Wheelman – hands-on

The game is set entirely in Barcelona. It’s a beautiful city, which has been transferred competently enough that you’ll recognize it if you’ve been there. Wide main roads and tiny alleyways that run between pastel-colored five-story houses. Sightseers will want to head straight for La Sagrada Familia, where Antoni Gaudi’s insanely detailed cathedral dominates the view. We certainly tried to get there, but a set of roadblocks let us know that this area of the map wasn’t open yet. Meanwhile, the Catalunyan pedestrians behave bizarrely as you drive through the crowds. Either confused or suicidal, they throw themselves under your car, giving the impression that you’re driving around a mental institute. This glitch will be fixed before release, and that’s a shame. It all felt like part of the fun.

Collectables dotted around the city come in the form of ramps – there are fifty to jump over, and a cinematic angle lets you know you’ve completed one. But there are also a bunch of side missions that unlock bonuses and features. Taxi missions are like a time trial, awarding a grade from C to S. Complete them all, and you’ll be able to use the taxi ranks as teleport points. Pretty handy that.

Other side missions include a Wheelman take on racing where you’re encouraged to obliterate your competitors as much as beat them, and modes where you have to destroy a car before it reaches a safehouse, or reach a safehouse while an entire gang tries to stop you. How you play the missions – both the 30 long story missions, and the 105 side missions – affects who hates you the most, and which of the gangs you’ll have your final arcade face-off against.

“Choosing a car yourself is like rock, paper, scissors,” explains Craig Duncan, Midway Newcastle’s studio lead, referring to the massive gasoline tanker that we were driving with unlikely maneuverability. In this equation gas tankers are the rocks that blunt the scissors of the regular cars. And cars cut through the paper of motorbikes. And that’s where Duncan changes the subject. Perhaps he realized that bikes don’t beat trucks.

Whatever; this isn’t a game where you need to think things through, and motorbikes do, admittedly, have the bonus of speed and handling. Leaving the impregnable tanker, we leap into an unbranded version of a Fiat Cinquecento. You can jump, Just Cause-style, to any car just by pulling up behind them. Once again, we leap onto a motorbike and shoot the rig’s coupling, releasing the tanker. This reduces the momentum, but increases speed, and we tear off down an alleyway that wasn’t designed for trucks. The chase continues.

Wheelman might not go down in history as the most thoughtful title ever, but it may be remembered for making Vin Diesel acceptable again.

Dec 31, 2008

Simon was once a freelance games journalist with bylines at publications including GamesRadar. He is now a content designer at DWP Digital - aka the Department for Work and Pensions.