Midway Studios Newcastle's/Tigon Studios’ Wheelman is an open-world action title. In it, you control a digital Vin Diesel named Milo. He’s good at driving and doesn’t mind killing anything that gets in his way.
Wheelman (PlayStation 3, PC, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Wheelman opens with cuts of Milo, the protagonist, sitting in his car, checking his surroundings with a cool gaze. The camera becomes his eyes. He observes a man on a cell phone who nervously turns and walks away. He looks left -- a cop car with two policemen. They stare, obviously curious about the massive and bald Italian-American man chilling in his car outside an important building. The camera cuts to a woman. She has just stolen a briefcase from, uh, a building. As she walks out, the alarm system ignites in a series of high-pitched squeals. She runs to Milo’s car.
Wheelman is an open-world action title (think Grand Theft Auto, Godfather, Mafia, Crackdown, etc.). The familiar staples include: wonky out-of-the-car controls, map system, tons of side missions, irreverent characters, carjacking, silly physics, and plenty of environmental destruction. Where Wheelman expands upon that and becomes its own title is -- you may have guessed it -- the behind-the-wheel action.
But Wheelman isn’t just about getting somewhere fast. It’s about doing it with style and violence. Whenever you hit a big ramp -- there are quite a few -- time slows and the camera pans around the vehicle’s exterior. Surprisingly, I never tired of the effect. It’s nice to be rewarded for doing something inspiring to begin with. The cinematic flair doesn’t stop there -- it also extends to the action. Milo can crunch cars with an interesting and satisfying car-based melee system. When an opposing vehicle gets within your sphere of influence, you can smash the car by flicking the right analog stick in the direction of the vehicle. If you drill an opposing car enough, it will turn into a fireball, slow motion-style.
As you hit the big jumps and destroy objects in the environment, a special ability meter fills. It’s called Focus, and when initiated, time crawls and the camera enters into a tight third-person view of Milo inside his vehicle. A new targeting system is displayed, allowing you to aim at and destroy vehicles or explosive barrel-laden obstructions with ease.
These additions to a GTA-style game are certainly welcome, and I was glad to find that Wheelman decided to use the same mission structure. Main story missions can be started whenever you desire, allowing you to free roam around Barcelona. While that sounds great, I found that Barcelona lacks any sort of personality. The AI wanders aimlessly, as do its drivers. It's a boring place without a mission in progress.
Speaking of main story missions, let’s just get this out of the way: Wheelman’s story is a mess. Milo is some sort of supercop from the United States who comes to Bacelona to, uh, do something. Don’t get me wrong -- each mission is prefaced with story elements, but they’re thrown together haphazardly. After completing the game, I became even more confused. All I know for sure is that the poorly textured Milo can drive fast and doesn’t mind killing gang members ... because he’s a cop. I think.
There are also plenty of shoddy design choices. One level has you sneak with a car. While it sounds interesting, it’s not. It’s frustrating and utterly pointless. Another mission, midway through the game, is a segmented boss battle of sorts. One portion has you on foot, battling through legions of dumb soldiers with a clunky cover mechanic. The other two are epic chase scenes that could be awesome if the enemies didn’t respawn and crowd your car at all times. It took me two hours to beat this mission thanks to GTA-style sandbox ridiculousness and unneeded extra enemies.
And bad design also works its way into the gunplay. The on-foot missions are terrible. You can duck and pop from behind objects, but there’s really no point -- the AI will just stand around and allow you to crack their skulls. In the car, it’s a mess. Whenever you narrow a reticule on an enemy’s tyre in an attempt to slow them down (shooting tires never works; they’re always faster than you) it takes several shots to bust the tire. Even though the reticule is firmly placed on the tire, you have to shoot until it turns red, and only then can the target be hit. It’s odd and ineffective.
Score: 6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)