movie you will be narrowly missing the trolleys, jumping over water and causing all kinds of destruction. Despite both levels being located on the West Coast, they are worlds apart when it comes to tasks and obstacles. Stuntman Ignition will also offer a number of other movies that we have not been able to play through yet, in total the game will be split into six different movies each with at least six levels to complete.
These levels do a good job of showing off what the developers have learned since the original Stuntman. This time around the time limits are not a game-ending obstacle; instead they are there to reward your quick thinking (and memorization of the level). And don't worry too much about messing up a few times, because your game won't end until you've missed five different directions, a major improvement over the original game's grueling difficulty. Fans of the original game will also notice that the director's dialog has been improved; this time around the director will tell you what he wants several seconds in advance, which was one of the biggest complaints regarding the original Stuntman.
Perhaps the single most important improvement comes in the way of load times; there aren't any. While I'm sure it takes a few seconds to load the level into the memory, once you've accessed the level you won't have to deal with load times in any shape. This means that when you fail the mission (and you will fail the mission at least once or twice before doing it right) you won't have to deal with lengthy load times. This was one of the biggest problems associated with the original game; it was bad enough that the game often felt like it didn't want you to win, but couple that with load times that went into the minutes and you had one of the most frustrating games of all time. Thankfully this problem has been remedied.
One new feature comes in the way of the scoring system, a Crazy Taxi-like combo system that rewards you for driving especially crazy and making it through the various checkmarks as quickly as possible. As you race through the level you will receive a multiplier, and assuming you don't hit anything or miss a direction your score will just keep increasing. You will even be able to see how you stack up against your friends and the world thanks to the leader boards. This certainly seems like a good idea, and it could go a long way to giving you the incentive to actually play through the levels several times.
Other announced features include a way for you to record and upload your favorite levels, allowing you to show the world just how bad ass your stuntman really is. There will also be a multiplayer mode, but so far THQ has been tight lipped when it comes to explaining just what you will do or how many players you will be able to interact with.
At its core Stuntman Ignition is the same kind of game as the original, the whole experience comes down to you memorizing the levels and understanding exactly what the director wants. What is left to be seen is whether these linear levels will interest people who have grown fond of games like Burnout Revenge and Need for Speed Carbon. The fact that this is less of a racing game and more of a straight up action game may turn off some gamers, even with all of the improvements that have been made to the series. Having said that, there's a lot of potential in this Stuntman sequel and we're all pulling for THQ and Paradigm Entertainment to be able to turn this into a must-own game.
Stuntman Ignition is set for a summer release, right in time for Hollywood's summer blockbuster season. Expect the game to hit most major game consoles, including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and the seven year old PlayStation 2. We're excited to not only experience the rest of the levels/movies, but also see just how crazy this game gets. I still have a few reservations about a stuntman video game, but I'm looking forward to THQ proving me wrong and showing me that a stuntman simulator is not only a great concept but also a great video game. Expect more pictures, videos and coverage as the release date nears.