Friday, May 15, 2009
The recent releases of Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena and Wheelman have resulted in a significant increase in my Vin Diesel-related reviews. I look forward to a day when all video games come with the menacing visage of The Pacifier himself emblazoned on the box art, but we sadly have quite a ways to go. For now, we'll have to make do with Wheelman, a Burnout-meets-Just Cause title with a blatant (and sometimes hilarious) disregard for the laws of physics. At its best, it provides some laughs and high-speed, fast-paced action. At its worst, it's a broken, generic shooter.
After being displayed at every E3 since 2006, I was hoping for a more polished gaming experience. Unfortunately, many aspects of the game are uninspired and painfully generic. The actual driving controls are solid - you can blaze through Barcelona at ludicrous speed while pulling off insane stunts and fighting off enemies. When you're being pursued, a simple press of the right analog stick will "melee" the vehicle next to you, and by filling a focus meter you can even do things like whip your car around 180 degrees (in slow motion, of course) and shoot out the engines of enemies behind you. My favorite move is one you'll use often, and it's called "airjacking". This involves Mr. Diesel jumping onto the hood of his speeding car, and defying the laws of physics by leaping FORWARD onto a car in front of you. From there, it's just a matter of throwing the driver onto the road as you speed off with his ride. Wheelman makes no excuse for how ridiculous it is, which is a good thing because any attempt to do so would be laughable.
Unfortunately, for every one thing Wheelman does right, it does five things wrong. The graphic that indicates your objective often obscures the road in front of you, which is such an obvious issue I can't believe it wasn't rectified after QA testing. Races don't involve easily visible checkpoints, requiring you to keep your eyes glued to the radar rather than the street. The on-foot action is atrocious and should have been omitted entirely. An actual line of dialogue is "I kill you. Fwaaaaaa!!" (straight from the subtitles).
It seems like the developers had a nice, ludicrous "Burnout with guns" concept, but couldn't quite pull off a solid, finished product. You'll have fun airjacking or doing the special moves the first few times, but the game quickly devolves into GTA standbys like "follow this car...but don't get too close!!!". If it had more creative missions, a bigger variety of special moves, and omitted the on-foot action, Wheelman might have been a decent addition to your gaming library. As it stands, it's a weekend distraction at best.
First Play: 8.0
Replay Value: 5.0