Thursday, August 23, 2007

StuntMANIA!pro Review

StuntMANIA!pro, developed and published by Sector3.
The Good: Online high score list, stackable bonuses
The Not So Good: Only four tracks, imprecise driving model with overly bouncy physics, troublesome camera angles, no multiplayer, can’t rebind controls, uncategorized and non-scrollable score list, limited game modes and bonuses and no level editor
What say you? A Trackmania-like stunt driving game that could benefit from more polish and additional features: 5/8

One of my favorite games is Trackmania (an absolute steal at $30 on Steam). While I tend towards the simulation side of the equation for driving games, this purely arcade racer has captivated my attention through all of its iterations. It has a great combination of outlandish physics, precision, and user-made content with a thriving European community. I usually jump online and play against world competition on a regular basis, at least when I’m not actively reviewing games such as StuntMANIA!pro. StuntMANIA!pro takes the high-flying approach lain by Trackmania to driving, featuring excessive flips and enough air to make anyone feel high (or something like that). Does StuntMANIA!pro effectively capture the arcade excitement of stunt driving?

As you might expect from an independent game, the production values of StuntMANIA!pro aren’t terribly fantastic. The levels in the game are simplistic and devoid of much detail, and the car models also lack any visual splendor. There are also clipping and camera issues that make controlling your vehicle more difficult than it should be. The default camera becomes obstructed too easily, while the high camera doesn’t let you see far enough ahead and the roof camera is useless when you are in the air flipping around. StuntMANIA! could benefit from a behind-the-car view like Trackmania has to make navigating through each level a possibility instead of the struggle it is. The sound is also unimpressive: squeaky engines, repetitive effects, and a generic sound track all add up to a poor auditory experience. Overall, both the graphics and the sound of StuntMANIA! are underwhelming at best.

In StuntMANIA!, you want to achieve a high score in each level by doing flips and running into stuff. The game provides two modes of play, a timed and a free mode, for single player enjoyment. StuntMANIA! lacks any multiplayer so you are just competing against the high scores set by the other competitors listed on the central score list. The online high score list is not sorted by game mode, track, or car, so you just see the same guy who spent a lot of time with the game with all of the high scores. That’s no fun! You can’t even scroll through the list, and StuntMANIA! simply gives you a token rating when you are finished. A more comprehensive, or simply just sorted, online score list might have compensated for the lack of multiplayer action. StuntMANIA! also contains only four tracks and lacks an editor, further reducing the title’s replay value.

StuntMANIA!, like most arcade racing games, has simple controls (forward, left, right, jump) though the brakes are separate from the “backwards” key, making for some touchy maneuvering. The physics of StuntMANIA! are way too bouncy for my tastes: all of the cars, including the semi, drive like they weight twenty pounds and fly up into the air when they catch any sort of obstacle at the wrong angle. While this does make for some spectacular crashes and tricks, it makes the cars too difficult to control, and ultimately the game is less fun to play because of the physics. You can’t make subtle adjustments to your car (even after adjusting some of the in-game options), so lining up for the perfect jump is more trouble than it should be. There are some interesting bonuses that do stack: nitro, super-jump, teleporting, and flipping around 180 degrees can be used in concert to make for some cool moves. Points are earned by flipping or wrecking and picking up bonus boxes scattered around each level. StuntMANIA! is occasionally enjoyable, but the physics are too odd and the features are lacking.

You can tell there is definitely some potential in the game, but StuntMANIA! feels more like an early beta or demo than a full game. The small suite of tracks (only four), the lack of multiplayer, and the pedestrian online score list show that a number of improvements could be made to the title to make it well-rounded. The physics are not to my liking: the almost-weightless cars and imprecise controls result in crashing and endless spinning rather than deft maneuvering. The game can be fun and there is skill required in order to rack up those high scores, but the lack of features brings the replay value down a lot. The developer seems to be adding additional features over time so the title can be improved in the future, but right now there are better titles at similar prices.