After watching several of his movies, one thing is clear to me: Vin Diesel is a badass. The man does nothing but pummel faces, bed hot women, and drive exotic cars in manners both fast and furious. Wheelman attempts to share some of Vin’s awesomeness with the rest of us – allowing you full control of The Diez through dozens of open-world driving and shooting missions. Does this game live up to the man or is it a pale imitation?
Wheelman begins by setting you loose in Barcelona – a city full of crime, violence, and plenty of things to crash through. Diesel plays Milo Burik, an undercover cop that has been tasked with taking down a number of sinister gangs. Over the course of the game’s 31 missions, you will have to ride, shoot, and detonate your way through Barcelona’s criminal scum by engaging in some of the most dangerous and destructive car chases ever to rip through Spain: a task that Burik seems apt to handle.
The overall design of Wheelman borrows from the Grand Theft Auto series as you are given a vast city to explore and a ton of missions to blast through. The game’s objectives include chasing down enemy vehicles, escorting cars holding valuable merchandise, following a target without getting caught, escaping from the police after a high-speed chase, and even stepping out of your ride for a couple of shootouts.
The on-foot segments are groan-worthy, as the lock-on targeting mechanics and uneventful gameplay don’t offer as much excitement as the car cases. Driving missions fare much better, offering hectic vehicular battles and window-to-window gun play. The assignments get more creative as you get deeper into the game – highlighting on a thrilling street chase that leads to an underground shootout against a runaway subway train – but the overall quality of Wheelman’s missions is hit or miss.
Tons of side quests are available to keep you busy if you want a break from the story. These include having to steal specific cars located around the city, crash through as many items as possible within a time limit, destroy a designated target vehicle as violently as possible, and even engage in some Paul Walker-less street racing. These auxiliary tasks can be fun in short bursts and provide you with some handy upgrades if you do well, but their repetition limits any lasting enjoyment you’ll have.
Based on what I’ve said so far, it would seem that I didn’t have much fun with Wheelman. Actually, this is not the case thanks to Milo Burik’s outrageous vehicular abilities. For starters, you can steal people’s cars… while you are already driving a different vehicle. If you get within 20 feet of another automobile, you are able to leap from your current mode of transportation and land on the roof of the other, which is followed by Burik kicking his way into the driver’s seat. Car-punching also livens up vehicular combat. This is exactly what you think it is: your car can punch other cars. By flicking the right analog stick to the left or right, your vehicle will wildly veer over and smash into whatever is beside it.
During intense chase sequences, you’ll keep slamming that stick with hopes of knocking the opposition’s ride into the nearest wall, leaving them as nothing more than a burning heap of metal. Milo also has several other moves that can be used to help you out of a jam, like the ability to spin his car backwards as time slows down, giving you the opportunity to shoot out the tires of nearby enemy vehicles. All of these maneuvers are fun and easy to execute which makes Wheelman feel more intense than other games in the genre.
Causing all of this chaos wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the visuals didn’t hold up, but the graphical presentation of Wheelman handles this action admirably. Nearly every street has patio sets, trees, benches, gates, and windows that can be smashed as you blow through the area amounting to a significant trail of wreckage being left behind you on every block. The in-game Barcelona is big, but it doesn’t have the personality of some other game worlds like Liberty City. The same could be said of most of the character models, though Burik does look a lot like Diesel. The game’s vehicles look great after taking a bit of damage – often all that is left after a frenzied car battle is a metallic frame, a flaming engine, and the shiny bald head of your character.
Wheelman’s music is chock full of different sounds, ranging from local Barcelona tunes to some bumping techno beats. While nothing really stands out, it gets the job done. Sound effects are equally proficient, relaying destruction in a serviceable manner. Diesel’s performance is what you would expect from the xXx actor: his grave voice portrays menace very well, but there isn’t much emotion involved. You aren’t likely to care with the game’s mundane story and characters. A script as equally unrestrained and over-the-top as the action would’ve fit perfectly, but that is sadly not the case here.
After playing Wheelman, it’s clear that this game could have been so much more. While the mechanics are fun and some of the missions are enjoyable, the game does little to stand out in a crowded genre. Wheelman is worth a shot for those who love mission-based driving games and/or Vin Diesel, but jaded gamers won’t find enough here to justify a purchase.