Vin Diesel loves his video games. Not just playing them, but developing them and starring in them. Wheelman - starring Vin Diesel and developed by his own Tigon Studios came out last week - is a mix of Driver and Burnout and it's better than you might think. Here's five reasons why you might dig it.
You might like Wheelman if:
You don't want realism in your driving model The name Wheelman may lead you to assume this is a game all about driving. And, mostly, you'd be right. What's perhaps a little surprising is how simplistic the driving model is... in a game all about driving. Brakes are redundant as all but the most acute corners are navigable at top speed, while the handbrake is saved for 180-degree turns. Like in Burnout, you've got a special meter to fill by driving dangerously: into oncoming traffic, into trashcans, bus shelters, mailboxes and street lights, over conveniently placed ramps. This then gives pleasingly generous access to special moves, including the reliable turbo boost and slow-mo, aimed shots from behind the wheel. While my personal preference would lean towards a more rigorous simulation, there's something to be said for making it so easy to pull off something as absurd as the Cyclone - a 360-degree spin that pauses mid-turn to let you pick off pursuing vehicles with your pistol.
You like stupid stuff Every loading screen carries a gameplay tip. The first, shown immediately after I'd selected New Game from the menu, had me scratching my head with its reference to melee attacks carried out with your vehicle. Turns out these melee attacks are the highlight of the game. Tapping the right stick will cause your car to swerve violently in that direction; if another car's in the way, you'll sideswipe it. Inflict enough damage and you gain a window of opportunity to execute a "finishing move", one final collision that'll take out a pursuing enemy permanently, and in a slow-mo cut-scene. The addition of a melee attack serves to spice up otherwise utterly conventional chase missions. Racing at ridiculous speeds and lurching from side to side to ram enemies with a weighty crunch proves to be quite entertaining.
You thought Just Cause was onto something You remember Just Cause? South American theme, open world, parachuting and grappling vehicles? Wheelman remembers, and tries to rip-off inject some of that over-the-top-ness via its "airjack" manoeuvre. When you drive behind another car you can hold down a face button and Vin will lean out of the window. Get close enough and you can release that button, prompting our bald hero to leap from one vehicle to another, kick the driver out and take the wheel himself. It works well to maintain the game's pace and keep you in the driver's seat. So if your current car's about to explode, rather than jumping out and having the action slow down as you try to steal another car, you can just jump from one to another and keep going.
You can't get enough side missions There's a story to Wheelman, but it barely matters. Open world games tend to work best when you're presented with a host of side missions and are able to tackle them at your leisure. While those on offer here don't match, say, Saints Row 2 for variety and, well, stupidity, they're still where much of the fun is to be had. Genre standards such as Taxi and Rampage missions are joined by, er... other genre standards such as the one where you have to take some dude out... to the one where you have to race some dude... to the one where you have to go get some dude's car. Yep, they're conventional, but there are loads of them and collecting gold, silver and bronze medals unlock useful stuff, like upgrades to your cars and safehouses.
You rent games It won't take you long to burn through the main story missions, the side missions will get repetitive and there's no multiplayer to speak of to hold your interest. But what Wheelman does provide is some stupid fun. In that sense it's much like the films Vin has forged a career from. This is a b-movie masquerading as a b-game. It's definitely worth a rent and seems well-suited to an evening passing the controller and a few beers among your mates.
Wheelman was developed by Midway and published by Ubisoft. It was released on March 26 for PS3 and Xbox 360 (RRP $109.95) and PC (RRP $89.95).