Jack of all tirades
As you go along, the game really starts to test you by unlocking Odd Jobs, which are basically one-off scenes where you can't afford any 'strikes' whatsoever. Taking the one-more go approach to extremes, it's the mode that will either make or break your love for the game. If it clicks with you, the chances are you'll feel ready to go back and mine the unlocked scenes for more Movie Star points, but if it winds you up, then perhaps your love was never meant to be.
In technical terms, at least, the game scores relatively highly. The visuals, while not necessarily the most opulent you've ever clapped eyes on, are certainly an excellent progression the style that Reflections was gunning for with both Stuntman and Driver 3 (a game noteworthy in the graphical department if nothing else) .The vehicle models all score highly in look and feel, whether you're bombing around in a chunky muscle car, bashing into cars in souped-up truck of sliding precariously on a nimble motorbike. You certainly can't fault it for variety or execution, and with a decent damage modelling system to boot, the scene's always alive with absolute carnage. During the hilarious Quentin Tarantino parody movie ("Overdrive"), Paradigm really cuts loose with some true directorial mayhem, providing you with the kind of hugely satisfying box-smashing alleyway-driving chase sequences that were so beloved of Reflections in its pomp. No doubt Martin Edmondson and his former Reflections cohorts will be looking on at this with a certain amount of envy, but also great satisfaction that such a great set of ideas gave another developer a solid set of foundations.
Certainly, no-one can accuse Paradigm of missing the point or cheapening the game's original appeal. The game's structure, presentation, style and tone is a spot-on riff on the original, complete with insightful intro sequences that are as entertaining as they are useful. If you didn't know better, you'd also think that Burnout developer Criterion had a hand in its development, such are the nods to that series in terms of its irreverent vibe and relentless pursuit of mindless fantasy driving enjoyment - US-style. Simple things like explaining some of the key stunts to be mindful of in each scene help set-up the action perfectly, with each demented director parodied to perfection and providing their own 'helpful' advice and comments. After the faux street 'cool' of so many games down the years, and the po-faced seriousness of others, Stuntman Ignition hits the mark on many levels that matter - chiefly raw playability, and, importantly, replayability.
But offline stunt mayhem is only part of the story, with the game also featuring eight player online/system linked multiplayer modes. First up, Backlot Battle is a simple lap-based contest for the most points while attempting to perform all the Director Stunts. If you miss too many of the stunts you risk having your score reset to zero, but can ram opponents to try and steal theirs. Naughty. Interestingly, the other main multiplayer mode is actually more focused on racing - something that the main single player offering almost goes out of its way to avoid. Dubbed 'Backlot Racing', it offers three classes (Light, Muscle and Sport), and a host of other options to tinker with that change the experience one way or another. For example, you can choose whether to include Nitros, whether Director Stunts are available (to gain more boosts), and whether String Stealer is on or off. It's perhaps a testament to how classy the driving model is in the game that you can actually have a lot of fun just having a straight vanilla race with no novelty options switched on.
Finally, there's also the option to create and share your own Stunt City Arena, selecting from the full list of props and vehicles. We're not particularly creative like that, admittedly, but if your creation is deemed eligible for posting (i.e. Aren't rubbish), other players will be able to download your works of art. Neat.
So where does Stuntman Ignition fall down then? If you're patient enough to learn each scene properly, there aren't that many things to really get steamed up about. Sometimes you might feel justifiably annoyed that the game didn't 'read' your stunt properly: For example, sometimes you'll appear to 'gap' cars perfectly and not get credit for them, while other simple stunts like overtaking, drifting and scraping cars can be curiously imprecise in their interpretation of your actions. While the odd slip-up isn't too much of an issue when you're just running through each scene for the first time, by the time you're trying to 'string' them for 5-star online leaderboard glory, such mishaps can be a real drag.
If you were perhaps expecting a nine, then you only need to look at this issue to work out why it doesn't quite hit those heady heights. In addition, you could argue the game doesn't offer enough variety and is too repetitive - personally I found all 36 scenes and the odd jobs a lot of fun, but you can't please everyone. One thing that's indisputable, though, is the annoyance that the occasional juddering slowdown provides. Although it's rare enough to be forgiveable, we really shouldn't be seeing that from top-line games on a 360 at this stage. Tut.
Some of you might also grumble about how little innovation there is in this sequel. In most senses, yes, this is a straightforward re-run of the last one. In its favour, though, it boasts vastly superior visuals, instant restarts, an achievement system, and, of course, an online components like a leaderboard, uploadable replays and multiplayer modes. In terms of the game's basic mechanics, themes and level design, there's hardly anything on show here that we didn't see first time around. But the straightforward answer to that is this: no-one else has done a game like Stuntman Ignition in the intervening years, and, frankly, when you've got a long list of game elements that are as downright fun as these, what's the point in tinkering with an excellent formula for the sake of it? After five years in the wilderness, the return of Stuntman is something to be celebrated - it might be frustrating at times, but it'll leave a massive smile on your face when it all comes together.