There are some things Vin Diesel can be. Many things, actually: A fast and furious driver, a secret/special agent, a mobster, Richard B. Riddick or even the Iron Giant. Thankfully though, he decided to be a game studio owner one day and formed Tigon studios, responsible for making games specifically starring the man himself. Tigon released the amazing Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher bay, followed by the game of the moment, 2009's Wheelman. Luckily it wasn't their last game...cause it feels like what was started by working with Starbreeze (The Vin Diesel video game empire) was slightly marred by the late Midway Newcastle...not that badly, but Wheelman is a dry experience...a sandwich without sauce.
But even a sandwich without sauce has meat.
Wheelman stars Vin Diesel as Milo Burik, CIA undercover agent infiltrating Barcelona's gang society who gets swept up in the events of a massive heist. There's the every class of criminal in this game, but their portrayal drips Hollywood, and not in a good way. Essentially, you become everyone's errand boy and participate in two main types of missions: story and side missions. Story missions are the more interesting of the pair, unlocking more areas of Barcelona and delving into the story of Wheelman which, even as a Vin Vehicle, is about as hardcore as a T-rated game about hardened, cut-throat criminals can be. The side missions are grouped into types (Taxi, Escape, Rampage...etc), and are required playing if you want to level up any of Milo's abilities, so you spend most of the game sweeping up the dozen or so side missions in between story missions...a pretty standard experience for most of us by now, done no injustice here. But you'll despise every side character, have to replay missions with hard to follow objectives a few times, and generally loathe the process of moving through the game. It just didn't have that good play rhythm, supported by story, that a AAA budget single-player game should.
The driving is a little different, focusing almost exclusively on car combat. Driving in Wheelman is actually a pretty entertaining affair, and Milo has a full arsenal of abilities ready for wasting his opponents. With a flick of the right stick you're shunting left and right, or giving the car a quick boost to fit through a narrow roadblock. With pistols and SMGs you can shoot through the window at the tires and occupants of enemy vehicles, as well as activate one of two special moves that let you slow down time for some one shot kills against vehicles. Driving faster and taking down cars gives you more special focus, while driving slow and crashing into walls takes it away. And that's it. Seems like plenty, yeah...but you unlock his only two special moves pretty early in the game, and the rest of the game is just using them over and over. This feels like a racing game, in which all you do is pick an event and drive it, instead of an action game where the goal is creative locations and interesting situations for using those powers. Not to mention a slower development of them. After all is said and done the driving in Wheelman is its greatest strength, if a bit touchy at times. But it alone was not enough to keep my interest for long.
For me the draw to Wheelman, was the promise of fun car combat, but the experience is broken up, unfortunately, by some gunplay. The on foot segments in the game require you to duck and weave through thoughfully placed crates and barriers, popping cookie cutter enemies as you go. But while these segments are playable (thanks to a helpful lock-on system) they don't do the other half of the game much honor. Vin Diesel up close looks like a plastic doll, probably the worst he's digitally looked so far, with over the top facial animations that simply make him look goofy half the time. Hard to take seriously. So when you're finally back behind the wheel you actually feel a little thankful. If Mr. D is really the reason you're here...skip Wheelman for the two Riddick games. And the last icing on the cake is the world. The explosions and cinematic effects are plentiful and welcome, but the presentation as a whole doesn't add up.