Why I Love… Wheelman • Page 2

Epic Vin.

Fill up your focus meter through reckless driving and you can pull off even more preposterous moves. Cyclone is the best, allowing you to spin your vehicle round impossibly and shoot out tyres in slow motion. This launches cars bumper over bonnet and sends their occupants soaring through the air before they crumple to the ground with absurdly exaggerated ragdoll physics.

Bad guys simply aren't prepared to go out like some punk. Each driver yanks their car skywards as you deliver the finishing blow, sending it spinning through the air and exploding as it pirouettes back towards the ground. Wheelman is unapologetically gamey, and better for it.

The arcade handling is perfect for pulling off the sillier moves. There's little quite as satisfying as thwarting the cops with a 180-degree turn, shattering a glass mall entrance in the process, before zooming off in the opposite direction as your hapless pursuers collide in your rear-view mirror.

The game doesn't just encourage showboating, it practically demands it, and you'll need to pull off some outlandish manoeuvres to complete the toughest side-missions - many of which have extremely exacting times to beat for the best ranks.

The Hot Potato and Made to Order missions are particularly tough. The former sets extremely tight time limits to pick up packages. The latter asks you to steal a number of cars before returning them to a specific location - preferably undamaged, as each bump lowers the vehicle's value and your chances of getting the top rank.

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Vin Diesel pulling a wheelie on a pink motorbike, while shooting at an armoured police van. How can you not love a game that allows you to do this?

Brilliantly, these extras aren't simply sidelines for those chasing Achievements or high scores. Get an A or above and you'll unlock upgrades which can improve your vehicle's performance, and the focus gauge you need for the slow-motion special moves.

When you get a decent rank - announced, inexplicably, at the end of each mission by someone with a broad Scottish accent - it appears as an ostentatious, shiny trophy at the mission start point. This allows you the satisfaction of cruising past a gaudy monument to your achievement.

At just about every turn, Wheelman accelerates away from any semblance of reality. It skips a lot of the tedious busywork of its grittier peers. You can jump straight into any mission - story or side-quest - and if you want to ignore the convoluted (but guiltily enjoyable) plot, you can whizz through the cut-scenes and simply get on with the driving, making it feel even more like a classic arcade game.

Which is why some of the negative reviews were hard to fathom. Many of them seemingly misunderstood exactly what type of game Midway Newcastle was trying to make, criticising Wheelman for the apparent emptiness and lifelessness of its open world.

OK, its Barcelona setting resembles the real thing about as much as I resemble George Clooney. But it wasn't ever meant to be teeming with realistic NPCs or authentic AI behaviours. The focus is on the driving, and it's telling that as soon as Vin steps out of his vehicle, things start to go a bit Babylon AD.

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Even Vin looks disappointed in the third-person shooting sections. Still, they're mercifully easy and brief, so you'll be back in the driving seat before you know it.

That's not to say the on-foot sections are disastrous; they're merely mediocre. Wheelman's third-person shooting sequences are best thought of as palate cleansers - small, flavourless scoops of gaming sorbet between the meaty main courses of driving like a maniac.

There's nothing wrong with the setting either. Fake Barcelona might not look like the real thing but it's an interesting place to drive around, not least because it's one of the brightest and happiest videogame cities you'll ever see.

The skies are almost SEGA blue and there's barely a grey building in sight, while the three factions Vin's undercover agent is playing off against each other appear to be competing for who can drive Catalonia's most garish car.

It's far from being the prettiest game, and Milo does run like he's got a turtle's head poking out. But as soon as you're behind the wheel the city zips by at such a lick that you won't have time to notice too many of the rough edges.

Returning to those reviews, there's a paragraph from Tom's original 5/10 appraisal which sums the game up perfectly. "The city of Barcelona is hardly living and breathing, and hardly the entire city of Barcelona either," he wrote.

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Vin's ego filled the rest of the car, leaving passengers nowhere but the roof.

"It's a simplified playground designed for Vin Diesel, with broad thoroughfares connected by a few alleyways, and just enough traffic to add obstacles to pursuit missions but not enough to slow you down.

"You glide effortlessly over kerbs, use stairways and roundabouts as ramps, mow down trees and lamp-posts and street cafés as if they're not there, and the police barely ever turn up unless a mission tells them to, and even then, they're easily outwitted."

Other elements obviously didn't suit Tom's tastes, but he liked those things, and to me they're part of what makes Wheelman so good. How many times have you been tailing a car in GTA and slightly misjudged a turn, smashing into a tree, a lamppost, or some other obstacle that really has no place spoiling your fun?

Put an average GTA chase to celluloid and it would be boring, slow and rubbish. Sure, it occasionally clicks and you get some genuinely exhilarating vehicular action, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

By contrast Wheelman's pursuits are consistently exciting, each one as stupidly unrealistic at the last and all the more cinematically thrilling for it. Like Taken and Taxi and The Transporter, it's a deeply guilty pleasure. But despite the repetition, the brainless plot and those identikit crashes, I wouldn't change it for the world.

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