by Joseph Barron
reviewed on X360
Videogame movie tie-in
Since the release of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay on the original Xbox in 2004, Tigon Studios and their founder, Hollywood star – Vin Diesel, have set the standard for videogame movie tie-ins. Their latest project, Wheelman, stars Diesel once again, but takes a very different direction and also produces vastly different results.
You play as Milo Burik (Vin Diesel in voice and appearance), an undercover CIA agent and “wheelman”, essentially a high-end getaway driver. Your role is to infiltrate various gangs and criminal factions in the real-world city of Barcelona in Spain. The developers clearly put a lot of effort into making sure the architecture in their virtual city matches the real city’s iconic landmarks. As you drive through Catalunya’s capital you will notice famous landmarks such as Sagrada Família and Casa Milà. However, while the buildings are true to life some liberties have been taken with the street layout. Most notably are the roads which are much wider than in real life, in order to make chases through traffic a little easier. That said, they need not have bothered widening the streets because there is very little traffic and pedestrians compared to other open-world games like GTA IV, so virtual Barca ends up feeling a little empty by comparison.
The seemingly thinly populated city may have come as a result of using Unreal Engine 3 to render the game’s open-world. Unreal 3 is normally saved for high detail, smaller, closed environments – and it shows in Wheelman. Environmental textures are often functional enough, but sometimes stray into the downright ugly, while the relatively low resolution character models are most definitely sub-par. There are some strange proportional issues as well. Vin’s over-designed chest pecks look distinctly “man-boob” like from some angles! On the other hand, the vehicles look pretty good, but obviously more effort was spent on modelling the 1 or 2 licensed cars, rather than on the much more common unlicensed vehicles.
In gameplay terms Wheelman is structured very similarly to other car-chase games, such as Driver and True Crime, though it certainly has its own gimmicks to set it apart. Most prominent of these is “vehicle melee” which has you using the right stick to slam your car into your enemies, effectively using it as a weapon.
You also have a couple of special moves which will immediately have you thinking of the highway chase in The Matrix Reloaded. “Aim Shot” allows you to shoot forwards through your own windscreen in first person, helping you to pinpoint enemy fuel tanks for quick kills. “Cyclone” performs the same function, but spins you 180 degrees to aim at enemy’s car bonnets, or even the driver himself. They most definitely achieve their goal of changing the way you think about car chases in games, but after you have seen them a few times they start feeling repetitive. Finally there is “Air Jack” which allows you to jump from car-to-car at high speed, Just Cause style, to get out of a damaged vehicle without stopping.
No Pros and Cons at this time