Retrospective: Stunt GP

Way back in the mists of time, I took a look at the various radio controlled car racing titles on the Dreamcast. It may surprise you that there are no less than three different games featuring such toy vehicles battling for supremacy on miniature circuits in the Dreamcast's library; with Toy Racer and ReVolt complementing Stunt GP in the virtual toy box. This time though, I'm turning my attention squarely on Stunt GP, as it is a game I am very fond of and which doesn't really get a lot of time in the limelight. That's about to change though, as we navigate the plastic highways and byways of Team17's often overlooked foray into the international sport of bashing radio controlled vehicles around a deserted car park.
Released exclusively in PAL territories, Stunt GP joins titles like Giant Killers and Headhunter on the list of games that were never officially released in the rest of the world, and as such I wonder just how many people even know the game had ever seen a Dreamcast release. Stunt GP did receive a PC release and a later PlayStation 2 port, but the Dreamcast game is something of an oddity especially when you consider that Team17 released its other Dreamcast titles worldwide. 
Of course, the Wakefield-based developer is better known for its Worms franchise on Sega's little white box; with Worms World Party still being regularly played online via the magic of DreamPi. It's also worth noting that while Team17 developed Stunt GP, the game was published by Eon Digital Entertainment. Doing a bit of Googling, it appears that Stunt GP was due to be published worldwide by Hasbro but for some reason the deal fell through and Eon stepped in. I'd love to know more about why an NTSC release never happened, and who knows - maybe somebody reading this can shed some light on that particular mystery.

Either way, coupled with the lukewarm reception for the more widely-known PlayStation 2 variant, this PAL exclusivity is potentially the biggest reason for Stunt GP's relative lack of visibility on the Dreamcast. To my eyes, this is a great shame because - in my humble opinion - Stunt GP is actually one of the most enjoyable 'kart' style racers on the system.

To be honest, the title Stunt GP is a little misleading, as even though the ability to do stunts is imbued on the player, trying to successfully pull them off is an exercise in extreme annoyance, and the 'stunt' aspect of the gameplay can be totally ignored for the most part (unless you're playing the dedicated stunt mode, naturally). In essence, this is a straight forward racing experience in which you take control of any one of over 20 different radio controlled vehicles which span a number of differing classes, and race against a pack of other radio controlled vehicles on self-contained courses. There are multiple jumps and obstacles littering the courses, but unlike in Toy Racer or ReVolt, you are not darting between table legs, through kitchens or across garden lawns. 
Stunt GP goes for a more 'realistic' setting, with races held on closed circuits. The circuits do appear to be based in various exotic locations, with a Japanese garden, the grounds of an English castle, and the roof of an American skyscraper all playing host to races and the sense of scale is impressive, but there's also a slightly surreal lack of any people controlling these vehicles; and the total lack of anything even approaching human life in the environments gives everything a slightly sinister undertone. Or maybe I've just been stuck indoors for too long, and the desire for human contact is manifesting itself in this melancholic analysis of random Dreamcast games.
The key draw for me with Stunt GP is just how fun and involving the races are. There's a little bit of a tactical element built in too, as each car has a battery which must remain charged in order to stay in the race. You can choose to sacrifice some of your battery power as a boost, but this will drain the battery quicker meaning you'll need to entry the charging lane during the race to recharge. 

As in real racing, doing this will slow you down and is effectively the equivalent of entering the pits, meaning the AI vehicles can take the lead (or increase it). Likewise, you have the ability to try to eek out another lap's worth of power, gain a few places and then duck into the pits on the next lap. It's quite good fun deciding whether to take a chance and forego the pits, but misjudge it and you could come a cropper, slowing to a crawl as your empty battery meter screams at you for being a risk taking maverick idiot.
There are several game modes on offer from the game's clean main menu, with all of the usual suspects lining up - arcade mode where you race against the AI and the clock, single race, time attack, a stunt mode where you get to fling your vehicle around trying to score stunt points before the timer runs out, and finally the championship. A good championship mode is key for a racing title, and luckily Stunt GP ticks all the boxes in this regard. A 20 race championship, complete with a points based leaderboard, cash prizes for placing on the podium and landing stunts and a decent vehicle upgrade tree are all part and parcel. 
It also fails to commit that most heinous of crimes whereby failing to finish in a certain position hinders progress. No, in Stunt GP if you finish last you are awarded the minimum number of points and simply move on to the next race, taking the well deserved 'L' with you. It really keeps things interesting, especially considering that the AI vehicles are not infallible; they will crash, they will run out of power and they will occasionally balls things up, meaning that the championship leader can constantly change from race to race. Like a good football season, it can go to the wire. Exciting stuff.
So far, so positive then. Stunt GP is a fun little racer that doesn't take itself too seriously. It has a wealth of gameplay modes, loads of tracks and vehicles and - again - offers some really engrossing racing action. The only area where it falls short is in the visuals, and even then it's only one aspect of the visuals. See, the game looks lovely in stills. And it also looks lovely in motion...most of the time. The bright colours, chunky cars and nicely modelled tracks and backgrounds all suit the style of the game down to the ground, however the one thing that lets it down is an occasionally choppy frame rate. 
And that's a real shame because when it is behaving itself Stunt GP looks great. But on those occasions where there's just a bit too much happening on screen, or the view shifts to display the entire course laid out before you, those frames come tumbling down like Humpty Dumpty falling off that wall. It's a real shame as otherwise Stunt GP is solid, but when the frame rate stutters cause you to misjudge a corner or a jump, then it becomes an issue. Not a game-breaking issue, but it's certainly enough to detract slightly from the fun.
Stunt GP then. An interesting entry into the Dreamcast's garage of racers and one that I would hazard a lot of people didn't even know was on the Dreamcast. Its certainly worth picking up if you get the chance though, as it offers some superb racing action and a brilliant championship mode. Just be wary of those dropped frames and you won't be disappointed.

