Stuntman for the PlayStation 2 is a very unusual driving game that puts you in the role of a professional stuntman who has to perform various vehicular stunts in rapid succession in the middle of different movie shoots. You won't really know exactly what you'll be doing until you're actually in the middle of a trial run, and there's hardly any room for making mistakes. If you do mess up, you have to restart the level, which sometimes makes the game an exhausting exercise in trial and error. However, Stuntman's unique gameplay mechanics, great graphics, distinctive style, and terrific vehicle physics make it definitely worth checking out, though you might sometimes find the game immensely frustrating rather than consistently challenging and fun.
The game contains several different play modes including a career mode, driving tests, and a stunt constructor mode. The career mode is the game's main play option, and it puts you in the driver seat as a Hollywood stuntman. The driving test mode contains several trials that gauge how well you can drive fast, maneuver your vehicle, and perform stunts. The stunt constructor mode lets you place ramps, barrels, and other objects in an arena so that you can make and perform your own stunts. You unlock the objects and ramps that you can use in the stunt constructor mode by performing well in the career mode. The game also contains some behind-the-scenes DVD-styled extras, like a trailer for the upcoming Driver 3 and interviews with real-life stuntmen.
The career mode levels are spread out across various real-world locations that include London, Switzerland, Monaco, Louisiana, and Bangkok. Your career consists of providing stunt-driving services for six action films that feature themes and characters very similar to those in real-world action movies. Toothless in Wapping is a caper flick set in the gritty streets of London, and it has a premise that's similar to Guy Ritchie's Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. A Whoopin' and a Hollerin' is a Dukes of Hazzard knockoff that's set in the backwoods of Louisiana. Blood Oath shooting takes place in the crowded streets of Bangkok and is a John Woo-styled action movie. Conspiracy is sort of a Tom Clancy thriller that puts you on the back of a snowmobile. The Scarab of Lost Souls is an Indiana Jones-inspired action movie that has you driving a jeep and a troop carrier. Live Twice for Tomorrow is a shameless James Bond copy that has you driving a lot of fast sports cars. After successfully completing all of the scenes, or levels, in a film, you'll be treated to a theatrical CG trailer for the movie that includes some of the actual in-game stunts you pulled off. In between each of the films, you'll be asked to perform a traditional stunt in front of a crowd. The stunts include jumping your car through a ring of fire, synchronized driving, and even attempting to break the long-distance jump record.
The levels in Stuntman are set up in a way that forces you to make extremely quick decisions and even quicker moves with the controller. Each level contains a number of individual stunts that you have to perform in rapid succession. Here's how it works: Onscreen visual aids in the form of green arrows and distinct yellow symbols guide you from one stunt to the next along a continuous stretch of road. Accompanying these visual aids are spoken audio directions that tell you what it is you have to do. For instance, if you're supposed to drive through some boxes, you'll hear the director yell "smash through boxes," just as a bright-yellow impact symbol appears right over the boxes you're supposed to collide with. A progress bar in the upper left of the screen lets you know how many stunts are in the level, how far you've gone, and how many stunts you've successfully or unsuccessfully completed, since making it to the end of the level doesn't necessarily mean you've completed it. To complete a level you have to successfully complete a certain percentage of the stunts. In the early levels it's very low--about 50 percent--but the later levels require that you basically go through without skipping a beat. If you fail a level--and you usually will--you'll be forced to sit through a pretty long loading sequence as the level resets. This can be even more frustrating than failing a level over and over, and if Stuntman's loading times weren't quite so bad, you'd probably feel more of a sense of freedom than a sense of tension in its wide-open levels. The loading times are probably the biggest problem with Stuntman.
Driving the game's various vehicles is a simple-enough task. The left analog stick controls your vehicle's steering, while the right stick can be used to control its speed. You can also use the buttons on the face of the controller to operate the gas, brake, and hand brake. The shoulder buttons can be used to quickly swing the camera view around the car so that you can see your surroundings. Some of the vehicles you drive are very responsive and handle well, like a sports car, but others, like the snowmobile, are naturally harder to steer. Driving isn't all you'll do--for some of the levels you'll have to activate a roll cannon, jump from a vehicle, or fire a rocket using the shoulder buttons at the appropriate moment. At any rate, getting used to the pressure-sensitive steering, gas, and brake doesn't take long, especially since there's a built-in gauge next to the speedometer that tells you how much pressure you're applying.
Stuntman looks great. The vehicle models used in the game are all very detailed and realistic in the way they look and move. On the other hand, the models used for pedestrians and for your driver are fairly simple and not very detailed, but they get the job done. The one nice touch about the driver is that you can see his arms work the steering wheel based on your action with the analog stick. The environments are all very different from one another and feature a ton of breakable objects, traffic, and a whole lot of little touches, like posters and road signs, that really give the scenery a lot of character. Plus the game features volumetric shadowing, which makes the lighting look realistic, since every object in the game shades everything that comes between it and the light source. But the best thing about Stuntman's look is how the game's particle effects and physics system work together to make scenery objects really look like a moving vehicle is hitting them. Smashing into objects like tables at high speeds breaks them apart and sprays individual pieces into the air quite convincingly. And with larger obstacles that you aren't necessarily supposed to hit, like other vehicles, you'll see that your vehicle will realistically take damage from the impact. The damage system is all based on the game's physics, so the faster your vehicle is traveling, the greater the damage incurred. Colliding with large objects at high speeds can even knock parts off your vehicle, such as the hood and the doors. Of note, there is a bit of slowdown that occurs from time to time when a number of things all happen on the screen at once, which doesn't necessarily affect gameplay, but it is noticeable. But Stuntman looks impressive, all in all.
The music and sound effects in Stuntman are also really well done and help set the mood for each of the movies you'll perform stunts in. Each movie has its own music, which appropriately fits the theme. For instance, the Indiana Jones-inspired The Scarab of Lost Souls levels have a stirring theme song that is a dead ringer for the real Indiana Jones theme. The sounds for the explosions, collisions, and vehicles are all good and are quite believable. The only thing that gets a bit annoying is the voice of the director as he yells instructions into your ear while you play. Most of what he says is "overtake vehicle," "smash boxes," and "pass through gap."
In the end, Stuntman is an original game that some will undoubtedly love, but others won't enjoy at all because of its trial-and-error approach and high degree of difficulty. Completing a level in the game will sometimes require you to spend upward of a couple of hours just trying to get through without messing up. It can certainly be frustrating at times, but the satisfaction of finally completing a level and seeing your incredible stunts in instant replay often makes up for having to retry the same sequence over and over again. It's unfortunate about the game's loading times, and some more information about each stunt at the beginning of each level would have been nice. But the game controls well and looks and sounds great, and the levels are interesting and very challenging. Yet since Stuntman has some frustrating elements and isn't a particularly long game, your best bet is to give it a rent and see how much you like its brand of action.