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 But: I think it’s useful and fascinating as a historical document, not from an ‘ooh, weren’t people funny in the 90s’ perspective but as a sign-post to how flight sims still could reach far beyond their current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.