Hands-on / Wheelman

I should probably introduce Wheelman to you – tell you where it’s from and what it’s about – before I tell you about one of the most ridiculously awesome moves in the game. But I’m impatient and just want to get right to it — you can jump from one moving car to another, without breaking, and drive off in the new car. Vin Diesel, who will be playing the lead role and whose production company is making the game along with Midway, will literally open his door, climb on the hood of his car, jump to another car, swing in through the passenger window and kick out the driver without the cars ever slowing down. It’s pretty frickin’ easy to execute (just line up your car with the other and hold own A) and fits right into the whole game’s theme of bringing cinema action into a game.

In the game you play as Milo Burik, an expert wheelman and an undercover agent whose job it is to infiltrate a crime syndicate in Barcelona before it’s too late. The obvious way to do this is to become the syndicate’s best wheelman and tear through the game’s quests in doing so. You’ll have main story quests and side quests most of which involve, you guessed it, driving. In the part I played, I had to escape some pursuing trucks, other quests will have you robbing a bank or chasing after people. Burik can hop into any car, bike or other thing, then drive away at top speeds while trying to outwit and out-drive the bad guys. Of course, this is no sim, so the cars drive more like an arcade game than GT, but they still felt pretty solid to me.

Since the game is going for a more cinematic feel but is using an open-world mechanic, the cinematic stuff kicks in whenever you do something cool. Busting through a police barricade caused the camera to switch to a dramatic slow motion view of the car ripping through the blockade, and when I got a good bit of air off a ramp, the camera pulled back to show it off. It was all done in a very stylish and cool manner, but I worry that it could get irksome and slow down what would otherwise be a fast-paced chase. Motorstorm anyone?

While you can battle on foot with guns it isn’t highly recommended, and the brief period I got to try it out didn’t leave me all that impressed. But no matter, the game is really about driving and kicking ass while doing it. Thus Midway has put in some features that make your car a bit more threatening. The first being a melee option which basically allows you to slam into cars on either side you and damage them. Melee another car enough and it will blow up in another cinematic camera change. In the one I pulled off, the flaming car slammed off a wall, flew over my car and then blew up on the other side. Awesome, though I doubt it would happen that cinematiclally, that often. By the way, the car jumping mentioned before is also done with a cinematic flare, but only when the car you’re jumping off of happens to be exploding when you jump off it.

Those are the two basic techniques that can be used at any time. But if you build up your wheelman meter by driving well and quickly or pulling of cool moves, you’ll be able to perform supermove stunts. These range from a general boost in speed to pulling off what Midway is calling a cyclone — the car is spun around, time slows down, the camera pulls in, and you can aim with your gun at the on-coming bad guys. Fun times for all.

Outside of these nifty stunts though I’m not sure what Wheelman really has to offer. It might just be a slick package over a middling game, but for now we really don’t know, and we certainly didn’t get enough time with it to figure it out. We’re simply going to need to see a bit more than flashy camera angles and a big name star to be sold on a game these days.

[See also: Wheelman gallery]