Some people have remarked that Grand Theft Auto 4's best moments were in its car chases. While the game's many intense shoot-outs certainly deserve a mention, it's hard to deny that Rockstar knows how to put together a good chase.
Generally, the rule with action sequences in games is that the closer the player feels to failure, the more intense the scene becomes. The moment a player feels safe behind a piece of scenery, or has access to a weapon which destroys the challenge, tension inevitably drops.
However, we should not necessarily equate intensity with fun. Undoubtedly, as fans of games such as Ico or The Legend of Zelda can attest to, you can certainly have fun while proceeding at your own pace. Likewise, those few seconds proceeding your death in Pac-Man CE DX are invariably not as fun as when you tuck into a delicious ghost train.
Keeping a sequence genuinely tense for any length of time is a difficult feat to achieve, and in no genre is this more obvious than the car chase.
The car chase is a set-piece so fraught with difficulties that it presents an enormous challenge to even the most adept of developers. Chief among these challenges, to my mind at least, is a sense of speed. They need to be fast to avoid becoming monotonous, but with speed invariably comes an increased difficulty. At high speeds, the smallest mistake will send your car careening off the path. This will usually prompt a restart and repetition of the previous sequence of events. This causes several problems for the player including simple boredom.
The appearance of danger is a very difficult trick to achieve. Having explosions and other stimuli happening all around the player's vehicle may seem like a simple feature to include, but a difficult balance must be struck before this feels right. If the game presents too much danger, it makes it difficult for the player to stay focused on keeping their car on the road. Too little danger, however, cheapens the scene and makes it feel like you're racing through a film set as opposed to an action sequence.
Inevitably, the question arises of how exactly you're going to control all these external factors — the explosions, gunfire, and traffic that must be overcome if the player wants to keep up with his or her prey. Scripting out the entire scene is tempting. This ensures the difficulty is just right throughout and that everything is optimised for maximum effect. However, as soon the players repeat a scripted section, the game unwillingly reveals the man behind the curtain, and events that would have previously had them on the edge of their seats suddenly appear as mere charades to the people behind the controls.
Stuntman may not have been a great game, but it at least found a fantastic way around many of the problems described above. Since the game took place on the set of an action movie, it quite literally embraced the fact that it was completely scripted.
It was a devisively hard game, but with levels playing out the same way after every restart, the challenge became one of pattern memorization in addition to skill. The lack of freedom may have been offensive to some, but the satisfaction upon each level's completion more than made up for it.
Every gamer wants to show off, but most games leave this as an optional extra for the hardcore fans. You could play through Metal Gear Solid 3 and make it look amazing by utilizing all the extra features such as poisoning enemies with snakes or distracting them with dirty magazines, but after a certain point you're going to get lazy and just tranquillize everyone in your path (though I'm willing to admit this may just have been me).
It may not have been the ideal solution, but Stuntman would accept nothing less than the optimum run-though. If you didn't scrape that car just-so as you passed it, or if you didn't plough through those boxes as you exited the alleyway, then you weren't going to make it through the level.
So yes, Stuntman was unforgiving. It was often infuriating and gave you no freedom at all aside from the freedom to fail. Its achievement though, was that once you'd finally made it through, you were eager to watch your replay. My question to you then is: How many other games have managed to do that?