You may not know it, but the man that brought Riddick to life - Vin Diesel - is an avid gamer. So much so that he’s started his own game development company.
Whether that means he has seen the writing on the wall for his acting career and plans to star in every game remains to be seen. Personally, I don’t mind the guy as an actor, he’s pigeon-holed himself a little and I don’t see him doing many period pieces or romantic comedies, but what he does he does well.
I don’t need to remind you all of the trail of bargain-bin liners that are the usual movie-game or game-movie conversions. Despite the odd exception, the list is a veritable cringe-fest of cash ins and rushed releases. However I get the feeling Wheelman is a game made specifically with an eventual movie in mind, albeit a movie that closes the gate after the horse has bolted, if you catch my drift.
Wheelman is Vin Diesel’s latest vehicle in which the player controls Milo Burik (Diesel) as, funnily enough, a wheelman, driving dangerous missions for various criminal figures in and around Barcelona, Spain.
Wait. What? The hero is one of the bad guys, I hear you say? No, don’t be silly – our buddy Milo is, wait for it… an undercover agent!
So undercover in fact, that even the local constabulary know nothing about him. It would seem that when Milo joined his particular enforcement agency that he received a special dispensation to be able to dish out as much collateral damage and break as many laws as he sees fit. You can smash civilian vehicles on a whim, terrify pedestrians and crash through obstacles and roadblocks without any implications whatsoever. In a game, this type of behaviour can be excusable in the name of “entertainment”, but if there is to be a follow-up movie then gaping loop-holes like this could render it a farce from the opening credits.
If I were to break down Wheelman into likeness percentages it would be as follows: 20% Grand Theft Auto, 20% Need For Speed Undercover, 40% Burnout Takedown, 10% Pursuit Force and the other 10% split between the movies The Transporter and Fast & Furious.
Much of the game is spent on missions running errands for key figures in the city’s criminal underworld, all the while building your street cred with rival gangs. Missions can range from delivering items, stealing vehicles, all-out street rumbles or hunting down particular people. As the name would suggest, missions in Wheelman usually requite a decent amount of driving, but every now and then comes a chance to leave the vehicle and run around guns blazing.
The fact of the matter is, this becomes repetitive before too long and déjà vous will soon kick in as you race across town yet again while yet another wave of enemy vehicles tries to take you out.
This high speed game of bumper-cars allows you, when battling at close quarters, to execute a “combat move” (a flick of the right stick) which, much like Burnout, results in your enemy’s vehicle crashing spectacularly. Your own vehicle certainly isn’t impervious to damage of its own. If your rims are tearing up the ancient streets of Barcelona and your car is adding to the already smoggy atmosphere, then with the press of a button you can perform an “airjacking” of another vehicle (think Pursuit Force), which sees your character leap from your damaged vehicle onto a nearby vehicle, slide in the window and kick out the driver. Don’t you just wish it was that easy? Although with some congested roads in Auckland it wouldn’t be too hard to be perfectly honest.
Taking the over-the-top driving into consideration, if you’re looking for a driving simulation then turn around and look the other way. Wheelman has arcade handling which is very forgiving and requires very little skill or experience to pull off successfully.
This will appeal to those of you looking for some action without having to think too hard about it and without having to redo levels over and over just to progress. A thinking man’s action game this is not.
Graphically, Wheelman has its ups and downs. Barcelona has been rendered quite nicely, some vehicles and the main characters are above par. But then there’s auxiliary details, generic vehicles and characters that look like they’ve been copy & pasted straight from a Nintendo 64 game.
At the end of the day Wheelman is a rental, just for a bit of fun where you can turn off your brain and cause some virtual carnage.