Remote control cars are very cool things. When it’s a nice sunny day, you can go outside with them and do everything that you, as an observer, would never do in a real car. It’s this type of fun that publisher Titus, along with developer Team 17, hope to revive in Stunt GP. Unfortunately this is not the case as the game has a list of problems as long as Fat Albert’s grocery list.
Stunt GP features seven game modes: Five single player (Arcade, Exhibition, Time Trial, Stunt Challenge, and Championship) and two 2 player (Quick Race, and Tournament.) The main mode, Championship, allows you to take an RC car of your choice through a twenty race season. Along the way you’ll score credits so that you buff up your vehicle in order to make it faster, control tighter, etc. Through improving your vehicle you should have a better chance at coming in first, which will get you league points and raise you in the standings between the other five drivers.
The problem with Championship mode is that it offers no recourse. If you get last in one race you’ll fall behind in the standings and, tough luck kid, you have to go forward to the next race. The other problem is how often you’ll lose. When you race, you not only have to drive in a wise manner, you also have to devote a bit of your attention to an energy meter. The error that developer Team 17 has injected is that the energy meter clumps together gas and boost. By combining these two you’ll always be hesitant to use the last of that meter, seeing as your car will be slower than a snail when the meter runs out. By performing stunts you’re able to supplement a small part of that meter. This reveals one of the game’s weaker points.
You’d think, given the game’s title, that the stunts would have been perfected. Not so. The first problem with the stunts is that there are so few of them. When you count all possible variations there are a mere 30 or so. Taking into account that a good deal of those are just things that generally happen in racing, that’s not a very good trick system. Now, that wouldn’t be too bad if Stunt GP just based the idea of stunts being a neat add-on, but making it necessary to winning the race makes it a huge problem.
The way the game creates this deep abyss of problems is by making it so that all the other racers seem to have infinite boost compared to you, meaning they’ll go longer without having to take a pit stop. So the game leaves with you two choices: You can either stop to gas-up every two or three laps, therefore falling hopelessly behind, or you can try to perform the stunts, get the boost, compete and win the race. Obviously any person wanting to win won’t opt for the frequent stopping method, so you take the chance and try to perform stunts while you’re driving.
Immediately, problems arise. First, the only stunts that get you a substantial amount of boost are the ones that involve you spinning in midair as you leave the ramp. That wouldn’t be bad except that the only trick the game activates is a flip, all though many more are listed in the manual. When you do this stunt, you lose all control once your RC goes in midair, meaning your chances of landing are 50/50. So, naturally, sooner or later you’re going to watch your RC crash and all the other racers speed right by you.
Well you can just catch up with the other racers right? Wrong. Stunt GP, while appearing like an arcade racer, has the margin of error similar to games like Gran Turismo. This means that just one spin out, crash, or empty gas tank with half a mile between you and a pit stop can put you in last for good. While those are all fine in a simulation, it has no place in an RC game with stunts as one of it’s components. As you have probably guessed by now Championship mode is a waste, with no way to redo races and such a high difficulty level.
What else is there? Another game mode that Team 17 wisely put in was Arcade mode, which compensates for many of Championship modes mistakes. The idea of Arcade mode is that you’ll pick a car at the beginning, and work your way up the ladder. As you work upward each race you have to finish in a better standing, until the final race where you must finish first. If you succeed in doing this the game will reward you with special cars.
While not revolutionary, it’s design is one that relieves the player of many of the game’s flaws. The races are shorter, so the problem with the boost/gas meter is pretty much solved. The difficulty is toned down so if you do make a mistake (which you will) you can still catch up with the rest of the pack. However, just like in arcades, you mess up on one race you’re out, and there are only four races to go through. The mode is enjoyable however, and serve it’s purpose.
Then there are the other two, traditional modes in racing games, Exhibition and Time Trial. Of course time trial has you racing against yourself on a track with no other racers, and unlimited boost. Once again, not revolutionary, but good in it’s own right. Same goes with the exhibition mode which is good for a quick thrill as you can set up the race, with the number of racers, the difficulty level, and the track. However, it should be noted that all the really cool tracks and cars are only opened from playing Championship and Arcade mode, and Championship is nothing special.
The final single player mode, Stunt challenge, is somewhat unique, but feels all to limited. For example, the game only gives you one level to do it on, which consists of one bowl/half pipe thing. Also, the stunts are nothing special, so the game mode becomes boring after a few tries.
Amongst this array of single player modes there are multiplayer ones as well. Inside the multiplayer vault, gamers will find two modes. Yes, you read that right a whopping two modes, that can be played by up to two people. The two modes are quick race and tournament. Quick race is pretty much exhibition mode for two people, where a running tally of points is kept for each person until the game is exited. The other multiplayer mode that the manual boasts to be "extremely entertaining" and have "endless replay value" is Tournament mode. While not rising to these levels the mode is still somewhat enjoyable. The game establishes this through loads of customization options that accommodate to your skill level and racing preferences. Still though, it does feel a bit repetitive, and only allowing two players to play just hampers the experience further.
While you’re playing any one of the several uninspired racing modes you’ll find something else that fits that description, the music. While the electric guitars and all fit the races, the music features little else, and all the music sounds all too similar. Fitting, but chances are you’ll be hitting the play button on your stereo in little time.
One of the not so mediocre parts of Stunt GP is the graphics. The tracks themselves are colorful, and while your buzzing by with your car you’ll almost never see any slowdown. The backgrounds are exquisite as well, featuring everything from construction yards to Japanese buildings. The only real problem is that, like the rest of the game, they’re just simply nothing groundbreaking. They also range in quality, while one minute you’ll be salivating at beautiful background with a plane flying across it, the next you’ll see the game screw up something as simple as lens flare, a graphical touch that was done well in the N64 era.
The graphics are a huge helper in another area that needs assistance in Stunt GP: level design. While the game boasts that it has a whopping 24 tracks, that simply isn’t true. What they should really say is that there are indeed 24 tracks, but really they are just rehashes of about eight levels. They are the same backgrounds and same tracks, with just subtle differences like an extra ramp, or graphical flourish. The game’s tracks are flawed as well. While before each level you’ll see a track overlay boasting loads of loops, twists, and turns the fact is they’re just not that exciting. Furthermore, the game doesn’t do a great job of dispensing ramps, as while there are loads of quarter pipes along the track, if you go off any of them chances are you’ll crash and fall to the back of the pack.
When it comes down to it though, Stunt GP isn’t a terrible game, it’s just that it could have been so much more. There are times when you’re playing it when you’ll be in the heat of a race, knocking against the other racers, and the constant jumps just add to the enthusiasm. Those times are few and far between though, and instead of that fast and furious racing that’s so enjoyable you’ll be met with constantly going around an uninspired level with no other cars. Considering this makes up a good amount of what you’ll be doing in Stunt GP it boils down to a boring experience. Do yourself a favor, pick up San Francisco Rush or Gran Turismo 3, and wait till Team 17 gets it act together before you buy one of their products.
Developers: Team 17
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 2