The desert highway of open-world vehicle action is a hazardous one. Can Vin Diesel conquer it?
360 (PS3, PC)
Page: 1 2
The desert highway of open-world vehicle action is a hazardous one. Criterion's Burnout Paradise skulks somewhere off in the dunes, powering out onto the strip at intervals to clobber civilian traffic. Rockstar's Midnight Club: Los Angeles and Grand Theft Auto IV take up two lanes apiece, each car mashing its mirrored bodywork against the other in a gush of white-hot triple-A sparks. A little to the rear there's Saints Row 2, cheerfully scorching figure-of-eight patterns into the tarmac, and ticking on the curb the battered but doughty Need for Speed franchise, surrounded by mechanics.
With that calibre of machine jostling at the traffic lights, any driver behind the wheel of an untried roadster is going to need mad skillz indeed - a sixth sense for the racing line, 20-20 vision, the capacity to anticipate and counter a rival's moves before he's even thought of them. Lacking these (metaphorical) attributes, Midway and Tigron Studios' approach with The Wheelman is suicidally direct: close eyes, seatbelt off, pedal down, beep horn. There's something quite moving about the way the developers cannon this brittle, brightly coloured continental racer into the spiked, rumbling and heavily veneered throng. Quite moving, but not massively entertaining.
With Vin Diesel at the helm I'm sure nobody was expecting solid gold storytelling, but let's put the boot in anyway. You're an undercover American agent chasing down reports of world-threatening activity in Barcelona. It's never really explained why you got the job, of course, or what exactly you're investigating, or why your chief method of investigating it is to smash into other cars hard enough to powderise their occupants. Much of the drama turns on the contrast between Vin's impassive, thinly disguised alter ego Milo and the gesturing, fidgeting, foul-mouthed European stereotypes he does business with.
There are three gangs in the city, each with its own wodge of territory, and you'll spend most of the 8 hour plot shuttling explosively from one to the other, assisting somebody's hit on a rival's drug stash before swapping sides to lead the reprisal. Mission start points appear on your PDA map, flipped up from bite-size view to full screen with the select button, which also lets you receive fairly irrelevant emails from contacts.
Story missions, 31 in all, are coloured green, while the 105 side missions come in seven different shades including Street Racing, Rampage (run over as many things as possible), Fugitive (escape your pursuers) and taxi missions. You can plonk down a waypoint and drive to a mission yourself, or warp there from the PDA screen. It's a blurred facsimile of GTA4's open-ended blueprint, in short: there are garages where you can get quick car paint jobs to lower your wanted rating, drop-boxes housing secondary firearms to back up your inexhaustible default pistol, and new districts to be unlocked.
If The Wheelman is structurally comparable to Rockstar's magnum opus, we're a long way behind in terms of personality and depth. Tigron and Midway's Barcelona is a lifeless, consequence-free, curiously horizontal burg, populated by precisely one breed of terrified pedestrian, one breed of timid motorist, and one breed of short-sighted, seldom-seen copper.