Reviewed by Martin Bigg (Star Wars Fanatic)
Picture this - you’re in the midst of a car chase being pursued by gun wielding baddies in an assortment of vehicles. Do you a) repeatedly smash them into deathly submission b) shoot them in the face whilst driving in stylish slow motion or c) leap out of your moving vehicle and commandeer another, tossing the driver out in the process? This is a recurring dilemma in Wheelman, the latest in a long line of open world mission based titles. It may pride itself with Hollywood infused car chases, but is there any substance beneath its Hollywood veneer?
The game stars the decidedly gravelly voiced Vin Diesel, who takes the role of Milo Burik (not too dissimilar from Gta4’s Nikko Bellick), an undercover “wheelman” working for various unexplained factions in Barcelona. Throughout the game, you undertake various missions that primarily involve high speed driving with a dash of on foot shooting and side missions thrown in for good measure. Sound familiar? Well, this is because it borrows from just about every other existing game in the genre, and manages to execute it all with almost no soul whatsoever.
As the main game progresses, the plot does not, and you are left with little inkling as to what is happening, whilst Diesel delivers the obligatory one-liners. As a result, the game sits firmly in its Hollywood roots by concentrating on the action, but sadly the monotonous mission structure wears thin very quickly, with clichéd tasks such as tailing suspects, escorts and an all manner of pursuit sequences.
To try and spice things up, Wheelman implements a special moves system, which enables you to pull off a variety of slick manoeuvres to dispose of your opponents. Utilising the right analogue stick for example turns your car into a weapon, allowing you to ram other vehicles off the road with ease, but the physics of this system leave a lot to be desired, as does the car handling in general which is consistently ropey. Likewise, a quick tap of the shoulder button will instantly slow down time, allowing you to gallantly shoot at other vehicles with precision, or alternatively you can use air-jack, which will result in you ditching your current vehicle in a preposterous leap of faith onto any other passing car, Pursuit Force style. It’s fun to watch, but, as with most of the game’s lacklustre features, it soon becomes a mere novelty. The ease in which you can execute these abilities also takes away the sense of thrill, danger and challenge that is so essential in high octane car chases – it just never feels as exciting as it should to play.
The location doesn’t help matters, either. Spain is rarely featured as a main set piece in video games, but Wheelman’s rendition of the permanently sunny Barcelona is not a worthy one. Compared to GTA’s Liberty City which is rife with splendid character, Barcelona feels lifeless thanks to a low level of inhabitants and severely unpolished graphics, although the level of environment destructibility is at least borderline impressive. The graphics, whilst not turgidly bad for the most part, fail to impress by looking inconceivably average, with some particularly poorly detailed textures found on the character models. Whilst there is a free roaming mechanic, there is very little to keep you occupied other than a few laborious side missions, which do little to extend the main game’s limited lifespan of around 6 hours. You can’t even run over pedestrians for fun. In fact, you can’t even shoot them since the game appears to have adopted an intriguing moral standing - presumably every pedestrian in Barcelona wears a suit of body armour, as they are impossibly invulnerable.
Eventually, you get the opportunity to venture out of the car on foot, but things only become worse in this area. It’s clear that the developer’s focus was on the driving aspects, as you would expect from the title “Wheelman”, so consequently the on foot sections feel awkward and cumbersome, with some particularly shoddy AI making for some underwhelming gun fights.
Overall, Wheelman feels like something of a missed opportunity to reinvigorate the genre. At its best, it’s a cheap popcorn thriller, but at its worst it’s a sloppy and unpolished rendition of every other free roaming sandbox game, starring a malevolent man that eats gravel.
VaRaces rating: 5/10