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Undertaking the complex and multi-faceted role (not really) of Milo Burik (Milo? OK… if you say so), Vinny practically plays himself as the Wheelman, the kind of dude best depended on when a bank job goes awry or those pesky fuzz need a-shakin’. Ingeniously so, you’ll spend most of the game behind the wheel, whether it’s taking chase among downtown roads or achieving some “sick air” on conveniently-placed ramps (with painted-on indicators for the narrowly-blind).
A set of ripped-straight-from-Hollywood manoeuvres guarantee the inclusion of familiar blockbuster trappings, such as the ludicrous ability to “Air-Jack” a moving car whilst barrelling down the roads in your own ride. While awesome, the lunacy of such a stunt has been done before, resembling a usefulness first explored by Just Cause back in 2006, allowing for an excitable pace that rarely requires you to remove yourself from the action if you need to exchange your busted vehicle for another one in better shape. In a similar feat of twisted reality straight out of the Bond universe, tapping Down on the D-Pad spins Milo’s car around and begins a brief moment of slow-mo target practice – shooting the allocated spots on a target’s car will explode it into a scrap-heap of contorted metal, which is fun if a little repetitive.
As the back of the box dictates however, Milo’s real weapon is his vehicle itself. Using the right-thumbstick means Milo use your chosen motor to careen and smash against those that oppose you, providing some genuinely hilarious moments where explosions and car-wrecks sing of a similar carnage seen in the Burnout games. Thankfully, the driving mechanic is also generally satisfying for piloting both cars and motorbikes, meaning your road rage can keenly develop towards an honest and necessary goal: to blow shit up.
If there is one painstakingly negative aspect to Wheelman however, then it has to be the on-foot sections. Kudos goes to developer Midway Studios Newcastle for at least bothering to diversify somewhat - especially when the ratio between driving sequences and the on-foot stuff is fairly significant - but they still remain very poorly implemented, as the shooting just feels sluggish and noticeably less rewarding when compared to the car combat.
The setting for all this extreme tomfoolery is Barcelona, which has been “re-created” in an open world environment ala True Crime: Streets of LA. As per usual however, expectations need to be lowered to truly appreciate the lack of love embodied into the city’s look and feel. Such was the case with the awful Driv3r from 2004; Wheelman’s spin on Barcelona feels hollow and empty, employing the style of antiquated pedestrian A.I. that gallops like a badly animated gazelle at the last minute if you try to run them over.
In fact, the entire game looks pretty ugly: aliasing problems litter the world’s geometry, physical glitches pop-up on numerous occasions, character models look like Barbie and Ken dolls dipped in vats of skin-damaging acid and I’m sorry, but without trying to sound like a horrible racist victimizer, the first black character you come across looks like a horribly-mutated Chernobyl swamp frog. I guess that’s not much of a ringing endorsement to save Midway’s sinking ship, but there we are.
Alongside some decent side missions, the main story is entertaining for the 6-7 hours it lasts, though unsurprisingly the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the grand scheme of things. Why is Milo in Spain again? Who’s that guy with the dodgy haircut and why is he suddenly my enemy now? Why is hthat woman’s voice actor so blatantly blasé about the whole ordeal? Saints Row 2 at least proved that you can have a silly narrative backed up by solid voice acting and bearable B-movie plot twists, whereas Wheelman’s downfall comes from its trying to take itself a bit too seriously.
Even though there is hardly a dearth of open world third-person shooters on the market these days, Wheelman somehow manages to keep its head above the water. The potential for greater things is apparent throughout almost all of Wheelman, but regardless of what could have been, what’s there is an average if enjoyable action title that pushes enough of the right buttons to make it worth a rental at the very least.