Publisher: Ubisoft, Midway
Developer: Midway Studios Newcastle, Tigon
MSRP: $59.99 (PS3, Xbox 360), $49.99 (PC)
After playing the demo for Wheelman, I was convinced that I would buy this game. It had speed, explosions, fast cars, and Vin Diesel, the current apple of PNG’s eye. It was looking like it for fans such as us, starting with the week of Wheelman’s release, we were about to get more of our deep gravelly voiced hero than we could handle with 3 straight weeks of Diesel. So I dove into the game on launch day with a personal sized frozen pizza, a glass of wine, and Wheelman.
The game centers around the character of Milo who is an undercover agent trying to get in on a big job to eradicate an international security threat. The way he does this is by tearing the city apart doing missions for some of Barcelona’s criminal elements to earn the trust of whomever is running the deal. During our last podcast, I mentioned that I was a few hours into the game and still wasn’t sure if that was the case. I probably should have just looked at the back of the box to get my answer. The story itself is enjoyable with the only issue being that Diesel doesn’t seem that into the part, and as I stated in the podcast, I’d probably be dead from alcohol poisoning if I had to drink for every time he said he was the Wheelman or the driver. To be honest, while his dialog isn’t anything special, his delivery is impeccable.
For those that are looking for any trace of realism, leave your fun stealing ways at the door. The driving is straight up arcade style and is all about over the top driving, explosions, and action set in the very large city of Barcelona. I say the city is large but it’s hard at times to get a sense of scale of the city due to the fact that you can skip to any unlocked side mission or story mission at any time from Milo’s PDA. This really only makes it essential to drive around the city when you’re on missions or going to unlocked weapon caches. This turns out to be a real shame as Midway Newcastle went to extreme lengths to make the city as accurate as possible, even going as far as to put the names of the real modeled buildings, their history, and architects in the credits.
One of the major bullet points for this game while it was in development was that you were able to get out of the car. This allows you to switch cars in between side and regular missions to suit your purpose. If you found that you were going into a contracts side mission against an SUV while you were in a roadster, you could always quit out of the mission and just find a larger (and slower) vehicle to take it down. This also means that certain story missions required you to go through parts on foot and shoot your way through waves of thugs. If you were worried that this kind of stuff in a driving game would ruin it, fear not. While it’s not nearly as fun as the driving, the foot missions are competent if not a little basic.
The game took me about 7 – 10 hours to finish with doing roughly 5 of each of the different side missions. The story missions were pretty interesting and varied and it didn’t feel like it was dragged out too long at all. The side missions were just as diverse as the story and rewarded you when you got a “S” or “A” rank with anything from increased car performance to unlocking garages to help you lose your wanted level when you’re in trouble. There were a couple types of side missions that probably could have used better rewards. One example is when you complete a taxi mission, it allows you to fast travel to that part of the city. The issue with this is that the game already allows you to jump into any mission through your PDA, making the perk from getting a high enough rank in that side mission pretty useless.
While I did enjoy Wheelman, I was left feeling like it could have been so much more. Some of the side missions would have made great multiplayer modes and given the game some legs after you beat it. I enjoyed the ability to just jump into a mission at anytime, it would have been nice to have more incentive to explore the city besides breaking 100 golden lions or finding the 50 cinematic jumps around the city for achievements. There are fairly serious issues with the game freezing that is only made tolerable by the frequent auto-saves. I’m glad I bought this if only to support Midway Newcastle (believe me, they need it) to hopefully put out a more complete game on their next outing, because I pretty much like what I got. However, if you’re strapped for cash and can only get one Vin Diesel game in the next couple of weeks and go see Fast and Furious, you might want to pick up a copy of Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena and pick this up when it goes down in price.