Say what you like about Vin Diesel's movie career, the man has avoided blotting his copybook when it comes to videogames. It helps that his game production company, Tigon, has only released one title so far - the critically acclaimed Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.
The next couple of months will see a new Riddick game hit the shelves, a remake-cum-sequel which has wowed just about everyone who's seen it. So it's looking like two-for-two for Diesel, and I'll be damned if his lesser-known project doesn't turn it into a hat-trick.
The Wheelman is being developed by Midway's Newcastle studio. Put simply, it's an action driving game where you do a little on-foot shooting and a lot of car hijacking (so far, so GTA). Once in the cars, you race around like a lunatic completing various missions and challenges, with all sorts of physics-defying boosts and special moves at your disposal (hello, Burnout Paradise). The action takes place in Barcelona, with Vin himself playing a CIA agent charged with infiltrating various nasty criminal gangs (that'll be The Bourne Identity, then).
Although I didn't get past the third paragraph without mentioning GTA, it's worth pointing out that The Wheelman's resemblance to Rockstar's series - or to its legions of imitators - is superficial at best. It's an open-world game, certainly, and you carry out various missions for crime bosses in a combination of on-foot and in-vehicle sections. Beyond that The Wheelman doesn't just mimic GTA, nor is it simply a selection box of things you liked in popular games and films. In fact, it looks set to offer a genuinely new experience.
There are two key ideas at the core of the game. The car is a weapon, and the car is disposable. The result of this design philosophy is that in The Wheelman, you don't just find a good car for a mission, drive a little, get out and fight, drive a little more and repeat. Every driving sequence is a high speed battle during which you hop from vehicle to vehicle, trashing each one in succession.
To make that happen, the game's creators have fostered a healthy disrespect for the laws of physics. Vin Diesel's gravel-voiced hero happily leaps between speeding cars, spins around 360 degrees to fire off volleys of shots and can slam the entire weight of a truck sideways into an unfortunate mobster's bike - pausing briefly to urinate on a picture of Isaac Newton.
This is a world where inertia, friction and wind resistance are more casual suggestions than rules. It's probably what the world looks like if you're John Woo, so it's not surprising to learn the Midway Newcastle boys had some input from the team who worked with Woo on Stranglehold.
Helpfully, all this glorious silliness is stripped down to a small set of fairly straightforward moves. The right stick throws the weight of your vehicle in the direction you press - allowing you to essentially "shunt" sideways, forwards or backwards. When driving heavier vehicles like big trucks, this is a lethal move which takes out your foes faster than a fat man rolling over a baby kitten. In lighter, more nimble vehicles, such as motorbikes, it's not very useful as an attack - but can be employed as a dodge, allowing you to shove your bike a few feet right or left to avoid hitting a wall or oncoming car. If this sort of thing makes you want to cross your arms, purse your lips and point out that's not how tyres work, The Wheelman might not be the game for you.