Milo Burik is The Wheelman. He drives, shoots, beats people up and talks smack, usually at the same time. If you think that might be a chore for any normal man, you’d be right. However, Milo is played by Vin Diesel, and from our Vin we would expect no less. That’s the way Vin, and every character that he has ever played in any movie ever, rolls. And roll Vin does in the latest take on free roaming, mission-based games from publisher Midway.
Developed by Tigon Software, Wheelman has had a rather drawn-out history. Originally announced in conjunction with a movie of the same name, the game has finally turned up almost five years later with Vin Diesel still on board but, to be honest, little else going for it. It’s a game that seems to have got stuck in traffic, only to emerge five years behind everyone else.
The game is set in Barcelona. CIA agent Milo Burik is assigned to thwart a diabolical plot that threatens the free world. Unfortunately details are a bit hard to come by as the game seems to rely on the film to fill in a lot of the gaps. Even more unfortunately, with no sign of the film, the story is as fractured as the pile of wrecked cars that Milo leaves in his wake.
Wheelman, as you would expect, is a drive around town, crashing things, collecting things, killing things kind of game. Compared with the top-flight games of its ilk, it falls short in a number of ways. In fact, when making comparisons, the game that comes to mind is not GTA or Saints Row, but The Simpson’s Road Rage. Like Road Rage the cars that Milo drives are as durable as tanks. The shame about it is that they are as boxy as tanks and drive like tanks too. Whether you are in a nippy little convertible, with a strangely oversized Milo looking over the windscreen, or an enormous eighteen wheeler, you’ll be bringing down trees, bouncing off buildings and crashing through bus stops like you’re Abe Simpson in his Shriner. “I’m missing Matlock!”
You get the feeling that the game is aspiring to that same level of fun achieved by Road Rage, and there are a few genuinely fun aspects to the game. The main one is the use of the right stick for melee combat. While you are driving you can flick the right stick either right of left and this will slam your ride into anything that is along side. Do this a few times and the opposing car will start to smoke, then shake and then disappear in a screaming fireball.
Although using the melee stick gives you an almost Vin Diesel level of invulnerability, you will on occasion need to get a new ride. Here Wheelman also has a rather fun trick. If you drive up behind a civilian you can airjack his butt. To do this you press circle. As you close in a red icon appears above the target car. When this turns green, you release the button and Milo will jump forward onto the car, kick out the hapless driver and continue on.
If smashing enemies and switching cars mid-mission hasn’t left you clear of Barcelona’s police or criminals then Milo has one more trick left. If you drift, pull handbreakies or crash through bus stops you fill your turbo gauge. Once this is filled Milo can pull out his piece and take care of the opposition from behind the wheel. As the colour washes out of the scene, and everything slows down you can pick off multiple targets at will. That’s right, it’s bullet time from behind the wheel. And yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.
Somewhat less awesome is the look of Barcelona. It is pretty bland. For a game in the works for five years, it feels ten years old. While we have come to expect wondrously rendered digital worlds that invite you to explore, the Barcelona represented in Wheelman invites you to use the in-game map to jump straight to the next mission. And thankfully that’s what the game allows you to do. Every mission, and every side mission, is accessed through the map, meaning that between missions you never have to drive anywhere. It is almost as if the makers of the game wanted to it to be as easy as possible to get through the game without having to drive around in the cars too much, or hang out to long in the city. There might be a lesson in that.
Although some aspects of the game do work, essentially Wheelman highlights everything that is bad about movie/game tie-ins. That is of course given that there isn’t actually a movie to go along with the game. Everything about it could be better. Even Vin Diesel sounds wrong. If his voice went any lower they’d have to invent a whole new level of masculine just for him.
It’s a shame because Vin Diesel driving fast and smashing things should always work. Unfortunately, while on paper it might have sounded like a Fast and Furious calibre idea, in reality Wheelman is barely a Pacifier.