Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Wheelman

Action hero Vin Diesel takes center stage in Wheelman, blending explosive action with vicious car chases into something clearly aimed at teenage boys across the globe. Beneath the cartoonish action is a surprisingly slick story. The burly protagonist, Milo, is an undercover agent sent to infiltrate the criminal underworld in Barcelona. By taking on the role of personal driver, Milo has a front row seat to meet some of the biggest names in the business – a bit like the pizza delivery guy, only with a slightly more exciting set of job skills. While the cinematic delivery of this tale might have been more interesting on the silver screen, it works well enough to propel the main character from one mission to another in the context of an action game.

As you may surmise, the simulated driving mechanics in Wheelman are shifted a bit closer to the arcade classic Crazy Taxi than to reality. While the action maintains a heightened level of danger rather than zaniness, there’s definitely more polish on the pizzazz than the driving mechanics that form the game itself. The fancy stunts and daredevil driving isn’t all just for show, however. Rather than earning arbitrary “points” for pulling off moves, your focus meter builds, which can then be used to pull off a variety of useful maneuvers. The stunts themselves are not only useful, but completely necessary. As you’re speeding down the road and swerving through lanes of traffic (sometimes striking cars with minimal effect), you’re often chased by thugs and law
enforcement officials who’d like nothing better than to end your roadway crusade. To combat these guys, Milo can ram his vehicle against others, and even unleash a barrage of slow-motion gunfire, provided his aim is true.Making his way from one mission to the next requires that Milo travel on foot in certain areas. This isn’t so bad most of the time, and would have been even better had some light-RPG style elements been incorporated. Unfortunately, there are a few instances where the combat takes place on foot, and this is where the game seems to fail the most. The mechanics for these gunfights appear inexcusably underdeveloped, and despite their blessed infrequency throughout the game, these firefights detract significantly from an otherwise pleasant gameplay experience. Movements and aiming feel very unnatural, and the enemy AI seems like something out of a game from the nineties.

On the graphical front, Wheelman is surprisingly bland. There isn’t nearly enough depth here to attract players on anything beyond a superficial basis, and yet the game suffers from flat texture and outdated shadows all over the place. Audio is thankfully superior, with grinding metal and fiery blasts aplenty, so there’s more than enough here to give any action junkie a workout for their surround sound setup. Vin Diesel voices the main character, easily stealing the show from the supporting cast. Pithy lines in exaggerated baritone litter than aural landscape, which will no doubt make guys smirk and gals scream. Even so, the simple nature of Wheelman’s gameplay begins to wear thin quickly, despite the full game taking only a few hours to complete. A few side missions have been packed in as well, but there isn’t much here to keep players strapped in once they’ve finished the campaign. Diesel fans will love the action, but even the most indiscriminate adrenaline junkies won’t find a very long term fix with Wheelman.

Publisher: Midway Games
Developer: Midway Studios - Newcastle

Minimum System Requirements
OS: Windows XP SP2/Vista
Processor: Intel Core 2 DUO @ 2 GHz
Memory: 2 GB
Hard Drive: 9 GB Free
Video Memory: 512 MB (NVidia GeForce 7900/ATI Radeon x1950)
Sound Card: DirectX Compatible
DirectX: 9.0c


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