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Wheelman (PC) artwork

Wheelman (PC) review


"In so many ways, The Wheelman is a fitting title to mark the final major product released by the now defunct Midway Games. Riddled with references to the gems of the company’s past, the game has all of the classic trappings – good and bad – of Midway’s massive library of releases. What that means for players is that you’ll occasionally smile when you see “SPYHNTR” or “JOUST” on a license plate, but for the better part of the game, you’ll have to suffer through an incredibly dull experie..."



In so many ways, The Wheelman is a fitting title to mark the final major product released by the now defunct Midway Games. Riddled with references to the gems of the company’s past, the game has all of the classic trappings – good and bad – of Midway’s massive library of releases. What that means for players is that you’ll occasionally smile when you see “SPYHNTR” or “JOUST” on a license plate, but for the better part of the game, you’ll have to suffer through an incredibly dull experience hampered by poor storytelling, distracting glitches and inconsistent game design.

Set in Barcelona, Vin Diesel plays Milo Burik, an undercover agent seeking to infiltrate a trio of Spanish cartels in order to prevent a rumored heist. Burik fills the titular role, offering his service as driver to the cartels in order to get his foot in the door. Along the ride through the game’s plot, you’ll meet the various players in the Barcelona crime syndicate, though I’d be very impressed if you could recite a single criminal’s name even as far as halfway through the game.

Each mission begins with the introduction of a seemingly simple plan that quickly unravels in execution, leaving Milo to clean up the mess. Barcelona is an open world for you to explore, but mercifully the whole “traveling to destinations” aspect of the game can be skipped if you choose to. Though you can drive up to your destination, you can automatically start missions by selecting their icons on the city map. This saves you the tedious and time-wasting task of exploring an otherwise dull setting. Though Barcelona is supposed to excite the player, the city just isn’t prominent enough to capture the imagination. There are no landmarks that say “Barcelona” in the way that the Eiffel Tower says Paris, Big Ben says London or the Statue of Liberty says New York in our collective minds, so the setting could pass for any random Spanish city or even a fictional one.

You’ll be thankful that you don’t have to drive to your missions because you’ll be doing plenty of driving during the missions themselves. Nearly every mission starts behind the wheel and the game almost always steers you along its own path. When being chased by a gang of criminals, instead of driving the most logical path to your destination, you’re forced to follow instead a path that weaves throughout the city on nearly every mission. This was done to ramp up the drama and to give the plot time to unfold, but this method can only be successfully utilized when people give a damn about what the developers are trying to tell them. Since we don’t in this case, we spend less time focusing on the “awesome” action or the unfolding developments of the plot and instead focus on how illogical the whole game really is.

The Wheelman may be set in an open world, but it is painfully restrictive. In one particular mission, you’ll be tasked with dispatching two enemies protecting a limo. Once they’re defeated, you’ll then need to “air-jack” the limo. Vehicular combat is fairly straight-forward. While driving, Milo can either slam his vehicle into other cars or shoot at them to disable them. He can shoot in either regular time or in the game’s version of bullet time. Milo also has a unique skill – he defies all risk and leaps from car to car with ease, air-jacking the car he jumps to and forcing the previous occupant onto the asphalt. How a federal agent can do this in good conscience is never discussed, but the feature is helpful in that, during chases, if you’re car gets too banged up, you can easily hop into another and keep up.

So, back to the limo. You chase after the limo, getting shot at by gangsters wielding assault rifles in bullet-proof cars. It takes forever to finish them off, but you only have a limited amount of time to kill them. If the limo gets inside the gate of a house, you lose. Mission incomplete, try again. Even if you’re slamming into their bumper as you fly into the courtyard. No, you lose because you didn’t complete the mission the exact way the developer wanted you to. Despite the appearance of an open world, the player is really given absolutely no control.

Take another mission that took place shortly after this one. You chase after a criminal on motorcycle, gunning down at least a dozen or so of his cronies that join in on the high-speed chase that, for some reason, attracts absolutely no police response (the cops only show up during scripted events). You chase after him, littering his unarmored body with bullets to no avail despite the fact that he’s wearing a basketball jersey and jeans. No, instead you have to chase after the train he eventually boards, shoot the links out between the cars to catch him and then finally execute him using the bullet time move the game tells you to use.

Again, this kind of approach would have been fine if the game’s action was better, but it just feels lame. The vehicular combat aspect is heavily trumpeted, but you’ll have more fun pulling out a copy of Twisted Metal: Black or Full Auto if that’s what you’re craving. And forget about the on-foot portions because the developers didn't even bother trying to make these at all original or exciting. Unlike the vehicular combat, which was at least partially fleshed out, the on-foot portions are amateur at best. The gunplay in the game requires absolutely no skill. Milo is practically invincible as he wades in a stream of bullets auto-locking on brain-dead enemies.

The Wheelman looks all right, with lots of bright colors that pop off the screen. The whole city has an almost cartoonish look when compared to the grittier Liberty City portrayed by Grand Theft Auto IV. Either way, the product is a holdover from that era of Xbox 360 games where textures weren’t really any better than they were in previous generations; they were just a lot shinier. Vin Diesel’s toned arms (digital Vin has not an ounce of body fat) shine like a rapper’s chromed rims. Stiffly animated cutscenes, replete with terrible acting, round out the lackluster (but not luster-lacking) presentation.

The Wheelman thus resembles most of Midway Games efforts over the last decade – mediocre. The Wheelman feels unevolved; a remnant of an era of gaming long since passed that is no longer appreciated by today’s more fickle and demanding audience. It’s sad when you leave such an uninspiring game wishing that at the very least the developers had stolen the ideas from other games that had done similar things, like the much better vehicular combat of Full Auto or third-person combat of Max Payne. There’s just absolutely no compelling reason to give this game any attention.

Rating: 5/10

asherdeus's avatar
Community review by asherdeus (July 08, 2010)

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