Stunt Island, a vital piece of PC gaming history, is back

SWAT 4 isn’t the only golden geriatric to fetch up on GOG lately, you know. Stunt Island joined the ranks of olden wunderkinds on the Steam alternative late last year, but we were too knee-deep in festive fractiousness to cover it at the time. I don’t want to just ignore the charming and ambitious flight sim-meets-movie-making game, so let’s do this now.

The first thing I should say is that 1992’s Stunt Island is one of those games I’m choosing not to actually play again. My memories of it are of breathtaking landscapes and heart-stopping derring-do, and looking at screenshots through one eye suggests it’s now stuck in an awkward technological hinterland between joyfully retro and early-3D-as-stylised-aesthetic (that latter being the case for Quake, for example). It’s not a million miles away from the latter – just not quite there, just that little bit too basic.

I remember storming through staggeringly real-looking barns, or looping dramatically around a Golden Gate bridge that seemed so magnificent that, for years, seeing the real thing was the main motivator I had for visiting America. I remember rescuing a desperate man from the highest point of Alcatraz, and feeling that I had become part of something far more than Just A Game.

Don’t feed nostalgia. It’s powerful and it’s vicious and it’s deadly. Let it rest with memory, where it belongs, otherwise you’re in for disappointment at best, or a slow shift into bitterly resenting any deviation from what you think is good and true and right at worst.

On the other hand, I guess I’m recommending that the rest of you go play Stunt Island if you didn’t at the time, now that it’s available to buy again, via GOG, for the first time in forever. Go figure. But: I think it’s useful and fascinating as a historical document, not from an ‘ooh, weren’t people funny in the 90s’ perspective but as a sign-post to how flight sims still could reach far beyond their current realism-to-the-max ghetto.

I didn’t particularly care about planes when young. Planes were just something that Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp turned into. Planes were something I got a free bag of peanuts on if we ever went further than France on holiday.

Stunt Island showed me that planes did amazing loop-the-loops and rescued people from towers and flew through barns at a million miles an hour and crashed spectacularly into church spires. Stunt Island let me be a sort of homespun Bond or Indiana Jones, doing all the most exciting setpieces with none of the danger and most certainly not even a hint of bloodshed. I practiced a stunt challenge and I would usually fail it dozens of times, before finally getting it right and so chopping it into a crude film afterwards.

I learned the basics of how planes worked, and I learned the basics of how to edit video and even vague cinematography too. I never took any of that knowledge anywhere, but I know that this is a game that gave me something back, rather than just indulged an existent desire for painstakingly accurate simulation, as I feel the bulk of flight sims do now.

Something was lost. Some path we should have taken was diverted from. Flight sims became – forgive me – boring for most of us although they were increasingly fascinating for a minority of us, when Stunt Island said that they should have been for everyone. Crimson Skies was a wonderful belated reminder, but that too did not lead to the things we deserved.

I don’t want to ever play Stunt Island itself- that would be far too destructive. I want a new Stunt Island, in spirit far more than name.

Go play it and see if you can understand what I’m on about here.

Stunt Island is available via GOG for Windows, for £6.99/£9.99.

24 Comments

  1. Kefren says:

    “Don’t feed nostalgia. It’s powerful and it’s vicious and it’s deadly. Let it rest with memory, where it belongs, otherwise you’re in for disappointment at best”

    Not always. I’ve been having tons of fun playing my favourite Spectrum, C64 and Amiga games on emulators recently after buying some Bitmap Books … books. Some games have aged horribly, yet others are still brilliant. Exolon and Knight Lore (Spectrum); Alleykat and Wizball (C64); Buggy Boy and New Zealand Story (Amiga).
    Sometimes the nostalgia lives up to its name, and that’s a happy message. :-)

    • LexW1 says:

      This is the thing – most games age poorly and are only of interest in either a nostalgic or “of their time” way, but there are some, maybe more than a few, which are still between okay and great, even by modern standards. For me the one I noticed most was Dungeon Master. It’s still better than most games of that genre, and for some reason, the slightly minimalist art style doesn’t really seem to have aged at all, and it plays in a fairly sharp way.

