Vin Diesel is back as Wheelman. He's not the Wheelman, just... Wheelman, the Pontiac driving, car jacking star of Midway and Tigon Studios' upcoming action driving game. Diesel has been digitised before, starring in the Chronicles of Riddick side story, Escape From Butcher Bay, and Wheelman has similar Hollywood tie-ins.
It's not just designed as a day and date release cash-in, as the game follows the Tigon design mantra of "combining key film components with unique game play". That comes through in some of Wheelman's more dramatic driving sequences, ones that will see the titular driver jump flaming oil tankers and smash into cubicles as he speeds through an office building.
Wheelman forgoes realistic driving for over the top badassery. Diesel's digital alter ego can "air jack" vehicles a la Pursuit Force. He'll jump from car to car, kicking out the driver without missing a beat. The whole thing looks a bit silly in person, but this is the kind of game one should suspend all disbelief for.
This is mostly forgiving arcade-style stuff. Think San Francisco Rush instead of Driver and you'll be a lot happier. Having your tires blown out and driving on rims doesn't feel like it has much impact on your wheelman skills. It's all speed, adrenaline, big jumps and sexy undercover missions.
As the Wheelman, you can pull off stock Hollywood car chase moves. You'll be able to ram vehicles by flicking the right analogue stick forward or side-to-side. There's no spinning out — unless you're doing the bullet-time 360 degree spin that lets Vin fire on pursuing vehicles through the windshield — and you'll never mistake the game for a sim. You'll most likely have your finger on the trigger the entire time, giving whatever car you're in maximum acceleration.
The game is set in a Hollywoodified version of Barcelona, featuring locale specific architecture and landmarks, but lacking in the city's civil engineering. It's an attractive city, featuring some 130 missions spread throughout its racetrack of a road system. According to Midway reps on hand, the game, while packed with things to do, should only take about 10 hours or so to burn through.
Visually, Wheelman has its ups and downs. The city is well modeled, but some unfortunately chosen close-ups on character models can make for a very ugly Vin Diesel. While the city and its vehicles are nicely modeled, the frame rate and rag doll physics have some noticeably rough edges.
Given the game's "Fall" release date, some of this may be ironed out. At this point however, Wheelman feels like a game that's lacking in the features and polish that consumers might be expecting. There's no multiplayer mode to speak of, for one thing, and the package smacks of an half-competitor to titles like Grand Theft Auto IV or Saints Row 2.
There's a certain charm and vibrancy to the game, but it certainly has its share of shortcomings. Whether those will be addressed in the final version — and whether controlling Vin Diesel will be enough for folks thirsting for some arcade style, mission based racing — remains to be seen.