Computer Graphics Memory Disk Space Minimum 286 Hercules..VGA 640K 1.2Meg Max/Rec. 386+ VGA Control: Keyboard, Joystick, Mouse Sound: PC, Adlib, Sound Blaster Reviewed version 1.0 on: 386DX-33, VGA, Sound Blaster v2.0, Keyboard Reviewer Recommends: 386+, VGA, Sound Blaster.
If you've never heard of the game STUNTS by Broderbund, or 4D SPORTS DRIVING by Mindscape (from here on referenced as STUNTS), then please allow me to introduce you to this little gem of a game from days gone past.
In brief, STUNTS is a stunt car racing game that has plenty of cars to drive, plenty of opponents to race (and beat), plenty of cliff hanging stunts to try, and _thousands_ of hours of game playing excitement! STUNTS is _not_ a realistic racing simulator. If you want racing realism there are hordes of other titles out there to choose from.
STUNTS belongs to a distinct genre of games that include other titles such as STUNT DRIVER and HARD DRIVIN' II. All promise to offer similar features, but STUNTS inevitably rates the best due simply to it's perfect controllability, which is sadly lacking in the other titles no matter how much configurability they try to provide. (And IMO a racing game is not worth playing if the car is impossible to control!)
Visually, STUNTS can easily compare to other games of it's time. It caters for a _wide_ range of machines, with video support for everything from Hercules Graphics to VGA. This is nice to know if you don't have VGA, but I would not recommend playing with less. The game world is drawn with 3D polygon graphics and includes a selectable detail level, which provides a fluid framerate on even a low end 386. A variety of horizon backdrops and scenery add to the overall atmosphere of the game (though you don't normally have time to comment on such things while you thunder down the track ;-) ). Each car has it's own rough polygon model, and dashboard design (which you see when you view from inside the car).
Sound support is equally well done. STUNTS has sound support for everything from the PC speaker to the Sound Blaster. STUNTS manages to provide quite realistic engine and skidding sounds. A different sound is provided for each car you can drive. For total enjoyment though, a SB is recommended (preferably pumped through an amplifier, for an engine you can feel ;-) ).
STUNTS provides excellent game controls. It supports all three main input devices: keyboard, joystick and mouse. I recommend using the keyboard for easiest driving control. Strangely enough it is in this department that so many other driving games fail. The most frequent problem I've seen is "super sensitive/unresponsive steering". But STUNTS handles exquisitely. The designers appear to have found the perfect balance between initial turning resistance for fine steering adjustments, and continuous turning speed for main maneuvering.
Before you begin racing, there are a few things you need to do.
First, select your car. STUNTS has a wide range to choose from, from the slow offroad 4WDs to turbo charged Formula 1 Racing Cars. Each car type has it's advantages and disadvantages. The 4WDs are slow as snails, but handle well on icy roads. The racing cars on the other hand are fast, but are not much fun to drive on icy roads (in fact, it's possible to out drag a F1 car in a 4WD on an icy road over a short distance!) You also have the option of driving a manual or automatic gearbox for each car.
Next, you should pick your opponent. In this area, STUNTS has two modes of racing. A "practice" mode where you race against the clock (no opponent), and a "competitive" mode where you race against a single opponent. There are a range of opponents all with their own various driving strengths. Sadly, the opponent intelligence is rather weak in general. The toughest opponent is called "Skid Vicious" -- a name to instill fear in would be challengers perhaps? His driving sure doesn't! In fact, all computer opponents share a high level of driving incompetence. They are slow, will reliably crash on any slightly tricky track, and if they don't, it is unbearably easy to "influence" them into doing so. BUT, the computer opponents can still provide a tough challenge if you don't mind racing them in a much slower car.
Finally, you need to pick a track to race. STUNTS comes with a small number of rather simple "training" tracks, and those quickly become boring, BUT, STUNTS comes with a fully featured builtin track editor, so you can make you own tracks to race. It is the presence of the track editor and it's operating simplicity that make STUNTS a really great game.
You can build tracks with three types of road surfaces, from a solid paved roads to slippery icy roads. There are a variety of "standard" road pieces, like corners, chicanes, crossroads, ramps, elevated roads, and banks. But the exciting part is the huge number of stunt pieces that you can include in your tracks. The range includes tunnels, loops, corkscrews, pipes, half pipes, "slalom" roads (roads with barricades that you have to "slalom" though), and corkscrew ramps. In addition there are a number of scenery pieces including buildings of various sizes, trees of various types, ships, and even a tennis court?! All these pieces can of course be combined together to make a vast variety of jumps and stunts.
AND, if you ever tire of the set of provided landscapes for building your tracks on, STUNTS also includes a terrain editor as part of it's track editor.
HINT: The TERRAIN EDITOR is an undocumented feature of STUNTS. You can access the terrain pieces in the track editor by pressing SHIFT-F1.
So, once you've picked your car, opponent and track, the aim is to firstly finish the course, secondly to beat your opponent, and thirdly to do it in record time, but most of all to have a ball while doing so. Which isn't all that hard, since not much can compare to leaping a building in a Formula 1 racing car (or any car for that matter)!
Now you're hurtling down the track. You took that last jump with ease, and a corkscrew looms menacingly ahead. No problem you think to yourself, you've completed this stunt successfully many times before. But this time you are over confident and the inevitable happens. You approach the maneuver too fast and lose control, and the wreckage of your car gets strewn all over the race track.
There's nothing extremely exciting about that, except the amazing things that can happen as you crash! Do not be surprised if you find your car soaring _hundreds_ of meters above the ground! Sometimes before a crash, sometimes after, but don't ever expect to survive such a fall! And there is nothing like going vertical in a F1 racing car to add some thrill to you spill! It's all part of the fun.
To top it all off, STUNTS also includes a 10 minute replay buffer (which is long enough for almost any race!). So when you complete that perfect drive, make an incredible recovery from a certain death situation, have a crash that is truly spectacular, or do anything that you want to take a second look at, it's preserved for you in the replay, which you can watch immediately, or save to disk for viewing later. Plus, for ultimate viewing scrutiny, STUNTS provides a number of viewing cameras (for both viewing replays and racing from!), including a user controlled viewpoint! And of course, you are free to give your replays to your friends, so that they can see your incredible feats of driving. In fact, you can use the tracks you design on _any_ version of STUNTS, including the PC and AMIGA versions. Sadly, the same compatibility is not true for replays, which will only work accurately on the same version of the game that they were saved on.
STUNTS does have a small number of bugs. The most notable is the infamous "overdrive" bug. This is essentially an "afterburner" for your racing car, or a tank of Nitrous Oxide that never runs out. "Overdrive" is really more of a feature than a bug, since it does make the game more fun to play (as you might imagine).
To me, STUNTS is a fantastic game. I consider it so good that it has had permanent residence on my harddrive for more than three years! This says quite a lot to me, since no version of DOS that I've used has lasted that long (or any machine I've had)! In fact, the only additional feature that STUNTS does not provide, which would be truly appreciated is the ability to play head to head with a friend through a serial link.
I barely hesitate to suggest that there would be no one that would not enjoy playing STUNTS, however if you enjoy a fast paced, action filled game, then STUNTS is definitely for you. And when you find it, you should be pleasantly surprised that it won't cost you an arm and a leg to buy it.This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by David Leadbetter for Game Bytes Magazine. All Rights Reserved.