Accelerate to maximum speed. Nudge past that upturned truck. Do a 180º reverse spin and drift hard right round the corner. No, this isn’t the maneuver to try and find a carpark at the Lower Hutt shopping mall on a Saturday. This is a lot less hectic.
The premise for Stuntman: Ignition revolves around all those blockbuster movies filled with multimillion dollar car chases and insane special effects. You are an up-and-coming Hollywood stunt driver with one goal – to be the best in the industry. To do so you must drive an array of different vehicles including motorbikes, sports cars, monster trucks or vans and complete various stunts while the camera captures your every move.
The main bulk of the game is broken down into six different action packed films ranging from spoofs of James Bond and Dukes of Hazard to Volcano. For each stage you take the driver’s seat in place of fictitious actors where no normal sane person would dare. Scenarios are pretty corny, but work well for the theme of the game.
For example, in one level you play a desperate teenager on a motorbike who must save his grandmother by getting to her house in the hills before a molten lava flow dribbles through it. In order to prevent your granny from becoming a barbeque platter for two, you will have to navigate through a preset track filled with jumps, rivers of lava and streams of traffic. Another, more realistic situation involved an armed robbery getaway truck trying to evade the police through city streets. Every dangerous move you successfully pull off earns you extra points as the Director gets that little bit of extra footage to use in his next blockbuster hit. Driving extremely close to objects, drifting around corners or performing wheelies if you are on a motorbike all help give you that top score. Despite the fact that you can’t afford to drive too far off the course and therefore away from the cameras, there is still a huge multitude of different ways to complete a level, provided you have the nerve and skills to both identify and nail the tricks in time.
Throughout each stage you are guided by the Director who will be yelling out instructions to you at all times according to what he wants to see. Handy arrows and icons on the screen also help you identify various opportunities but quite often will give you just a fraction of a second to react in time. Obviously the Director has some pre-planned stunts in mind to make his movie pack some more punch as well. Fail to achieve too many of them and the Director will be forced to re-shoot the scene, much to his (and his accountant’s) annoyance, considering each scene has more pyrotechnics than a fire at a Chinese fireworks warehouse. Similarly he will call for a restart if you trash your vehicle by driving into a river. Luckily you do seem to get an unlimited amount of attempts to get it right. As your name starts to become known, you will also have the chance to work on commercials and stunt events as well.
Many changes have occurred since the original Stuntman, which was way too unforgiving for many gamers to enjoy. The new version still requires you to be sharp to score maximum points but now an average player can still score good grades without needing to kick the cat in frustration. Like the first game however, it is still a given that you will need to replay each level more than once. When screaming down narrow streets at 120 km/ph it is pretty difficult to predict where you’ll need to be just 30 meters up the road. However, on the second or third attempt you will start to see what the Director is looking for and hopefully impress him with your dare devil antics. Don’t be alarmed though as the difficulty still remains for perfectionists who might find themselves playing each level dozens of times before scoring maximum points. Luckily, replaying a level requires very little load time, provided you have the energy to do it. Once you have finished a level to your satisfaction you can then replay it with fancy camera angles and lighting effects that would make anyone look like a pro. This footage can even be saved if you’re especially proud of it.
The presentation of the game is very slick. Although each movie or stage is bordering on ridiculous, the sense of humour suits the game perfectly. You get to view set designs, character castings and your own manager will guide you through the start of each level as if you really were a stunt driver. Once you have finished your work on the movie you are even treated to a trailer of the flick you have just helped to make. Each one has the feel of a blockbuster action film complete with clips of your own driving skills. They gave me that little twinge of pride as I watched myself bursting through a flaming building with dramatic music playing in the background.
The Xbox 360 version really does justice to the visual effects you’ll witness during the game. Each film is filled with over the top explosions and debris with just about everything on set being destructible. In one scene you will be jumping from the top level of a car park and trying to collide with a helicopter in mid-air (just like in Die Hard 4.0). In other scenes you may need to take out some supporting beams of a building that bring the whole structure crashing down around you in spectacular fashion. The 360 version did suffer some lag in really intense scenes of demolition but generally displays with blistering pace. The particle effects seemed quite similar to the legendary Burn Out franchise and fans of that series will appreciate the shear level of carnage in Stuntman: Ignition.
Most of the game consists of the Career mode as you try to make a name for yourself as Hollywood’s leading stuntman. Another single-player mode is titled Quick Fix where you can hop into a car or motorbike and drive through various tracks trying to pull off as many stunts as you please. But an interesting feature was the Constructor mode that allows you to build your own freestyle arena using a selection of different structures and objects. More objects and building blocks can be earned while playing the game and before long you’ll be ploughing through a flock of chickens. Seriously, you can actually place live chickens in your arena.
Once you have fleshed out a set that would give even Evel Knievel second thoughts you can then share them with your friends on Xbox Live. Stuntman: Ignition also comes with some decent multiplayer modes including a stunt battle type game. In this you and your opponents race around the track scoring as many stunt points as possible. But when you collide with another rival vehicle you steal their points and vice versa. This can make for some hair-raising moments of trying to land on your opponent or even trying to ambush them from behind a truck. If this is too intense for you there is a basic racing mode via Xbox Live as well.
For anyone who really hated the first Stuntman game on the PS2, it would be worthwhile trying this one before shrugging the series off altogether. Stuntman: Ignition is a vast improvement on the original and is a visual treat for those with a flair for destruction on the next-gen consoles. After playing this game you might watch blockbuster car chases with a higher admiration. It is also a great opportunity to unleash any road rage from that agonising rush-hour commute from work.