What are your thoughts on Stunt GP? Agree with my sentiments that it's a hidden gem or are you more of a ReVolt fan? Let us know in the comments!


JRod said...

I rank stunt gp as the best of the rc car racers on the console. To me it has the best and most well thought out track designs of the rc and kart racerish type of games. Some of revolt's tracks feel a bit too cluttered for my taste. Biggest drawback for me with Stunt GP is the lack of car variety compared to re volt.

Unknown said...

Nice little summary of the game, tho I disagree with these parts:

"To be honest, the title Stunt GP is a little misleading, as even though the ability to do stunts is imbued on the player, trying to successfully pull them off is an exercise in extreme annoyance, and the 'stunt' aspect of the gameplay can be totally ignored for the most part (unless you're playing the dedicated stunt mode, naturally)...You can choose to sacrifice some of your battery power as a boost, but this will drain the battery quicker meaning you'll need to entry the charging lane during the race to recharge."

The reason being that there is a reason to perform tricks even during regular races: performing stunts successfully refills your battery, the more complex the trick, the more it refills. Once you figure this out, it adds another layer of depth to the game, experimenting where can you perform tricks, which tricks can you perform, how many of them, and this all varies based on cars, as some cars can jump higher/further, and some cars can also perform tricks faster than other cars.

Once you get the hang of performing tricks, you can do entire races without ever having to go to recharge, with a ton of battery to spare to boost a lot as well.

About performing stunts successfully, once you figure out how it works, it's very easy. You hold down the 'stunt' button to initiate a stunt at the start of the jump. Then, during a stunt, accelerate makes the car spin forward, brake makes the car spin backward, left/right makes it spin left/right. The trick is knowing to let go of accelerate/brake/left/right to make the car stop spinning so it lands on its wheels. Obviously the instinct is to never let go of the accelerate, but during stunts it's necessary to judge how many spins you can squeeze into a jump.

I admit, sometimes the physics is pretty wonky, screwing up landings that you feel you should have nailed, but other times you land safely when it looked like you should have failed, so it's not necessarily unfair. But At least 90-95% of the times, I have no problem landing stunts.

Tom Charnock said...

Fair comment unknown, maybe I need to spend more time honing my stunt game!

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

The only drawback of this game is the inconsistent frame rate. I think it would be better if Team 17 put a lock in 30fps than leave it all over the pace. Apart from that is a great game, with insane track designs and a lot of fun. It looks that the development team move their efforts into PS2 version and leave the Dreamcast version as it was when they felt what is happening with SEGA. It's important to remember that it's one of the games that was originally planned for the Dreamcast itself. It's not a Ps1 or N64 port. I think that play this game in a overclocked Dreamcast (or in a emulator) must help solve the performance issues a lot. Sadly my Dreamcast is not overclocked.

Tom Charnock said...

Yes, totally agree. I wonder what could have been achieved if the game had been created earlier in the Dreamcast's lifespan without the spectre of the console's cancellation hanging over it. It looks like Stunt GP was released in early 2001 after the announcement had already been made so development and fine tuning could have been shortened to get the game out onto shelves ASAP.

