I didn’t exactly have high hopes for The Wheelman when I first heard about it. “A cinematic blockbuster starring Vin Diesel” are never the best choice of words. I’m not a fan of Vin Diesel, but I did enjoy Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay for the Xbox, and that’s about it. So, when The Wheelman arrived for me to play through I was surprised. But only a little.
I’m going to kick things off on a negative. The story is horrific. Absolutely terrible. You play as Milo, Vin Diesel’s character, who is an undercover driver working for some organisation (that is never made clear) in Barcelona. His goals are never made clear, the goals of the three rival gangs are never made clear either, nor are the reasons why you are even doing these missions. There are cutscenes, but none of them make any sense, and it really distracts from the game. You’re looking for some guy named Felipe, chasing some people down, stopping World War 3?! I didn’t know, and I soon quickly found myself not caring about the cutscenes.
The Wheelman attempts to make the experience open-world and…it is. But it’s extremely poorly done. All the streets of Barcelona look the same so it is impossible to find your way around the city using landmarks as route guides. Luckily, the PDA allows you to skip to wherever you need to go for your next mission. But then again, this detracts from the gameplay as well because you suddenly find yourself taking part in a mission just like that (after some long loading screens).
Speaking of missions though, they are pretty fun for the first few times. They do definitely capture that Hollywood blockbuster car chase feel, and this is easily one of the best parts of the game. The missions usually involve driving someone around, rescuing someone or getting attacked by a rival gang. Wheelman does sometimes shake things up a bit by putting what seems to be an ordinary drive from A to B mission by letting you scare the living crap out of someone. This is done by driving dangerously enough to get information from them or trying to cause as much damage as possible. These 1 in 10 missions are really what brings the fun to Wheelman.
The on-foot sections, however, are awful. Your controls are sloppily and is usually extremely boring. Find cover, shoot the enemies, move forwards, find cover, shoot enemies, move forwards, rinse and repeat. The major problem is that the on-foot missions are all too frequent. Had The Wheelman just been a driving action game through and through, similar to the old Driver games, then this would have been an above average action game, but the on-foot sections really let the game down. There are a few different types of side missions in the game, none of which are really any fun or beneficial, so they are best just left as you plough through the pretty short “story” missions.
The AI is also pretty awful. If you shoot an enemies cover away, they just seem to stand behind where the cover was regardless, making them easier to shoot. The driving AI is also pretty awful, but I suppose that is there to make you feel badass when you take out a group of stupid enemies at once.
The driving mechanics are pretty fun though. ‘Air jacking’ is easily the most fun. No, it’s not some sort of daredevil self-pleasuring technique. It involves holding down the ‘air jack’ button whilst driving along to ditch your car and jump onto a near by car, kicking the driver out and taking control, all in one fluid motion, and it looks pretty damn cool. Alongside this you are able to slow down time to gain a better shot from your car, allowing you to target specific parts of cars. There is also a similar move that spins your car or motorbike 180 to shoot any enemies behind you, again in slow-mo bullet-time. You can also flick left of right on the thumbstick to melee other vehicles with your car, making them spin off and burst into a glorious fireball. To activate many of these special moves you will need to gain some juice by filling the special gauge at the bottom of the screen. By pulling off handbrake turns, speeding and other fun stunts, the gauge will fill up allowing you to easily pull off these moves.
The game looks passable. There are some nice bloom effects from the glorious Barcelona sunshine, but it doesn’t do such a beautiful city any justice, which is a real shame. They had such an amazingly beautiful city to play around with and it just doesn’t look all that great. The voice acting is also pretty cheesy, even Vin Diesel’s which is sort of a necessity in any of his games, and the music is quickly forgettable.
The Wheelman isn’t a fantastic game, but really, I wasn’t expecting much. My expectations and hopes weren’t dashed. I instead got a sort of fun action game that has some cool missions but some terrible flaws and an awful story. You’re better off breaking out some of the old Driver games for the PlayStation One if you want some awesome driving action.