Wheelman looked awesome in previews. Vin Diesel jumping from cars like in the Matrix. Ramming cars. Freaking spinning around cars and BLOWING SHIT UP!! It took everything you wanted to play about car chases and made it ten times more batshit crazy. The third person combat looked wonky, but since the developers promised to focus on vehicular combat that didn't seem to be so much of a liability.
All those great videos and previews are probably what made me judge Wheelman a big disappointment. All the promised features are here in the game, with mixed results, but it's buried under tons of weird bugs, quirks, and design choices.
The game sets you up pretty well, and gradually parcels out the abilities so you can get used to them. You start off with being able to bash cars with your own--it looks a little funky but it's fun and that's all that matters. Barcelona is an interesting setting, mainly because of novelty, and while I fully expected Vin Diesel to be a criminal he's some kind of undercover cop... whatever. The setup is fine.
What's more difficult to get used to, however, is the oversaturated and... I'll just say it: terrible terrible graphics. I'll start with the models: Vin Diesel looked better in Butcher Bay from last gen; here he looks like a plastic model that you will probably be able to buy at Walmart when the movie comes out. Unfortunately, Vin Diesel is the most detailed models, the others are definitely last gen quality. Barcelona has some nice colors, but the vehicles are also ass ugly.
But whatever, as long as the gameplay is fun who cares right? I'm a subscriber to that philosophy. But all is not well in Spain. The bashing, car-jacking, spinning-around vortex car shooting is terrific fun at first--there's no denying it. However, considering you get these abilities roughly 30 minutes into the game, and the game simply doesn't move on beyond that, it gets rather boring rather fast. Also, for a game that's all about it's ridiculous car chases and other dangerous vehicular antics, it simply never develops a sense of speed or even danger. For example, when you airjack a car, the car immediately starts slowing down, and since you don't gain control of the car immediately more often than not you end up crashing into some sort of wall or obstacle. Not cool. The top velocity of most cars feels like 30-40 mph, which is also kind of lame. When you do pull of the spinning car move, cars blow up somewhat lamely (all that's left is a bare-bones black shell, instead of true car debris) and civilians never ever get hurt.
Which brings us to the odd design decisions. First off, for a game of wanton mayhem the city is suprisingly indestructible. Most noticeable are its inhabitants. Simply put, civilians are immortal. You can't run them over, blow them up, shoot them, or whatever. When GTA pushed the bar with making the city fully inhabitable, I feel that Wheelman needed to play to its strengths and make the game as Katamari/John Woo crazy as possible! It feels really lame to blow up a police car, only to have its former inhabitants simply stand up, unfazed and perfectly unhurt, and continue shooting at you.
Another really odd aspect is that when you want to jack a vehicle while you're wandering around, the driver obligingly stops for you and waits as you run up to him, throw him out, and steal his friggin car! It's really weird to be standing on one side of a highway, hit the jack button, and watch a motorcycle suddenly stop across the way and stand there like a stunned rabbit. It makes jacking cars so easy to the extent that airjacking is simply not worth the effort. Sometimes, the game requires it though, which means you have to do it anyway.
The script is awful, with Vin delivering some truly awful one-liners, but somehow made even more awful that they never made any sense. The opening semi-flirtatious but just ridiculous dialogue between Vin and some Spanish tranny (it's supposed to be a she) still stands out to me as proof for why the Writer's strike was such a big deal. But whatever, you're not playing this game for the plot anyway.
In the end, I feel sorry for Midway. Obviously they had to rush-job this, and there were some truly promising ideas lurking under the surface, but I guess the simply didn't have the time for it. The first hour or so is entertaining, but then it devolves form there. I wish developers will be able to refine these ideas in sequels, but from the look of things, Wheelman didn't sell well either. Oh well.
In any case, the reason why I titled this Manwheel is because the game is about as appealing as a manwheel. I leave it up to you to imagine what that might be--I have no idea. It sounds horrible though.
P.S. Oddly enough, the game that I thought looked and felt most similar to Wheelman was Spiderman: Web of Shadows, which was another game that tried things but ended up simply patchy. It's also eerie how similar they look (and how indestructible civilians are in both).