Vin Diesel is a good actor. There, I said it, can’t back down now. Although he built up a “chucknorrisian” reputation because of all the blockbusters he starred in, I was lucky enough to discover a short movie which is written, directed and starred by the guy, in which we can see a completely different face of the artist.
Another aspect of the famous bald guy who probably few people know is his affinity for video games and Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, Vin Diesel tosses die around, interprets halflings, elves and dwarves and is an avid fan of the kind of role play that doesn’t include webcams and credit cards. Oh, and he plays World of Warcraft.
Despite of all this, the Vin Diesel “image” is a pumped-up, muscular one, spewing one-liners through which the alpha male declares, establishes and emphasizes his immovable position in the belly button of the Universe, and Wheelman uses this image without any setbacks. The premise is the illegitimate child of xXx and The Fast and The Furious: you’re Milo Burik, an undercover C.I.A. agent who also happens to be the best driver in the galaxy and you have to infiltrate three Barcelona gangs to get as high up in the criminal hierarchy as possible.
It’s the story of every generic Hollywood action flick, packed up in a game that rather resembles Driver than GTA, although it borrows characteristics from both.
Barcelona, a Romanian province
There are three gangs – the Romanians, Los Chulos Canallas (a street gang) and Los Lantos (the suit mob). The Romanians, since they’re from around these parts, are pictured as immigrants whose leader, Radu Negrea, pushed a few shovels in Russia before getting to Barcelona. It has to be said that the voices interpreting them speak a perfect Romanian (except for a line at the end which I think was read by the Windows Reader) – but they come across as old school villains in commie flicks like Brigada Diverse.
Lines such as “We’ll defeat those pesky Chulos!” or “Catch that whippersnapper!” are no strangers to Wheelman’s script and are a generous, unintentional source of copious humor. Furthermore, at one point, a Romanian newbie in Sorin Teodor’s gang, one of Negrea’s lieutenants, apathetically mentions his wife and her financial expectations back home.
In turn, all of the characters fit in the known stereotypes, so there’s really not a lot that makes them special. I’m sure all of us saw this movie, with different names, in a different location, but with the same course of events and the same conclusion. The result is a cascade of “sharp” answers every time someone speaks to Milo, and most of them aren’t even clever puns. Each dialog is just a break from all the chasing, shots and explosions.
This Hollywood action flick concept can be found in all the game’s levels and is at the same time Wheelman’s hard point as well as its major disadvantage. For instance, the furious action scenes are really spectacular – jumping from one car to another, collisions at over 130 miles per hour, blasted tyres – as well as two “powers” which activate the already uber-popular slow-mo to be able to aim and shoot your enemies, with apocalyptic result.
The digital rendering of Barcelona is in itself very well done, offering a latino fragrance to the game – flamenco, bullfighting arenas and all that jazz. And it really fits – whenever you’re racing through an array of cop cars, mob cars and “civilian” traffic, a Spanish guitar really sounds good in the backgorund. A few monuments spread throughout town will be the delight of every tourist, all the more considering you’ll fly past most of them, in slow-motion, but I was somewhat annoyed by the lack of a day-night cycle.
But, there are unexpected compensations, like the fairly realistic collision system, or the car models. And even though only two of them are licensed – Open Astra and Pontiac G8 – I’m not ashamed by the rest of them either – as the models are more than decent and resemble real cars to the border of cloning.
And how nicely they get wrecked, the sweet babes. Even if the collisions are almost postmodern in real terms, because it would have been very frustrating to have to swap cars every time you crash into a wall, when it comes to the graphic depiction, things are pretty sweet: the windshield breaks, the cockpit bends, the paint scratches off. What’s true is that you can’t break the doors and the destruction steps are clearly “scripted”, but we can’t really complain: the vehicles in Wheelman are made out of destructible parts and that’s more than obvious.
A practical guide for the suicidal driver and his passengers
Advancing in single-player is let up to the player’s preference, because the open-ended world allows him to freely roam through town, access secondary missions or go forward through the “story”. But because 90% of the time is spent in car, the “pedestrian” parts are pretty precarious and simplistic, and thus the interiors are slightly absent.
Wheelman doesn’t have the complexity or the urban simulation elements from Grand Thef Auto IV, so it would be quite unfair to compare it to the latter. There are no public transports, “safehouses”, relaxation activities or population that does various daily activities at street corners. The gameplay orbits exclusively around the seven types of secondary missions, which are fortunately pretty dynamic, despite the fact that their potential difficulty is crippled by the dumb AI.
I’m glad to say that these “support” missions are pretty diverse: we’ve got taxi missions, escapes, car theft and delivery, destruction of public property, “conventional” illegal street racing, package delivery and contract killings. And the story driven missions are various combinations or variations of these secondary assignments, with a few sections in which you have to get out of your car and shoot everything that speaks Romanian or Spanish with an ominous tone. There are 105 missions in total, successively unlocked (as you advance through the story and fill out the previous steps), but which eventually become boring because of their numbers and are best consumed in short sessions.
The cover system is made out of objects behind which you can duck so you don’t eat too much hot lead, but the dumb enemies, the ridiculous weapon precision and the auto-aim system make street fights resonate very poorly compared to the adrenaline and the pressure of the speedy chases that make up the rest of the game.
The number of weapons in Milo’s arsenal is not astronomic either, and the differences can be neglected: the linearity and the superficial manner in which shootouts are conceived don’t demand certain weapons for certain situations. Basically, you only have the well-known AK-47, a submachine gun, a machine gun, a shotgun and Milo’s lucky handgun, which never runs out of ammo. You can only have one other weapon besides the the gun at any time and the only feature which differentiates them is the possibility of shooting a submachine gun off motorcycles and scooters. Other than that, you can only use your gun to shoot out of cars.