Why I Love… Wheelman

Epic Vin.

Following on from yesterday's attack on Halo, here's a defence of Wheelman - a game not even a mother could love. Or so we thought, awarding the game 5/10 in our review. But Chris Schilling disagrees. Here he explains why he's a fan of the game, and why he'd like to see more of the same, without even being ironic or anything.

Why has no-one made a videogame of ace Liam Neeson revenge thriller Taken? That speech - you know the one - is just about the most perfect game pitch it's possible to imagine.

"If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

Sure, you'd have to adjust the whole bit about Neeson's skills - "skills I have acquired over a very long career but will suddenly forget and gradually earn over the course of the next eight hours by spending points when I level up" doesn't quite have the same ring to it. But it works. Who needs convoluted plots when you have simple, brutal efficiency like that?

The reason we don't see games like that is because most developers try to match the Bruckheimer bombast of Hollywood's mega-budget blockbusters (hello, Call of Duty), or endeavour to compete with the very finest cinematic dramas, and invariably end up falling embarrassingly short.

Why don't more game-makers look at these low-budget, dumb-but-fun European action flicks, then go ahead and make the kind of impossible, escapist entertainment this medium is so good at?

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Vehicles range from scooters to trucks, though almost all of them can turn on a sixpence in Vin's capable hands.

Midway Newcastle and Tigon Entertainment evidently did just that when making Wheelman. With more than a touch of the Taxi and Transporter films about it, all this game is missing are the words 'Luc Besson presents' in front of the title. And maybe Jason Statham in the Vin Diesel role, as he's a bit more bankable these days.

I was reminded of Wheelman while playing Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit the other day. For all that I admire Criterion's modern-day Chase HQ, I couldn't help but think that the thrill of the hunt might have been heightened with the occasional corner to turn.

Sure, there's the occasional bend you might temporarily have to remove your index finger from the right trigger for. But I'm talking about the kind of chase where tyres screech wildly, permanently scarring the tarmac underneath.

Think of the very best movie car chases and they all pretty much take place in packed urban environments. It's no fun unless you have pedestrians scattering and market stalls exploding in showers of fruit flies and broken boxes. There just have to be narrow alleyways to ruin the immaculate paintwork of extremely expensive cars and metropolitan traffic to cause all kinds of vehicular carnage.

The Bourne Supremacy, Ronin, The French Connection... They all get what a great car chase should be. By comparison, Need for Speed's pursuits feel not so much Hot as Lukewarm.

For all the ferocity of that game's automobile annihilation, there's something lacking in the physicality required to action those collisions. Wheelman, on the other hand, makes you - or at least your right thumb - play the starring role in the fiercest fender-bending battles.

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Vin's familiar rumbling monotone is another highlight, and likely to give your subwoofer a decent workout.

Here, car combat is low on realism and high on ridiculousness. The super-responsive handling - more Crazy Taxi than GTA - has you pulling handbrake donuts through roadside cafés, sending benches and parasols flying, before hitting the turbo and screeching away over ramps, down steps and through shopping malls and bullrings.

Better still is a simple control tweak that's so satisfying it's a wonder no-one else has used it since. It's simple, really: nudging the right analogue stick executes a rapid shunt, moving your vehicle roughly one car's width to either side.

Not only is this perfect for bashing enemies - as well as lending an additional physical edge to the crunching collisions - but it can also be used to change lanes and correct your position when taking a corner. If the car you're pursuing suddenly takes a left you weren't ready for, you can pull the wheel with the left stick then quickly flick the right to swan-neck the turn at breakneck speed.

Just as daft - and almost as entertaining - is the air-jacking. This allows Vin to commandeer any vehicle from a distance of around ten feet. Simply ride up behind the car you want to steal, hold the B button for a few seconds, then leap aboard and kick the driver out of the door in one smooth motion.

Smashing someone off a bike is even funnier. Vin somehow wrestles control of two-wheelers while executing perfect flying kicks. So athletic is our hulking hero, it's as if he's temporarily spliced his DNA with Nadia Comaneci.

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