Release Date: 03/24/09
A driving game mixed in with some open ended sandbox shooting and Vin Diesel to coincide with the release of Fast & Furious? I would have said sign me up, but a bit more spit and polish would have taken this from a fun game to a fantastic one. I’ve never played GTA or Burnout, and most of my racing or driving game experience is from Pursuit Force or Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. So this is a kind of fresh eyes on the genre. This game needed a few more minutes in the kiln even if you haven’t played any of the games I’ve mentioned. Let’s take a look at where they went wrong and what’s kept me playing this game.
This game’s story missions are one big cliche after another. The story itself has kind of been done before in xXx, one of Vin Diesel’s other films, in case you hadn’t heard of it. He’s a somewhat reluctant undercover agent looking to get in on the criminal underworld and do this for an agent of the law because he’s one of the few who can. The dialogue and interactions aren’t that great, but they’re passable. More or less. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare from this game, but this is movie tie-in quality dialogue and this game doesn’t have a movie tied with it, yet.
So you’ve got the story missions that more or less move pass for a story, but in this sandbox you just drive around and do absolutely nothing if you choose. You don’t have to drive to the missions either. You can open up your PDA and click on the mission you want as long as you have a vehicle for the ones that need it. Quite a few of the story missions provide you with one. The side missions don’t and they’re are some of the more fun ones. They don’t really pertain to the story though so I’ll talk about them later.
Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre
Be aware that while this game is ‘next-gen,’ it’s not the prettiest one out there. The town does feel a bit bland and repetitive except for the really well done landmarks. The cars for the most part aren’t exceptional but for the few Pontiac’s that really shine. Gee, I wonder why? Oh, there goes a Pontiac billboard right after another Midway one. The characters all appear kind of oily. They at least for the most part look like real people and Vin looks like Vin but everyone else seems a bit more cartoonish. When it works though it really works. The slow motion crashes are a fantastic touch.
I do have a few issues with some glitches, and the fact that the game isn’t supporting mobile video cards at all, but I can’t hold too much against it here as it does say that blatantly on the box.I will touch on this again later though.
Graphics Rating: Good
The voice acting isn’t terrible. Vin Diesel does a great job with some really cliched and cheesy lines, much like he does in most of his films. Ahhh, my guilty pleasures. Everyone else is passable and not really all that memorable. The vehicles sounds great, the chase scenes are even better. The music choices are pretty shoddy. I realize the game is set in Spain, but the radio stations are for the most part, terrible. The American station alternates between country and Johnny Cash-like tunes. Which would be fine, but it’s the SAME SONG EVERY TIME. I say Cash-like because Cash isn’t actually listed in the Music Credits, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t him.
A little more variety would have been nice, especially from what the people you try to run over or throw out of cars say to you. I can only take. “The car is my brother’s!” (translated from the Spanish) so many times before I start to really think that no one owns a car in Spain. They just take their brother’s when they want to tool about Barcelona. Another thing – if they are using a Spanish accent when they’re speaking English, it has to be the absolute WORST accent I’ve ever heard. You get used to hearing it after awhile because everyone besides Vin uses it, but that doesn’t make it better.
Sound Rating: Decent
Control and Gameplay
Let’s bash the controls for a bit before we get into the part that I loved about the game: the gameplay. You’ve got two options with this, the usual controller input (that can only be customized and set up for the Xbox 360 controller for PC) and the keyboard and mouse. The control layouts aren’t terrible, but you cannot, and I stress CANNOT, customize which keys do what in the game. They have a few default layouts and that’s it. For the most part, the keyboard controls are fine and work really smooth. I usually like playing with my Zboard when I’m gaming, but for reasons I’ll get into later I’m stuck with the keyboard and mouse as I don’t have a 360 controller. Big points loss here. One of the best things PC owners like to do with games is customize out the controls. It’s the first thing I do with every game so I can play with an arrangement I like. You can’t do that here.
Gameplay-wise I love this game, except for walking. I’ll get to that abysmal section of the game in a minute. The controls are solid for what they are and the vehicles respond well with the keyboard and mouse combo. The feel is a bit unrealistic, delving more into the fantasy realm of car accident survivability, but with the other things you can do in the game it’s completely forgivable. Once you get the hang of driving, you unlock those driving skills they boast about on the box. Air Jacking you can do from the start, which is a blast. You get up behind the car you want to swipe while you’re driving and perform some bizarre John Woo slow-mo leaps from your driver side door to the car ahead. You then kick out the driver and take off in their car. Works very smoothly and isn’t believable at all but damn it’s fun. The speed boost is like popping the Nitro on in those racing movies that hit the theaters recently. One of my other favorite unbelievable maneuvers is the Cyclone where you do a 180 and still drive in the direction you were moving so you can shoot out the guy behind you. You can also use your vehicle as the weapon, which is REALLY emphasized in the game. Most cars can’t take too much of the Slam-n-ram, but this is a ton of fun in a delivery truck or a Semi.
Traveling on foot sucks. Let me say that again. Traveling on foot sucks. It’s slow, boring, tedious, and if you’re a good enough driver you’re never really going to need to get out of your car to fire your gun off, ever. Yet most of the missions drop you out of your car and on foot so you have to go flag down that sweet ride of yours on foot all over again, but most people in Barcelona drive crap cars so hunting down that flashy convertible or sports car can take awhile. Stupid smart cars and sensible Brit models.
