Depending on your age, or rather, your level of maturity, there’ll most likely be one of two thoughts that run through your head upon witnessing Vin Diesel’s smug grin staring back at you on the cover of his latest ‘summer blockbuster’. You’ll either hold the box aloft and claim it to be “the best game EVAR!” over its cringe-worthy tagline and artwork. Or, perhaps more likely, you’ll realise that those eyes don’t really care for you, rather that wallet-shaped bulge in your pocket. You don’t want to play his ostensibly shameless cash-in and you hate everything that these celeb-endorsed games stand for, especially one quite so blatantly targeted at a tweenage audience.
But that’s where you’d be wrong. See, Wheelman is no ‘normal’ licensed knock-off. Heck, the movie is still nowhere to be seen, stuck somewhere in the midst of Hollywood hell; the intended movie/game synergy now nothing more than a long-gone idealism. Instead, Wheelman (The Game) establishes the background to the story of Milo Burik, a retired driver that finds himself thrown into the middle of an ongoing gang war (clichéd, much?), while the movie itself (should it ever see the light of day, of course) will eventually act as a fully-blown sequel.
The delay gives Wheelman a fair amount of leeway. It doesn’t have to follow a predetermined path of recreating scenes frame by frame in order to appeal to gamers just wanting to play what they’ve seen on the big screen. Instead, it converts the cinematic experience into something much more practical. Wheelman’s loud and it’s brash. It’s Burnout with a pistol. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
At heart, Wheelman is incredibly basic, with its open-world structure following a similar pattern to that of any other title in the genre. Missions are often fairly typical chase scenarios or search and retrieve jobs, which can start to feel disappointingly stale after only the first few hours, despite their frequent change in scenarios. Pursuing a train through an underground rail network on the back of a supercharged motorcycle proves to be the highlight amongst some of the more common tasks, which seem to mostly dwell on chasing the same old cars to pre-determined points.
Optional side-quests also include Crazy Taxi-esque speed-runs across the city, circuit races and contracts, whereby you’re tasked with taking down targets in a similar fashion to that of Burnout’s esteemed Road Rage. There’s a rudimentary third person shooting mechanic implemented for the game’s sporadic on-foot sections as well which, though kept to a minimum, bring back some horrific memories of Driv3r.
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