      With Stunt Island, I’m delighted to see it on GoG, and would be delighted if a modern sequel was made, but doubt I’ll go back to it. My brother and I spent endless hours setting up little movies in it – I will always in particular remember his black & white 1950s-style (it was a visual filter you could apply) “propaganda” movies about the threat from communist cows and the like.

      • Kefren says:

        You’re right that some of the 3D stuff aged the worst. I remember replaying Dungeon Master recently (a PC version) and it was as brilliant as I remembered. I even recalled the level layouts and secrets, and hardly had to refer to maps. The cool level of golems and firestaff, or dragon, were still a thrill.

  2. awwells says:

    still waiting on the re release of Microsoft 3d movie maker

    • FaceHaver says:

      Microsoft 3D Movie Maker was a great way to introduce children to the potential of the computer as a tool for creativity. As kids, my brother and I spent many hours making terrible movies with it and entertaining ourselves. (I recall that a nefarious giant baby was a recurring antagonist in our films.)

      It surprises me that no company has released a “spiritual sequel” to 3DMM. Given the power of modern computers, it would be easy to include fully three-dimensional environments (rather than pre-rendered images with depth maps and fixed camera angles), basic automated lip-syncing based on the amplitude of dialogue, dynamic lighting, etc. Strikes me as the kind of thing that would be enormously popular with kids and adults alike.

  3. Drib says:

    Flight sims have gotten too realistic and boring, as you state.

    I miss the old days of combat flight sims, zipping about in a F-whatever jet, dogfighting just like they don’t do, and firing missiles at this and that.

    But now you’d have to have $1000 in flightstick and yoke and peripherals to even start with one.

    • benzoate says:

      Have you tried the Ace Combat games?

      Though, I’m not sure if any were ever released for Windows.

      • LewdPenguin says:

        Assault Horizon was back in 2013, sadly the only one to make the journey here afaik, and I say sadly because it was a bit crap and is generally derided by fans of the earlier games in the series.
        Maybe we’ll get a PC port of the recently announced next game at some stage in time, but it’s likely to be PS4 exclusive for a while, and might yet turn out a bit crap too.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is on PC.

        There’s a new one coming out this year but appears to be PS4 exclusive. It’s a VR game though, so who knows.

    • Smoof says:

      This is probably not going to be well received, but: Have you tried World of Warplanes? I’ve since stopped playing it due to low player numbers, but it has a bit of that silliness associated with it. Flying under/over/through bridges to try and elude someone on your tail and hoping they crash; swooping through canyons, trying to cut as close to the mountain as you can, so the guy diving on you has to either break off, or risk not being able to pull up in time.

      Lots of thrilling moments like that in WoWP, even if it was widely maligned for not being realistic like War Thunder.

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      If you fancy going to the extreme opposite end of a hardcore sim (and don’t mind a mostly dead multiplayer scene), there’s always DogFighter, which is basically Quake in souped-up biplanes.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      Not “1000”, since I gather you are american, you can get a ThrustMaster 16000m for less than $ 50 (I always read people that get it for $ 35 or less on sale) and that’s more than enough to start, it has twist rudder, a small throttle slider and proprietary mapping software T.A.R.G.E.T. support for older games compatibility (it lets you swap axis function and map unrecognized buttons and hats).
      Personally I’m more of a vintage spacesims fan so I went for a sturdier (and rudderless) CH products Combatstick, but the 16000m is an excellent beginner stick with the possibility to upgrade to HOTAS with the TCWS throttle if you feel the need.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jiblet says:

      Try Strike Fighters or Combat Air Patrol 2.