Apparently pedestrians are terrified of Vin Diesel in Barcelona, because if you get close to them on foot, running or not, they freak out and jump away from you screaming in Spanish as they go. You also really can’t die, which kind of takes away from the experience. I tested this by taking a compact car into the Subway system, smashed all over the place, got the car in flames and stood next to it while it exploded. Still got up and walked away. So I went further into the Metro and down onto the Subway train lines and got myself hit by a Subway train. Yup. Still alive. If you’re walking in this game, you’re way too dedicated. Most of the challenge comes from not getting caught. It’s not game over when you do, but you have to start over on the mission again.
Walking in a driving game sucks.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent
Really there isn’t much to get yo to keep playing this over and over again. There’s no multi-player. It’s not like an RPG where you carry your stats over. So really unless you really like it, there’s no reason to play it ever again after that first run-through.
Replayability Rating: Below Average
I don’t know about the other versions, but the PC version doesn’t require high end equipment to run it, so it has that going for it. The vehicles also seem to handle differently as well. The Semi is much slower and can take a much higher beating than most anything else you can steal. The learning curve isn’t terrible, and the missions and side missions get progressively more difficult and aren’t impossible to do at the start. For someone who plays a ton of driving games though, this might seem way too easy, but for those of us who are rusty or who have never played these before this is right in line with what you might be looking for.
Balance Rating: Above Average
The setting seems new to me, but while I haven’t played the criminal sandbox games or the other driving games, I am aware of them. Even some of the over-the-top mechanics are slightly borrowed from other series. The burst is hardly original, and the air jack was done just as well in Pursuit Force but to a different purpose. Even the storyline seems a bit borrowed and cliched.
Originality Rating: Below Average
There is something to this game that had me playing it for hours on end. Even before I unlocked all my over-the-top actions I was just having fun driving around, jacking cars, listening to the various radio stations, driving down into the subways just to see how much I could smash into before the car went up in flames. It wasn’t the story that had me hooked, or Vin Diesel’s good looks, it was just the fun of driving around with the smooth and responsive controls. Driving in video games was fun again, and the over the top way you could air jack a car or jump into a semi and smash through traffic was exhilarating. The walking around parts, not so much.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
With Fast & Furious going strong at the movies, Vin Diesel plastered all over the cover, and what looks like some fun and over the top driving in this game the appeal as well as a lower ticket price than the PS3 and 360 versions, there is a bit of appeal there. On the other hand, I have yet to see this version of the game on a single store shelf anywhere. With some higher quality games in the genre out there for PC, this one will probably stall. I do think the PC version is a lot of fun, or maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a new fish when it comes to the genre.
Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average
Here’s where I really deliver this game a beating because the PC port of this game is that damned bad. The game isn’t compatible with any controllers other than a Xbox 360 controller. I’ve got a number of different gamepads and even a Z board and I still had issues. The gamepads just couldn’t work properly with the game engine. Then to top it off, the Z board, which is basically a USB keyboard with a set of programmable keys, caused the game to stop recognizing my regular keyboard or the Z board. It would also spit up random gibberish on the screen when you pressed a key. Sorry, not all of us PC users have gone completely over to Microsoft for all our gaming needs.
Add to that if you don’t like any of the pre-set control patterns, you will not be able to customize your keys without searching out the config file that houses that information. Yeah, you read that right. They were lazy enough not to include any kind of customization for your keyboard at all. The dev team appears to have assumed that PC gamers only use a 360 controller to play them other than a keyboard and mouse. LAZINESS.
Then there was my absolute new developer pet peeve. They decided that they’d cut corners and not code any of their game to work with laptop graphics cards. Yeah. Great. Fantastic. AND LAZY! I have a gaming laptop! I should be able to get the same performance out of this game that I did from Mass Effect, which looked freaking amazing on my laptop without any slowdown or graphical glitches. This one had shadows popping up all over where shadows should not have fallen, like subway rails up on top of the subway platforms. So I figured I’d go in and edit the video settings to turn off those particular shadows. WRONG AGAIN. The single video setting they put into this game is the resolution setting. Guess What. It does absolutely NOTHING to fix the shadow problem. Imagine that!
I really do like this game, but the developers need to start looking at what PC gamers have to play with. We like our games to play on laptops and desktops, and if we have glitches we’d like to be able to fiddle with the video to fix them. It’s not always the graphics card driver’s fault. We also like to customize our controls and use the gamepads we already own instead of having to buy a 360 controller for one freaking game.
Miscellaneous Rating: Awful
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Below Average
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Aside from the complete lack of controller support (other than the 360 controller for those who have a PC version), as well as laptop support, Wheelman delivers a half-way decent driving game with some fun mechanics thrown in. It’s pretty basic and the story is about as good as a crappy action flick, but for those looking for the next Burnout or Grand Theft Auto, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Wheelman won’t be hardcore enough for you. Wheelman feels little better than a movie tie-in and if it had been a movie tie-in it could have been a great one. As a stand alone game though most are going to find it lacking and without all the options PC users have come to expect, it is lacking in many ways.