Video Game Review - Wheelman

April 9, 2009

Not content with his acting career and one critically acclaimed game under his belt, Vin Diesel continues his lust for fame and fortune with Wheelman, a driving game heavily inspired by the Driver series. The game spent three years on the Midway assembly line before Ubisoft took it from the struggling publisher. After a brief tune-up, this set of wheels has finally hit the road, but is there horsepower under the hood or it is a lemon?
Wheelman puts players in the driver's seat as Milo Burik, a new gun in Barcelona with a knack for driving and a flippant attitude. As an informant for the CIA, you're charged with infiltrating the ranks of the three rival gangs in hopes of thwarting an all-out war between the groups. 

From there the story goes nowhere fast as Milo quickly becomes entangled in several different threads. It's rather difficult to keep track of who's betraying who when you're constantly flipping sides. Wheelman is plagued by poor writing and cliché characters archetypes, and the story is about as shallow as they come. 

As the game's title implies, Wheelman is all about driving. There's only a single-player campaign, which takes players through 30-plus missions across an open-world rendition of Barcelona. Missions rely mostly on driving segments, though there are a few on-foot portions with gun fights. Players drive to their next objective, or toggle to the PDA menu to quickly warp there. The PDA element eliminates tedium, though you'll revisit familiar locations a few times before the game's finale.

The main problem with the campaign is that the missions become bland, uninspired, and downright boring. In a game all about driving, these segments need to be entertaining, and Wheelman simply fails to achieve this. What's more telling is that the side missions are more engrossing than the bulk of the main objectives, so you'll easily find yourself logging more hours away from the main campaign. Some main missions lack detailed explanations, resulting in trial and error.

Side missions come in a wide variety, but borrow from other popular driving games. Hot potato retains the essence of Crazy Taxi, rampage is a destruction derby in the vein of Burnout, and fugitive forces you to evade the police just like in Need for Speed. Unlocking new side missions, as well as new areas of Barcelona, are dependent on solid performances in each side mission. There's also a handful of collectibles scattered throughout the city, though they don't offer up any truly sweet rewards.


Wheelman offers over 50 different types of vehicles, ranging from sports cars, to bikes, and even a gas tanker. None of them are licensed, but it's not a big deal. The game lasts around 10 hours and there's little incentive to return.


Each vehicle handles different and each one handles poorly due to the combination of a lack of true camera control and loose steering. There's also a strong emphasis on melee with vehicles during missions, and while it's fun at first to smash an opponent to smithereens, the nagging control issues quickly tarnish the experience. Players can commandeer cars by performing an air jack. It's a useful tactic that keeps the game moving.

The focus gauge allows players to perform turbo boosts, as well as two slow motion attacks; the aim shot and the cyclone. There's never really a sense of speed in the game, even when utilizing the turbo boost. The aim shot and the cyclone are useless much of the time, and the aiming controls are too loose. Yet mastering both techniques is eventually crucial to surviving.

The on-foot segments are rough around the edges, with wonky controls. Gunfights do use an intuitive lock-on system, but trying to manually aim is difficult. The cover system is also rather pointless, as players can manually crouch down behind objects and return fire just as effectively. Poor camera controls during intense shootouts also compound the problem.

The game's mildly intriguing premise is completely dashed by sloppy execution, and you'll fight the game all the way trying to squeeze some fun out of it.

Wheelman's visuals lack polish-especially in the collision and explosion effects. The majority of Barcelona's streets feel devoid of life, with a few scant pedestrians and vehicles on any given corner. Buildings repeat constantly and there are very few recognizable landmarks. 

On the other hand, the game's soundtrack features an excellent selection of licensed music from various genres, complimented by some decent sound effects. The voice work is average at best, led by Vin Diesel who delivers a lethargic performance.

Wheelman is lacking where it counts the most; under the hood. Life in this fast lane won't hold your attention for more than a few hours, as the high-octane action fizzles out all too quickly. You'll be running on fumes by the time you finish. Stick to Vin Diesel's action films, as they'll put a smaller dent in your wallet and deliver the same thrills in a fraction of the time.


Source: Ubisoft