  4. CartonofMilk says:

    Bought this back in 1992. 14 i was. Was big into flight sims, so was my brother. It failed as a flight sim of course (though it was a really pretty looking one at the time) but that wasn’t the point. I had ambitions to make elaborate videos but getting anything done right took so much time and effort i never got that far with my ideas. Funny to see it mentioned here today though because just 2 days ago i was watching someone’s stunt island movies from the year 1995 they had uploaded on youtube. it’s not like it’s a thing i do… i wanna say maybe once before in the past 25 years did i check out stunt island vids on YT. And yes….that did not age well. Better left to your nostalgia.

    The main memory of this game that remains to me is listening to U2’s Boy on my walkman while i did crazy stunts and low fly bys. Especially to the song Out of Control. This was at the very beginning of my two years long teenage obsession with U2 . That game and that part of my life are somehow linked forever in my mind.

  5. Merry says:

    My heart was all aflutter there while I thought for a moment that you were talking about Crimson Skies. But no, it was not to be.

    Stunt Island was a Disney game that I bought when it came out. It was too hard for me and probably, even at the time, too ugly.

  6. rochrist says:

    I’d love a remake of this.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Godwhacker says:

    I talked my Mum into getting me this at a PC World, back when PC World was a magical place full of dreams and excitement rather than fridges and USB cables. I think I was a bit too young to really appreciate it- I don’t think I ever landed a plane properly- but I loved flying around the seemingly endless island regardless.

    I think I might actually get something from replaying it, although not having a flight stick means I’d need to spend rather more than the asking price to get the proper experience. Also my Dad might come into the room and kick me off the computer so he can use Quicken.

  8. AaronSteinmetz says:

    Hundreds…possibly thousands of hours I spent playing this game as a kid taught me that creativity in video games is a rare thing, and it’s practically nonexistent now. We have Minecraft (with curiously similar retrographics) and some others, but we don’t really have a sandbox game that lets us create things. I really thought the rising popularity of machinima a decade ago might bring Stunt Island-type games back. No dice. And we have the technology. Will someone who knows how to do this create a mod for GTA V to do Stunt Island in San Andreas?

    Mind you, I haven’t looked for this mod. Heck, it might even be a feature in the game already. I’ve done literally no research before posting this.

    • LewdPenguin says:

      GTA V has a handful of flying missions for Trevor, and there’s also optional fly-through-the-skyhoops time trials that take you on ‘cinematic’ tours of the map, or just blitzing a bunch of bridges, so it’s already in there kind of.
      Those parts of the game probably don’t add up to all that much gameplay even taken altogether, but since the mechanics are already part of the game I assume they’re available to players for creating custom challenges online so the possibilities at least are pretty huge for scenarios, can’t say I’ve ever looked either as to date I’ve entirely ignored the online side of GTA.

  9. Jekhar says:

    Regarding accessible, fun flight games, i heartily recommend the early PS2 title Sky Odyssey. It’s veers heavily on the arcade side, but offers an awesome adventure setting and varied missions. Finding an aircraft carrier in a heavy storm, climbing a steep mountain, reaching a distant island via wind currents, refueling by train and much more.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    On the topic of nostalgia, arcade mini-racer Ignition also recently appeared on GOG. Was really fun and inventive. Played a bit and it’s still great.

  11. Tourist says:

    I wanted this game so badly in my youth. I’d read about it in a PC gaming magazine. I spent ages staring longingly at the screen shots and read the three or four paragraphs explaining what you could do in the game over and over, to the point I could almost recite them.

    Sadly it either never released in Australia, or never released in the stores I had access to (the ones on-route between the shops my parents visited on chores).

    Sigh…

    • Uberwolfe says:

      Mate! you just described exactly the way it was for me.. hell it was probably even the same magazine we were reading!

      I saved up my pocket money and mail-ordered it from the UK. Still remember when I got the parcel… exciting times it was :)

  12. tomek says:

    It ran in 256 colours and had gouraud shaded planes. I cant rememeber if i enjoyed it.