The Wheelman Review
A case of better late than never, this review of The Wheelman comes embarrassingly late. So why bother doing it then, right? Well it is also highlights everything that is (was?) wrong with Midway as a publisher. Much like their once partner Acclaim, Midway is on the very verge of extinction, and while there were a few acceptable games in between the horde that was terrible, it's ultimately games like this one that killed Midway.
Many gamers know that Vin Diesel is an avid gamer himself, right? We know he's even got his own game studio called Tigon, and they were partly responsible for developing the Riddick games. So when Midway and Vin got together to develop an all new project starring him, what emerged was The Wheelman. The concept for The Wheelman is a lot like The Transporter movies, where your main goal will be to work with gangs and help them as a getaway driver, in addition to transporting.
So far, so good? The game is set in Barcelona, Spain, which does away with the conventional setting of New York, Los Angeles, or England. We start out with our main character in a Pontiac G8 GT, ironically a car from a company that got axed. Milo, the hysterically mushy name of your character, is waiting for a group of bank robbers to exit and hop into the ride. As soon as they do, the game picks up. Now, initially I recall the game having really loose and poor controls when I first played it last year. But for the final game, that's been fixed and tightened up.
The chase lasts for an extraordinarily long amount of time, longer than you're probably used to from sandbox games, and this becomes a problem all throughout the game - some missions simply drag for too long. Worst of all, because the mission design isn't very good to begin with, you really want to spend as little time as possible playing them. For these missions you can use any of the cars you see on the road, but only two of them are licensed (Pontiac G8 GT and Opel Astra), the rest have minor resemblances to real-world cars.
The story is boring, poorly scripted, and because the game tells you exactly what to do during a mission, you can skip every cutscene and not feel lost. Basically, a whole bunch of gangs are going to repeatedly try and kill you. Sometimes, the game is simply too crazy to even comprehend. For example, Milo is actually an undercover agent. So why does the game have him kill and blow up so many police vehicles during the chases? Yeah, I know 'suspension of disbelief', but even I can't get past how ludicrous something like that is.
Now, there are soe redeeming aspects, to an otherwise generic game, such as the ability to perform a cyclone move, where you spin the car around, drive in reverse, as you shoot at your opponents, only to whip the car forwards again. And the ability to perform a car-jack while you're moving, by hoping out of your moving vehicle, and into another one nearby - and that includes bikes. There are four of these special moves, all of which are triggered using the D-pad, and all of the moves are pretty nice and functional. Additional, using the right analog stick, you can perform a powerful slam into any car around by flicking the stick into that direction, useful for destroying cars during a chase.
Unfortunately, beyond the less-than-average single-player stuff, there isn't anything else. No online mode, no offline multiplayer, no valuable extras, nothing. And herein lies the problem with so many Midway games that have shown some potential, but ultimately failed to deliver. They all lack polish, they all lack substance, and they all lacked imagination. We honestly didn't need a game like The Wheelman, but since Midway was so intent on releasing, then they should've at least proven to us that their project is special. Instead, what we're left with is a game that never saw a day of polishing and fine-tuning.
This, in turn, leads to a game that also looks more like an early Xbox 360 game from E3 2005. The screen is riddled with aliasing issues and the texture detail isn't up to par with...well, many games. You'll spot so many jagged lines that it'll leave you wondering if you're actually playing what was originally supposed to be a last-gen game. The textures vary in quality from nice to poor, and it's the character textures, specifically the faces, that are the worst. The framerate has a tendency to hiccup sometimes, and when it does, it really comes crawling down for a brief second or two. All in all, with such a beautiful locale, the game does Barcelona no justice.
As you'd expect, the audio is every bit as generic as the rest of the game. Vin Diesel is exceptionally dull here. While the cold-shouldered attitude fit Riddick, it doesn't work here the least bit. A bit more enthusiasm and personality would've been better, because some of the other voice acting isn't that terrible. The sound effects from crashes sound decent, but the soundtrack is bland, the gunshots don't sound convincing, and just the overall presentation is lacking.
I didn't need to tell you that The Wheelman is a poor product. You knew that already simply by looking at it, and perhaps seeing some of the other reviews. Ultimately, The Wheelman feels incomplete; it lacks polish, refinement in gameplay, and any grain of innovation. This has been a problem with in-house Midway games for many years now (obviously Unreal Tournament is excluded since it isn't a Midway game), as they've repeatedly released one generic game after the other. Some of their games have shown promise in the past, but ultimately succumbed to the same fate as The Wheelman. If Midway emerges from bankruptcy successfully and starts with a clean slate, perhaps they can get their act together.
6/30/2009 Arnold Katayev