Between Twisted Metal, Smash ‘N’ Survive and the upcoming Fuel Overdose, PS3 has the monopoly on car combat. Gelid Games’ PSN exclusive Wheels of Destruction is yet another entry vying for attention in the crowded bracket, and it hopes to win over players with its budget price point and high-octane multiplayer. But does it reignite the previously forgotten genre or go out like a tepid tea light?
Primarily a multiplayer affair, there's a single-player mode but it’s limited and, in essence, the online component with bots in the place of real players. Given that there’s no real sense of progression, it’s an altogether forgettable mode, and that sense of indifference is accentuated by the unfair artificial intelligence and limited selection of match customisation configurations.
This, like so many other car combat games, is designed to be played with others. Things do improve online, but only marginally so. In its favour, the net code is outstanding — a world away from the iffy connection issues still plaguing Twisted Metal — pulling you into ranked matches against up to 11 other players with Call of Duty-esque efficiency. Unfortunately, despite the thrill of competing with others, the gameplay just doesn’t quite live up to the quality of its adversaries.
Twisted Metal got some criticism pre-release for its archaic physics system and outdated controls, but it’s easy to see why Eat Sleep Play opted for that system when presented with the alternative. As opposed to putting you in direct control of your car, Wheels of Destruction instead moves you towards the position you're aiming at. It’s an important distinction that you probably won’t notice at first, but it becomes extremely problematic as you move in and out of tight spaces. The issue is not offensive, just far from ideal, and it makes escaping from tricky situations or chasing an opponent that much less exhilarating than it should be.
A lot has been made of Wheels of Destruction’s various car classes, but the results aren’t quite as unique as you might hope. There are five different vehicles to choose from, each granted fancy names such as the Soldier and the Scout, but unfortunately the gameplay differences begin and end with health and speed. As you’d expect, the Scout is weak and nimble while the Heavy is tough and slow. As a result, there’s very little gameplay incentive to select anything other than the Soldier, the game’s general all-rounder.
Combat-wise, Gelid Games opted to keep things simplistic. There are four primary weapon types, each with an alternative fire option. The machine gun is your default weapon, and is augmented with a shotgun in addition to bog-standard machine gun fire. Other weapons need to be collected on the battlefield, with rockets, flamethrowers and lasers all up for grabs. The problem is that the weaponry doesn’t really feel all that balanced. The shotgun is deadly in close quarters, rendering the flamethrower redundant, while the laser is too slow (and lacks autoaim) making the rockets distinctly more useful. There is fun to be eked from the combative gameplay, and the learning curve is certainly more simplistic than the taxing Twisted Metal, but it’s unlikely to keep anyone engaged for long.
There are five maps, each loosely based upon post apocalyptic interpretations of real world locations. London, for example, sees you scaling around a glowing reimagining of Big Ben, while Seattle is set amidst a snowy battlefield.
Visuals are probably Wheels of Destruction’s greatest asset, as the arenas are extremely well conceived. Admittedly the futuristic architecture is cliché, but it pops on screen and is lovingly detailed. Vehicles too are well rendered, with great animations depicting the transition between weapon types. Unfortunately this is an example of the game putting style ahead of substance, investing precious seconds in animation while you desperately claw at the fire button to no avail. In tight situations, a second without gunfire can cost you a kill.
The pace of the game is also far too slow for a title of its type. Maps are rather large but vehicles are distinctly slow, meaning it can take a while to reach points of interest. There is a boost button to help you increase your vehicle’s top-speed, but it is woefully limited even on the more nimble classes. Boost is used more as a means of maintaining your elevation, rather than getting from A-to-B.
Game types are disappointingly limited too, with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag the main options represented. All three work as expected, and while they function adequately, fail to really attempt anything different. Contrast it to the maniacal genius of Twisted Metal’s Nuke mode and Wheels of Destruction comes off feeling creatively bankrupt and subsequently flat.
Elsewhere, there’s really not much to the game. Obligatory leaderboards are naturally included, allowing you to filter between similarly skilled players and friends. There’s also a hearty helping of concept art, and a vast array of badges to unlock for meeting certain in-game conditions, but, unless you’re a serious Trophy addict, or genuinely enjoy the gameplay, there’s very little reason to return to the game once you’ve sampled all of its vehicles and maps.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Wheels of Destruction, it’s just distinctly average in almost every way. The controls lack precision and the weapons are limited and unbalanced, but, by contrast, the graphics are fantastic and the net code is the best in its class. Unfortunately, with better options already available on the PlayStation 3, Wheels of Destruction feels a bit misjudged. It’s functional, but Sweet Tooth’s most recent outing makes Gelid Games’ first attempt at car combat feel second rate.