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

Yes Tom! By the way, there's a lot of games in between the last Dreamcast releases, that were launched very late, but had its last build or the last efforts from the development team happening much earlier than the release date. Ex. Max Steel, US esclusive, was released 2001-05-30, but was reviewed by IGN in December 2000. F1 Facing Championship, was launched in January 2001, but the last build, according to SEGA RETRO, was from 2000-05-30. Evil Twin, last official PAL game, released in 2002-04-26, build from 2002-01-09. But even this one looks that In Utero stops working in Dreamcast version around July, 2001, based on all the interviews from gamespot and ign. There was a chance of a North american release, due to september 2001, bug the game had some serious bugs to be removed yet. When Bigben Interactive took the rights to publish the game, looks that in Utero took the last build, fix the most serious bugs and send it to publishing in january 2002. It's a little obvious because despite beign one of my favorite (and EPIC!!) Dreamcast games, the Dreamcast version still had some bugs that were fixed in the PC/PS2 version (which were both released earlier, in 2001, by contrast). Stunt GP was released in June 2001, but the last build is from 2000-10-02. It sounds like the same situation from almost every late Dreamcast release: Developer team stops working/fine tuning the game and the last build stays floating with no effective progress until the publisher decided to release the game (even with SEGA stops manufacturing the Dreamcast). So the developer team rushes to make a last build, fixing some major bug, and the game was released as it was at that point in development. Even Headhunter falls in this category, with the last build still had to receive the last refinements and little bug fixes according to Amuze themselves. There are some exceptions of course, like Sonic Adventure 2 or Visual Concepts projects...

James Harvey said...

Stunt GP looks great even today.

Anthony817 said...

@JúlioSlayer Oliveira, unfortunately even my 20% overclock to 240mhz does not help the frame rate. Typically when that happens in games it is an indication of the RAM being the bottleneck. Perhaps with a 30fps lock on it like you said it could give way more consistent frames. But I have tested some other games like Half-Life with the overclock and it also does not help it due to the RAM being the real bottleneck for the system.

However that being said, this is one of the prettiest games graphically on the system for sure.

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

@Anthony, you answer one old question of mine about this game. I always suspect that the bottleneck in this case "could" be the overall RAM issue because some tracks are really big in scope and there's almost NO draw-in in this game. It has a really huge draw distance! By the way, since you have a overclocked Dreamcast could you see/test if the bottleneck for slowdown/frame skipping in some games happened for the CPU or main RAM issues (or another issues, like the non use of mipmaps in Shenmue 1/2)? I have this doubt about a lot of games, but by fastly, without think to much, I would like to know if a 240mhz overcloked CPU can solve the frame rate issues of: F1 World Grand Prix 1 and 2, Evil Twin, Slave Zero, Soul Reaver, Ecco The Dolphin, 90 Minutes Football/J. League Spectacle Soccer, Power Jet Racing/Surf Rocket Racers, (mainly in Surf Rocket Racers, on tracks like Amazon River), Exhibition of Speed, Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm, Max Steel (it juts happens in more open areas, with bigger draw distance) Urban Chaos (WinCE), Sega Rally 2 (WinCE), Soul Reaver and the "minor" fps issues in games like Sonic Adventure 1 and Hydro Thunder. There's a lot more, but if you already test some of them i'll be glad to know the results. Thanks for the Stunt GP information. One less reason for overclocked my dreamcast :), although I still wishing to have some day the "Ultimate Dreamcast"k with a Overclocked CPU (with turn on/off) and 32mb of main RAM :)

Anthony817 said...

I haven't tested those games, but i have tested in some like Test Drive 6, and Soldier of Fortune. It absolutely helps remove slowdown in those games. You wouldn't think Test Drive 6 would have performance issues but it does slow down at points. The Overclock mode helps it run silky smooth. SOF especially in the 2econd act with the helicopter and train has some pretty noticeable slowdown. OC mode makes it much better. Also with a GDEMU it loads levels in around 10 seconds vs the up to 2.5 minutes to load some levels.

I do know that Shenmue does run much better with OC mode turned on.

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

Thanks Anthony. I already knew about Soldier of Fortune and Shenmue 1 and 2 (mainly 2), but not about Test Drive 6. If one day you test some of the games that I mentioned, let me know :). I THINK that the slowdown in games like 90 Minutes Football may be the RAM issue, because I look at some videos on Youtube with this game played in emulators and in all of them the slowdowns remains terrible, like it's on my real not overclocked Dreamcast. The slowdown in this game reminds the way the slowdown happens in Draconus Cult of The Wyrm (Dragon's Blood in Europe), for example. It's a very strange kind of stutter/slowdown and happens in a no-standard way, with no logical patterns (in contrast with the obvious ones that occurs in Shmups, when the screen is full of bullets and explosions, for instance).