Written : Saturday, March 28, 2009
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
If you find bald headed men with gravely voices sexy then do I have a treat for you (I am not describing myself by the way), as the latest console project featuring the bizarrely named Vin Diesel is ready to hit our screens. With the critically acclaimed Riddick title already in his locker, it seems that Vin has gone down a more out and out action orientated route this time around. For those of you thinking it has been a long time coming (remember the hidden trailer in a secret room during Stranglehold?) then you would be right, but here is hoping that it was worth the wait. After all, how many top quality games featuring criminals, on foot combat, side missions and car chases can you think of? ... oh yeah, except for that one.
In fairness to Midway and Tigon Studios, who developed the game, I do not think for one second that they were ever trying to take a shot at the throne currently occupied by GTA. In fact, if anything, this game bears more of a likeness with Driver – a game that came out of nowhere back in the day to enchant people with its high octane car chases. The emphasis here is firmly on the driving side of things (please do not message me to say ‘well it is called Wheelman – duh’) and the game is all the better for it. It never strives to be the greatest thing since sliced bread and just concentrates on offering up some solid fun.
It seems Vin can no longer command big movie salaries.
The story, such as it is, sees our man Vin take on the role of Milo (oh dear, oh dear) an undercover operative sent to take down some local gang in Barcelona by the CIA. If you are asking yourself why the hell he would be part of the CIA or why they would be interested in Barcelona – I have no idea, and the game never really explains it either. Suffice it to say, it is all just one big excuse for some hectic car chases and shoot outs with Barcelona itself providing a nice looking backdrop. At least the leading man has some suitable gruff and humorous dialogue and he really brings the whole thing to life. It makes you wonder what happened to his film career really, as he is on top form here.
The city itself is pretty nice to look at but is far too static to be that impressive. You cannot go inside most of the building or interact with anything, in fact, it just seems like it was chosen to act as a pretty vista for the over the top action. All of the vehicles on offer look pretty nice too, especially once they start to get a bit beaten up. There is nothing better than driving around with one door missing, as the ladies love that kind of thing (warning: this may not be true). The characters all look fairly decent but obviously most of the love has been lavished upon Vin himself, which makes everyone else seem a bit under par in comparison. Once you are out of a car the game dips significantly too as the camera becomes extremely unresponsive and Vin moves awkwardly as if his on foot animations were thrown in at the last minute.
With the flat and confusing story, plus the hit and miss graphics, it would appear that the game is due to sink without a trace. However, once you actually get behind the wheel and take on a few missions you will start to see where the appeal behind this game truly lies as frankly, it is just flat out enjoyable. Basically, as Milo, your role is to try and get in close with the various mob factions in the city before taking them down. Obviously the best way to do that is through a number of gratuitous car chase and gun fests where it becomes apparent that Milo obviously was not privy to the CIA training entitled ‘subtlety’.
To get an edge, Vin has to use his secret powers of flight.
You can pretty much swipe any car you fancy and take it for a spin, though some missions will assign you a motor before they commence (the memorable moped chase being one example). Obviously you can cruise around the city should you so wish, smashing through parks and buildings and generally causing mischief. Once you get bored of that you can bring up your PDA and see what tasks are on offer. Green missions will progress the story while other colours donate side-missions, which are mainly just for fun but can also unlock services that will help you in the main game (like taxis or garages to remove your wanted level). You can either plot a course to your chosen assignment or automatically commence it at the touch of a button, your call, and then the fun begins.
The missions are fairly routine and often just require you to get to a certain point, catch a certain person or kill someone. Nothing too taxing but the fun comes in the driving. The cars handle superbly, but will start to react accordingly should you take too much damage, and it is up to you to use your ride effectively. To this end Milo has a few tricks up his sleeve. A flick of the right stick can let you use the car as a weapon, battering aside your foes or dodging oncoming traffic. Get a gun and you can try your hand at popping tires to slow down your foes. You also have a focus gauge that builds up as you drift around corners, destroy obstacles or go at high speeds. Once it hits a certain limit you gain access to special abilities. The mundane turbo boost is first up, followed by the Aimed Shot and Cyclone (once you get a firearm) – which let you deal gratuitous (and stylish) damage to all of those around you. By far the greatest, and most bizarre manoeuvre is the air jack feature, which lets you lean out of your car door and, with the right amount of persistence and timing, leap through the air like a gazelle to swipe a speedily moving vehicle of your choice. It is ridiculous to see and yet a stroke of genius at the same time, as you can switch cars should yours be battered or use it to take out unarmed bad guys in one fell swoop.
While the story is fun, albeit fairly short, the side missions are somewhat of a disappointment. The problem is that they soon become amazingly repetitive and, aside from a few perks that may or may not prove useful throughout the main game, they really serve no purpose. It would have been better if they had some kind of tie to the main plot as it just seems like most of them were tacked on for the sake of expanding the experience. I would not go so far as to say you will not have ANY fun at all with them, but they really just feel like a bunch of extra mini-games rather than part of the same title. This becomes especially true when you try to get S-ranks on them all and discover just how frustrating a task that will be. The main problem lies in the fact that the oncoming traffic seems to have extremely strange A.I. at times, not to mention the fact that your foes seem to go at extreme speeds regardless of the car they are driving.
Whoops, I think I may have clipped someone ...
Browsing through the achievements I was dismayed to see a bunch of collectable achievements in what is mainly a driving game. Coming in the form of destructible cat statues and stunt leaps and it will take you some time (and a certain amount of story progression) to track them all down. It is a nightmare to be honest and detracts from the enjoyment of just cruising through the streets for pleasure. Other than that you have the usual story achievements and a bunch for completing all of the side missions. To truly finish the game though you will have to S-rank every single one of these which will be a time sapping and hair tearing experience, especially considering the fact some of the missions require nothing less than total perfection. Throw in a few amusing achievements for using special moves and doing fun tasks like dodging police or taking on hoodlums on a motorcycle though and the list in fact becomes fairly decent.
This game certainly does not push back any new boundaries or startle you with innovation, but that was never going to be the point. If you are looking for something to just sit down and have fun with, then this game is definitely for you. The story does not make much sense but the action more than makes up for that deficit. Sadly you may begin to feel as if you are repeating yourself far earlier than you should do and the only replayability comes in the form of the numerous side-missions. As they do not tie into the main story and as some of them can be a controller smashing level of frustrating, it is not really likely that they will keep you entertained once the main experience is over. Still, get behind the wheel and take your vehicle/weapon of choice for a spin and you will find plenty of good times along the way.
Regardless of whether you like Mr Diesel or not, he makes a damn good leading character here and some of his deadpan one liners are worth the price of admission alone. The radio stations are a bit hit and miss though.
The city looks beautiful from a distance but then you realise how static and non-interactive most of it is. Not to mention the fact that some of the character models and on foot animations are dubious at best.
The cars all handle superbly, in an arcadey way. However, step out of your ride and things take a drastic turn for the worse as the controls and general gameplay become a major hazard to your enjoyment.
A game that strives to be fun and is pretty much successful, but some of the missions are far too repetitive and there just never seems to be enough to do in the city. A bit more variety would have seen this score soar.
A fairly decent list but the fact they have still managed to cram in collectables (in the form of cat statues and jumps) is a right pain in the posterior. Still you do not have to go too far out of your way to get everything, though S ranking every mission could take a while.
This game is actually a lot of fun while it lasts, but the missions soon begin to blend into one another and the side missions are just not that entertaining. The on foot sections of the game are frankly dire, but if you are after a few hours of fun you could do much worse than lose yourself in this.