Finding his feet in the Spanish province, Vin Diesel starts to learn about Barcelona's criminal underground and builds up a relationship with numerous shady locals as a wheelman.
Wheelman is an arcade style driving game with a huge emphasis on explosive and set-piece based gameplay.
The moment you start playing Wheelman, you're placed straight into the scene of a bank robbery, being chased by the cops in a brand new "open-world" style environment. And it feels awesome. Wheelman obviously takes inspiration from Grand Theft Auto; it has a similar mission structure and feel. The big difference being that the cars in Wheelman feel like those in SEGA arcade classic, Crazy Taxi. You can swerve around corners by braking and accelerating at the same time. Everything feels immensely "soft" and floaty. Speeding your way around Barcelona couldn't be more fun unless you were actually doing it for real.
Everything you do in Wheelman has an action movie feel to it. You can ram opponent cars with the right analogue stick. Subsequent rams with cause serious damage to the enemy resulting in a Burnout-style slow motion explosion. Big jumps will be rewarded by a panning camera whereas general gameplay pushes Wheelman's physics engine as far as it can, throwing fellow motorists' cars high up into the air.
On its own, Wheelman's driving mechanic could get a little repetitive in later stages. This is where Vin Diesel's special abilities come in. When driving he can shoot out of the window Starsky & Hutch-style, but the developers decided this wasn't quite cool enough. By pressing "Up" on the D-pad, time is slowed down and a first-person viewpoint enabled. This allows you to take out road blocks and enemies in front of you with relative ease. But what of those enemies behind you? Pressing "Down" on the D-pad has a similar effect, except this time Vin Diesel spins the car 180 degrees, allowing you to take out all those behind you before spinning back into the direction you were initially travelling. Not only that but you can also switch cars as you're driving. Just get behind a car you'd like to "Airjack", hold the Circle button and wait until you're close enough. Vin Diesel will jump from car to car, enabling you a new set of wheels.
Variation. Wheelman's campaign lasts approximately 8 hours and provides plenty of entertainment due to its cinematic style and variation. Some missions require a slow patient approach, whereas others will have you destroying entire areas. One particular stand-out mission has you chasing a train through an underground subway; on a motorbike! Others put you behind the wheel of truck trying to take out an opponent petrol tanker. The game rarely "recycles" a mission type throughout its campaign. Story mode aside, there are a vast array of side missions which allow you to upgrade your abilities. It'll take upwards of 30 hours to see everything.
Wheelman provides a huge open world akin to that of Burnout Paradise. The main difference between the titles is that Wheelman never forces you to drive between objectives. If you do not want to explore the video game realisation of Barcelona, you can merely jump between missions via the map screen. However, there are rewards for exploring the world as there are many secrets to be discovered which tie into trophies.
Wheelman has a nice artistic feel to it - the car models and the environment itself offering a "chunky" look. Everything is vibrant and colourful around Barcelona too, indicative of the "feel-good" emotions Wheelman is trying to convey. However, the game does feel a tad rough around the edges. The scenery lacks detail and character models look particularly ugly during cut-scenes.
Serving as a way to break up the driving action, Wheelman incorporates some barely competent third-person shooting sections. While they're entirely simplistic in their conception, they are both adequate and scarce enough to not taint the overall package.
We have to hold our hands up and admit we didn't actually know what was going on at times in Wheelman's campaign. Sure we understood who the characters were, and we understood our role too, but there is still far too much going on to understand the overlying plot. We've no doubt a second-playthrough will quell our curiosity on the storyline but it's still hard to not suggest that Wheelman's plot is a little too complex for its own good. Honestly, we just wanted to ram cars into each other. Vin Diesel's voice acting is as manly as ever, mind.
This isn't the first game we've moaned about respawning enemies and, sadly we doubt it will be the last. You'll only need to be about 50% through Wheelman's campaign before you realise, actually making attempts at ramming enemies off the road and destroying them does nothing, purely because the game will drop another enemy car/bike right in front of you/behind you. Frustrating.
Wheelman never attempts to set the world alight. However, by knowing exactly what it is, Vin Diesel's foray into arcade-esque car chase gameplay is both enjoyable and gripping.