Hands-onStuntman

We get to play Reflections Interactive and Infogrames' PS2 stunt game.

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Stuntman has been the game to watch for since its appearance at E3, thanks to its impressive pedigree and intriguing premise. Developed by Reflections Interactive--of Driver and Driver 2 fame--the game puts you in the role of a rookie stuntman eager to break into the big time. The prospect of a Driver-style experience in the world of stunts, coupled with some interesting gameplay modes, has kept expectations for the game high. We visited Reflections Interactive at its Newcastle studio to find out how the game was coming along and to play the latest build of the game.

While still early, the game hasn't quite reached the beta stage yet, but it's coming along well. We were able to test out its various features--our first stop was the career mode, which will be the main challenge in the game. The road to fame will be a challenging one as you walk in the shoes of a rookie stuntman trying to catch a big break. As a newbie to the business, you'll begin in low-budget independent films, with your main goal being the big-budget blockbusters. Your quest for cinematic glory will be spread out across various locations--London, Switzerland, Monaco, Louisiana, and Bangkok--and will have you working on six films that span several action genres.

The films you'll star in are tongue-in-cheek homages to well-known films. Toothless in Wapping is an independent comedy, set in London, that harks back to such films as Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. A Whoopin' and a Hollerin', an action comedy set in Louisiana, calls to mind Hooper and the Smokey and the Bandit films. Blood Oath, an action film set in Bangkok, is done in the style of John Woo action films. Conspiracy is a political thriller, set in the Swiss Alps, that calls to mind the Tom Clancy-inspired action movies that Harrison Ford has starred in. The Scarab of Lost Souls is an action-adventure film, set in Cairo, which draws inspiration from the Indiana Jones movies. Finally, Live Twice for Tomorrow is a spy thriller set in Monaco, and it shares similarities with the James Bond series. Each film shoot will offer a number of stunt-filled scenes that you must complete within a time limit. At the end of each movie shoot, you'll be able to access a movie trailer that splices CG footage of the movie you've just finished shooting with in-game footage of your performance.

In addition to the game's career mode, you'll find extra modes and features throughout to engage you, such as filmography, stunt construction, and training. Filmography lets you replay levels you've completed to improve your score. Your score is tallied at the end of each "scene" in the film and is composed of your daily pay, an accuracy bonus (how many stunts you completed in that particular scene), and a time bonus (extra points that are awarded according to how much time you have left on the clock when completing a level).

Improving your overall score is the key to unlocking the various extras in the game. Once you've completed a scene, you'll be able to access a stunt arena level that will let you perform stunts in front of an audience. As you complete more of the films in career mode, you'll unlock new stunts to perform in front of the crowd. The various unlockable stunts offer a pleasing variety of things to try. Monster will put you behind the wheel of a monster truck barreling over stacks of cars. Bomber will have you race off a ramp into a stack of cars. Hoop will challenge you to sail through flaming hoops from a ramp. Dominoes will place a line of cars balanced on their fenders, arranged like a row of dominoes, and challenge you to knock them down. Long jump will see how far you'll be able to sail over a row of cars as you drive off a ramp at high speeds. Finally, remote car will give you access to a remote control car that you'll be able to launch on the fly. This is especially interesting, since you'll be able to drive your car off a ramp over a stack of cars and launch the remote car off a ramp across from you, resulting in a spectacular midair collision.

The arena will also serve as the setting for the stunt construction mode (think "park editor" in Tony Hawk), which will let you place a variety of objects chosen from three categories--ramps, smashable objects, and special items--to place within the arena. Once you've arranged everything to your liking, you can race through your creation, performing whatever mad stunts you've set up. High scores in career mode will let you unlock more items from within the three categories to eventually give you some very cool items to use. The last bit of unlockable swag obtained via high scoring will be a variety of cars that you'll be able to use in the stunt arena, as well as in the free-roaming mode.

The final mode to challenge you will be the training games mode, which offers four different sets of tests-- precision, speed, stunt, and high score. Each test will offer various challenges focusing on a different set of skills you'll use in the game. For example, precision will have you maneuvering around cones laid out in a parking lot, while the speed test will have you racing around a track set in one of the cities. The stunt challenge forces you to collect tokens positioned in locations that will require you to perform stunts to reach.

Graphically, Stuntman is aiming to offer a good variety of eye candy to complement its hectic action. The areas you'll be going through offer a good amount of detail and nice touches, such as volumetric shadows and particle effects, when your car scrapes against objects. In terms of your car, Reflections' detailed polygonal modeling is best appreciated when your car receives damage--the more banged-up your car becomes, the more chunks of it will fly off, exposing the interior, which features a fully modeled driver who reacts to the car's movement. The pieces that are knocked loose and fall in the road will then be objects that can affect your car if you make contact with them. The detail is so thorough that it's possible to have your engine knocked out of the car, which will obviously adversely affect your chances of finishing up your run. You'll also see your car leave skid marks and kick up smoke and dust. At the moment, the frame rate is decent, although it did bog down at times. Fortunately, the game is still a ways off, and Reflections has plenty of time to tighten things up.

In terms of gameplay, the game is straightforward and linear. At the start of each level, you'll see a brief CG sequence introducing you to your newest job. A short walk-through--which shows you key points of the level--will follow, and it will feature narration that provides you some background info, tips, and what to be ready for. And if you played the Driver games, you should be familiar with Stuntman's controls--that is, when you're finally given control. Making good use of the Dual Shock 2 Controller analog functionality, all the buttons respond according to the amount of pressure applied to them, which is displayed in an onscreen meter to help you gauge your driving. In addition to the pressure meter that appears within the acceleration gauge, you'll see a bar, which tracks your stunts, in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. The stunt bar is composed of two bars--the top bar is segmented, which shows the stunts you have to perform, while the bottom bar tracks the stunts you've actually managed to pull off. If you're good, both your bars will be identically colored. If you're not a stunt-performing machine, you may see chunks of red, which denote missed stunts, in your lower bar. You'll be alerted to stunt opportunities in the game by onscreen icons that you see in an upcoming area and orders from your "director" that will instruct you on what to do next. For example, as you race down an alley, you'll see a stack of crates with an icon denoting smashed crates and hear "Smash through the crates!" from your director. If you manage to pull it off, your stunt bar will fill with green. Overall, it's a good system that keeps you on your toes.

In addition to the various unlockable extras and accessible gameplay, Stuntman will offer players a few extras. You'll be able to save your replays from the game or stunt arena to your PS2 memory card. You'll even be able to save the custom layouts you create in the stunt editor to a memory card as well. Beyond that, the game will offer bonus features that are reminiscent of those in SSX Tricky on the Xbox and PS2. A small collection of DVD extras--ranging from music videos to the making of a featurette--as well as a few other extras yet to be decided will be included on the disc.

So far, we're very pleased with Stuntman. Although the early game still has a few rough edges, it certainly seems like it has the potential to become an addictive experience. The various stunts we performed were definitely cool. Reflections' consultation with veteran stuntman Vic Armstrong, which helped balance the stunts, looks like it's paying off. The movie trailers created for the various "films" in the game worked well and were a pitch-perfect tribute to what's running in theaters today. Incorporating gameplay footage in them was also a nice touch. Look out for more on Stuntman as Reflections polishes and tweaks the game balance for the game's spring 2002 release on the PlayStation 2.

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