That said, he's obviously a gamer, or he wouldn't have his own games company, and he wouldn't go on TV and get excited when Jonathan Ross mentions his wife's spectral tiger, so while he might not do any apologising, he might agree that Wheelman also has a darker side, or at least a more boring side. Those side missions, for example. There are certainly loads of them, and there are hidden cat statues to smash up, and there are loads of unique stunt jumps to find, but after you've done one of everything there really isn't any variation or evolution of the core ideas. You just do the same thing in a different bit of the city with a slightly different time limit.
The car combat isn't very interesting either. Cyclone and Aimed Shot are novel and the exploding enemy cars and bikes sometimes catapult their drivers hilariously across the street, but jostling with enemies using sideswipe is repetitive and lacks conviction. This isn't helped by very blatantly elastic AI. It's most obvious when you're pursuing someone and you fall behind, and realise that their icon on the mini-map has virtually come to a halt, waiting for you to pick up the pace, but it's more aggravating when you're trying to escape, and no matter how successful you are smashing up your enemies, they have no difficulty reeling you back in. This happens in the street races too, where it graduates from 'niggle' to outright sin.
At least there's nothing much wrong with the car handling, which falls somewhere between Crazy Taxi and Burnout Paradise, but there is a lot to be said against the bits where you get out of the car, and after a while - perhaps as the developer becomes conscious of the repetition - you're forced to do more of it. The cover system is rudimentary (stand next to a block, and duck), and the lock-on combat is far too simple - and your bland, identikit enemies far too tactically naive - for this side of the game to have any sort of positive effect. It doesn't help that the mission design is weakest here either - one of the first examples involves working your way through a maze of knackered tube carriages, retrieving a hostage, and then working your way back out through the same maze, with enemies spawning at predictable intervals along the way.
Visually, too, the game is very bland, unable to boast the amazing, atmospheric lighting of GTAIV nor offer any decent alternative. Vin Diesel looks like Vin Diesel, but most of the characters are last-generation next to their counterparts in other Unreal Engine 3 games, with chunky faces and poor lip-synching, and the sun-drenched Barcelona is a characterless sprawl of boring buildings and identical roads. Without the map, you would get lost, because everything looks the same, and of course you would get lost either way, because you keep skipping to the missions using the GPS map-screen icons. And the less said about the soundtrack the better. I cannot remember a single piece of music, except the thing you hear on the load screen, because you spend a lot of time on the load screen.
After a dozen hours in Wheelman's company, you will have seen most of everything, but you've more or less seen everything in a fraction of that, and the promise of an openworld game that concentrates on what you can do with a car is long forgotten. There are some highs, but they all come early, in the thrill of your first Air Jack or Cyclone, or the first hilarious ragdoll enemy death or the sight of Vin Diesel on a scooter. After that, nothing really changes. It's all smoothly presented, accessible, and easy enough to play for a few hours, but it has very little to offer beyond not making you especially angry. Perhaps Vin Diesel is the new Sonic after all.
5 / 10