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You would be forgiven for assuming that Wheelman is a movie tie-in because Vin Diesel is featured so prominently on the cover. In actual fact it is a game, albeit a very cinematic game starring the muscle bound action man himself. You take on the role of a driver (the title is a clue) and you have to tear it up around Barcelona in this high-octane, adrenaline-fuelled, white-knuckle rollercoaster ride. It is the videogame equivalent of an action movie, pure daft entertainment.
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Vin doesn’t play baddies, so you are an undercover agent named Milo Burik trying to collect intelligence on the criminal underworld. If you are looking for a coherent or in-depth plot, look elsewhere. Since when did an action movie need a plot? The set up is a thin excuse for lots of madcap mayhem on the streets of Barcelona. You pull off jobs for the competing gangs and freelancers worming your way into their confidence.
The game mechanics are easy to pick up and the focus is on crazy action. Missions start out very gently and you are introduced to the basic controls during your first job, as you outrun the cops and help a robber escape with her loot. You can pull various maneuvers in your car, swiping right to left or ramming enemy cars, to send them spiralling through the air landing as twisted burned out wrecks. You can also pull off some death defying stunts, using Airjack to leap from your vehicle onto another and seize control in one fluid animation.
Wheelman is gratuitously violent and you can cause a huge amount of carnage. Everything apart from buildings seems to be destructible, and both vehicle handling and collisions are forgiving. For example if you crash into a car head-on while driving a motorbike it will be bashed out of the way instead of sending you tumbling along the road. The aim is not realism - this is the stuff of action heroes and your abilities are suitably impossible.
There is some gun play breaking up the driving action and if you charge up your Focus meter you can pull off some special moves. Targeting specific spots on enemy cars will cause dramatic explosions and your meter can be charged up by pulling off nifty manoeuvres. As time slows down the camera zooms in behind Vin's head allowing you to aim and shoot to pick off enemies. You can also use this ability to spin round if your enemies are behind you and there is a basic speed boost at your fingertips too.
Missions are marked on the map and although you can drive from place to place the developers have allowed you to skip direct to missions by clicking on the location. This means you can stay constantly plugged into the action which is what the game does best. There are also various side missions challenging you to steal cars or deliver people to destinations at high speed in a taxi. You get ranked for each of these side quests so there is some replay value. The game-play on foot is less enjoyable and the less time you spend out of a car the better.
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Milo is clearly modelled on Vin Diesel and he looks exactly right. The character models have a fair bit of character and they are well animated. Barcelona looks sunny and inviting, and there are an endless number of café tables to upend as you tear through the streets at stupid speeds. The visual effects are also decent and the HUD and menu design is stylish. The game isn’t pushing boundaries with the artwork, but it is well presented and the production values look high. There are a couple of visual glitches which let it down on occasion, such as enemies popping to their feet as their exploding car wreck bounces off down the street, but nothing that seriously impairs your enjoyment of the game. The cut scenes, and even moments during the game-play, feature cinematic direction with speed-up then slow-down camera effects, slow motion explosions, and crashes aplenty. The action movie spirit comes through in force.
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The voice acting is great, if you like cheesy action. Vin delivers his lines like the typical moody anti-hero and the bad guys are a colorfully clichéd bunch of villains. The standard really is a lot better than your average game. The music wasn’t quite as enjoyable and seemed a bit irritating and repetitive at times. Sound effects were functional and the general ambience was convincing enough.
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You will need a 2GHz dual core processor (2.4GHz for Vista), 2GB of RAM (3GB for Vista) and 15GB of hard drive space. You’ll also want DirectX 9c compatible sound and graphics with an Nvidia GeForce 7800GT (ATI x1800XT) or above. The game ran fine on my machine with fast loading times and the only flaw was an occasional stutter during high speed chases.
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This is throwaway action entertainment. The cover featuring Vin pointing a gun, a speeding car, a jumping motorbike, a big explosion and a cop giving chase, tells you everything you need to know about the game. Vin Diesel is a celebrity gamer and his studio, Tigon, was involved in this production - although it was primarily developed by Midway’s internal team at Newcastle. It is fast paced fun, distilled action which is never too challenging. The game design is far from revolutionary and the missions are not very creative but it works and most importantly it is enjoyable. The overall level of polish is good and it offers several hours of spectacular gameplay.