Being a stuntman is not easy. Those of us who've tried it - well, spent a day on a press trip trying to be a stuntlady, if that counts - should know. Judging by our experience, it involves fear, tears, vomit, being shouted at by a lot of very serious men and almost getting full-body third-degree burns. (All of which is instantly forgotten the moment Sean Connery's stunt double ruffles your hair and says, "Well done, love.")
Although playing the original Stuntman didn't involve the same amount of tears, vomit and constantly having the truth of one's fragile mortality thrust into blazingly sharp relief, it was certainly no easy task. "Unforgiving", some called it; "Too bastard hard to be worth bothering with quite frankly," said others.
The original Stuntman, though, was developed by Reflections, and the franchise has now been snapped up by THQ. As a result, Stuntman: Ignitions is not being developed by the same team - and as lead designer Shawn Wright explains, it's definitely not going to be the same game.
"Ignition is something totally different, it's new. The director stunts are about the only thing that's similar; everything else has really changed," he says.
"The engine is an in-house engine we built from the ground-up, the vehicles drive differently, the failure conditions, the structure, the way the game works and where the multiplayer comes in. There are a lot of similarities, obviously, because Reflections created an original IP, but I think we've taken it and changed it enough that THQ can call it their own."
One of the key things they wanted to change was that pesky learning curve. In the first game, you had to hit time gates or you'd fail the 'scene' - and then be forced to wait an insufferable amount of time for the thing to load again. Worse still, you had to start all over again from the beginning.
But now there's a five-strike system, so you get a fair few chances to mess up stunts before the director calls a reshoot and makes you start all over again. Plus, thanks to technology having moved on a bit in the last five years, there are instant reloads - "So that's solved one big hurdle."
Have no fear though, challenge fans; it's not all easy going. "We wanted to offer some flexibility in the difficulty tuning and the balancing, and it's a little more lenient - so you're not pressured to get through the level as fast as you possibly can. But while there's still pressure there; the difficulty has been relaxed a little, but it's still not completely gone," explains Wright.
"In this game, you can learn levels at your own pace, instead of going balls to the wall. But once you get better at it, then you can really crank up your speed and attack the level in a different manner."
If you need even more of a challenge, there's the new star rewards system. There are five stars to earn in each level, and you'll need some serious skills to collect the set. "If you get one star, you'll pass the level, but you can earn more depending on how many points you earn. To unlock the fifth star, you have to string the entire level," reveals Wright.
Points aren't just scored by polishing off stunts - you'll get bonuses for getting up close and personal with other cars, pulling off drifts and generally driving in ways which would displease the police. Link moves together and you'll get multiplier bonuses, too.
The points and star systems are important because they affect how the game plays out in career mode. The goal here is to become the number one stuntman in the industry - and you start out at right at the bottom, in 150th place. The more stars you earn the higher you'll rise up the chart, and the more career options you'll have to choose from.
Pass a mission with one star, and you'll be able to progress on to the next stunt - but earn two or three, and your stunt co-ordinator might offer you a job on a different film. "It breaks the linearity, so if you don't want to continue on the first movie you can skip over and try something else," Wright says.
Hooray for Hollywood
So what kind of movies do you get to work on? Well, there are six in total (with at least six stunt sequences to complete for each), but THQ has only unveiled two so far. First up is Aftershock, a disaster flick set in a Northern US town. An earthquake has caused the local volcano to erupt and lava to begin flowing through the streets, leading to mass panic and some treacherous but essential car journeys for the film's hero.
In the demo we played, these involved zooming off ramps and into tight corners in a shiny red sports car - before making a quick dash through the local car wash to put out the flames licking the windscreen.
The second film is a seventies police flick called Overdrive, starring a maverick loose cannon cop-on-the-edge who plays by his own rules called Jack Stone. It's set in San Francisco, so you can expect lots of steep hill chases, plenty of jumps and a good amount of smashing through pyramids of cardboard boxes mysteriously left in the middle of the road.
It's all great fun to watch and it's also great fun to play, thanks to some changes to Stuntman's control system. "The original game had more of a simulation kind of feel. We really liked that as a foundation, but we decided to give it more of an arcade element, to make things a little bit easier," says Wright.
"Cars bounce off walls a little bit better, they react off jumps a little bit differently... It was more the arcade feel that we were going for, more pick-up-and-play." And there are plenty of vehicles to pick up and play with - more than 25 in total, including muscle cars, high-end exotics, dune buggies, motorbikes, fire engines and hovercrafts.
On the down low
So far, that's about all THQ is revealing of Stuntman: Ignition. There's a multiplayer mode, but Wright says he's not allowed to talk about it yet: "It's really cool though." Hmm, that's not really headline-making stuff, is it? "What can I tell you without giving too much away? I'll say if you get really good at the single player game, you'll be good at the multiplayer game." Right, thanks for that.
The game is due out on PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360 this summer, and no doubt more of the mysterious multiplayer mode and other features will be revealed soon. But until then, here's to tears, to vomit and to the glorious satisfaction that comes with pulling off a tip top stunt, and here's hoping Stuntman: Ignition elicits at least one of the above.
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