Xbox 360 Review

Stuntman: Ignition

More St. John's Wood than Hollywood?

"This is a review for the new Stuntman: Ignition game." Nope, that's rubbish, lets start again. "After a gap of five years and a change of developers, THQ finally bring us the new..." Nah, I don't like that either. How about this one "As jobs go being a Hollywood stuntman must be one of the more exciting the world has to offer, albeit one not often draped in glory. Stuntman: Ignition aims to change all that as you step onto the set to try your hand at a series of ever more complex and dangerous stunts" Damn it, it still doesn't sound right. What I need is a way of introducing the review while subtly alluding to the stop-start repetitive nature of the gameplay... Oh yes, you're right, I suppose I have.

Before we go any further and for anyone not familiar with the original PS2 game, a quick recap on the premise may be in order. Stuntman: Ignition isn't the typical driving game you may have been expecting, if all you had to go on was screenshots. Instead it sees you assuming the role of a lowly stunt driver just starting out on his career in Hollywood. Throughout the game you'll get the chance to work on a series of big screen blockbusters where it's your job to perform the all important stunts required to make the films a success. Each stunt sees you following the director's directions as you drive through a series of short highly scripted scenes pulling off certain important manoeuvres and actions at key moments. In the original game this interesting idea was let down by ponderous load times, no instant restart option (critical if you've messed up a stunt in the first few seconds) and a seriously steep difficulty curve. Thankfully new developers Paradigm have taken all the criticism levelled at the original on board and fixed most of the niggles (far more reasonable loading times, a very handy instant restart option and a gentler progression system) leaving the only serious question mark hanging over the game the actual concept or, more to the point, your own personal attitude to that concept. Allow me to explain.

Each of the six movies you'll get to work on is a lovingly created parody of a traditional movie genre. From the opening volcanic disaster movie 'Aftershock' to the fashionably dark comic book film 'Dark Avenger' each film wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. Every one of these films contains six stunts for you to complete, each one generally between one and two minutes long. While this may sound like it leaves the game short on content when considering you need to hit specific marks and perform certain special moves every few seconds it soon becomes clear that each stunt is actually perfectly sized. Any longer and your chances of a clear run would become even smaller by the second. It's not as if you'll wiz through each stunt first time either, in fact Stuntman: Ignition is far more about repeated trial and error than anything else and it's this gameplay mechanic that provides the love it or loath it element that will dictate how long your love affair with the game lasts. To use a more conventional gaming analogy, once you've made your way to the end of a level in an FPS do you ever feel the need to keep retrying that level again and again till you can stroll through it performing perfect headshot kills on every single bad guy with ease? Or do you just breathe a sigh of relief and move onto the next level? If you're more likely to just move on then the chances are Stuntman: Ignition's not the game for you, if you prefer the idea of honing your skill to perfection through extensive practice then this could be the game for you. Going for that elusive perfect run isn't easy, requiring many restarts the instant you make even the slightest error at any point until you know every inch of the stunt like the back of your hand. The satisfaction gained from fully mastering each run can make it all worthwhile for those dedicated enough to put the work in, the question is, are you one of them? Stuntman: Ignition

The gameplay itself works like this, as you fling your vehicle around each huge movie set you're shown the location of each stunt on-screen by a large yellow icon while the director's voice comes through your headset providing more information on what's required. Your path through the set is indicated by big green arrows but even so, with so much going on around you there are times when a run can be ruined because you simply have no idea where to go next. Once you've been through the course a couple of times it becomes much clearer as you start driving from memory more than anything, but there's a definite sense that the game often goes out of its way to ensure you don't get it right first time. The stunts themselves range from something as simple as overtaking a specific car on the correct side or passing close by to an explosion to the more demanding jumps, reverse 180 spins or precision car chases. There are also often scene specific actions to be performed at set times such as setting your car on fire or nitro bursts, just like a stunt these are shown in yellow on screen and are performed with a simple press of the action button.

When you complete a run you're given a score out of five stars and because each movie requires a certain number of stars to have been earned over its six stunts to unlock the next film there's pressure to keep your performance above the minimum at all times. This need to nail each run once again reinforces the demand to practice, practice, practice so you can earn an extra star here and there when needed. The best way to improve your score once performing the actual stunts have become second nature is to master stunt 'stringing'. This is done by performing stunts in quick succession, the more you can string together without a long gap the higher your score becomes. This subtly shifts the focus from simply hitting your marks and performing the required stunts onto doing it all as fast as possible which does add an extra dose of excitement to the mix when you're looking for ways to improve your score and it's often the only difference between a clear round earning you a four or a five star score.

Away from the glory of your movie career there's a number of one off odd jobs that become available as you go, these range from TV commercials to live stunt shows and tend to be much shorter than your normal work. The main difference is the one strike and you're out rule meaning no mistakes are tolerated, quite a change from the movies where up to five are allowed before the director calls for a re-shoot. There's also a multiplayer side to things with traditional online racing making a welcome appearance besides the more stunt focused 'Backlot Battle'. You're also given the chance to design your own stunts in the constructor mode, it's not as impressive as you may want it to be but you can still have some fun creating some insane tests of your skill if you're willing to put the time in.

Much like Marmite, Big Brother and Emile Heskey, Stuntman: Ignition is a game bound to polarise opinion. While there's no denying it looks great and there's huge fun to be had with it at least to start with, there will be those that fall in love with its ultra repetitive just-one-more-go high score setting nature while others will find the need for such continual repetition too off putting enough on its own. It's all too easy for a review to recommend a game 'if you like that sort of thing' but sometimes that's really the best advice we can offer. Speaking from a purely personal point of view I found I lacked the hardcore edge needed to really care if I didn't ace every stunt. This made the game as a whole enjoyable enough while the fun lasted but my enthusiasm quickly dried up when I reached the point where progress through the movies slowed and serious ball-breaking repetition set in. However, if you know you're the kind of person who won't be happy until they've mastered every stunt on every run on every movie then you can safely assume you'll get a lot more enjoyable play-time for your money. To put it simply, Stuntman: Ignition does what it claims to do fantastically well and anyone will undoubtedly have great fun with it at first. The only thing to consider is if you're the type of meticulous gamer who exudes the repeat until perfect approach to things needed to really get the most out of the game. If you are then great, add another ten percent to the score and be happy, unfortunately I'm really not and despite all the initial fun I had there came a point where it started to feel like being a movie stuntman really was more of a job than a game. Stuntman: Ignition

E3 Trailer