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Midway's Hollywood open-world, driving action, game is less than three months away; TVG air jacks a car and races to find out more...
Currently in the final stages of development, Midway's Wheelman is the second of three big titles for the current crop of HD consoles, and is due in mid-February. An original IP produced in partnership with Vin Diesel's Tigon Studio, Wheelman sees the xXx and Pitch Black actor once more step into the realms of video gaming.
Set in Barcelona, Wheelman sees players follow Diesel's undercover agent, Milo Burik, as he investigates the criminal underbelly of the city in order to stop a heist from occurring. If it sounds like a Hollywood movie, that's because a silver screen version of the brand is in the planning stages. According to early reports, the Wheelman video game serves as a prequel to the events of the movie, which had been pencilled in for launch at some time next year. So with just ten weeks until the Wheelman storms Barcelona, TVG screeched down the road to London to see the latest build of what Midway hopes will be 'the biggest driving game of early 2009'...
El Rápido Y El Furioso
Built with this generation's game engine of choice, Epic's Unreal Engine 3, Wheelman is an out-and-out action Hollywood blockbuster in style, with over-the-top explosions, cinematic angles, and one liners from Diesel. Developed by Midway's studio in Newcastle (Howay the lads!), Wheelman's mix of open-world sandbox driving and on-foot action missions, aims to deliver a happy medium between established brands including GTA, Saints Row, and Driver. 'Starring' in the role of Milo Burik, Vin Diesel's undercover operative is a rather brash chap, who maintains his 'Wheelman' status as he tries to befriend rival gangs before winding up the levels of gang-violence in order to find out more about a 'covert heist'. Ok Midway, we get – it's Vin doing his 'Fast & Furious', 'xXx' thing, but in a video game.
It's easy to become blasé about such a set up, especially when Wheelman is an amalgamation of two of the most popular genres in video gaming today. In fact, it's actually a very pleasant surprise that the game is offering original gameplay, and even takes elements from under-appreciated PSP franchise, Pursuit Force. Set across a substantial thirty-hour campaign, Wheelman is looking every bit the Hollywood blockbuster, with colour-drenched visuals, bags of explosions, collisions, and shoot outs. Diesel's avatar looks (and obviously sounds) like the man himself, and the NPCs also hold up pretty well; despite this, we do have to say that the rest of the visuals aren't quite what we expect to see three years into a generation. Sure, the Catalonian city is a vivid place thanks to its location on the Mediterranean, but its blue skies and green grasses are almost too bold, making the actual environment seem stylised – even when they're not.
OK, so perhaps the visuals won't be its strong point, but if Wheelman's gameplay ends up compellingly over-the-top, then there's every likelihood that it will lift above its brightly coloured and underwhelming gameworld. With that in mind, what exactly it got to offer? First and foremost is the use of vehicles as a strong weapon mechanic throughout the game. Sure, we've been able to crash into cars in video games for as long as we can remember, but Wheelman's 'vehicle melee' turns it into a key part of battles, with deft flicks of the right stick to ram cars on either side, an attempt to make it all the more direct and visceral. Whether the technique achieves that in the end game, we'll just have to see, but it certainly has the impression of making quite an impact.
Weapons-based combat is also featured in the vehicular gameplay, in the form of slow-motion 'focus aims' and the 'cyclone aim', which sees Diesel spin around 180 degrees in front of an enemy vehicle in typical Hollywood fashion. As for the focus aims, the slow-mo effect highlights specific weaknesses in a vehicle – like a fuel tank – though players are free to take on other targets like the driver and tyres. With such a variety in vehicles, from motorbikes right up to fuel rigs, there's also a broad number of ways to take down enemies, with nippy bikes perfect for racing ahead to perform cyclone aims against larger opponents, and larger trucks just pile-driving through obstacles. Such examples were on show during Midway's presentation, along with demonstrations in how to drive up the focus bar – the measure of when focus attacks can be performed. Well we say 'demonstrations', they were actually lessons in how not to drive – speeding, causing destruction, and executing handbrake turns all add to the gauge. Fans of the PSP franchise, Pursuit Force, will also recognise the rather athletic and superhuman way in which Milo Burik swaps vehicles. Called 'air-jacking' in the Wheelman world, the acrobatic exit and leap of faith onto other vehicles at speed doesn't only mean that there's little break in the action – it also enables the game's chases to be as strategically dynamic as possible. Let's hope that it keeps the cut-throat pace of the gameplay up to speed.
Anat En Seixanta Segons
The ability to ram others off the road, shoot at fuel tanks, or leap to other vehicles, are all pretty impressive, but there's also going to be a very different side to the vehicular action too. One mission, 'Green Cross Code', features some gameplay that'll be very familiar to anyone that has played the likes of GTA in recent years. Stuck in a car with a gang-member who has unfortunately been strapped to a bomb, a 'softly, softly' approach has to be taken, as Diesel's character tries to reach a contact who can literally diffuse the situation. Throw in the ever vigilant Barcelona police cars, and the fact that Diesel's car only has the handbrake to slow down as he winds through some rather narrow alleys, and the mission almost takes on some black comedy (but not necessarily original) qualities.
But it's not all about the vehicles; on-foot action sections play just an important part in the experience – and since Wheelman is being developed with Unreal Engine 3, there should be no excuses for it to be one of the most solid areas of gameplay to be found in the final product. With that in mind, there are very few real surprises to be had: a covering system is almost expected given the tech driving the game, together with an array of assault rifles and pistols that will no doubt packed out by RPGs during certain missions. We have little doubt that the on-foot action areas will be fairly grounded, but at the same time, we're not expecting many ground-breaking touches to be had.
The thirty hour-long missions promised by Midway Studios Newcastle is bulked out even further with the inclusion of side-missions. More arcade-y than the campaign itself, the side-missions (which number over 100) will be offering gamers a somewhat varied mix of gametypes, from point-to-point time trails in 'Taxi' to the Gone in 60 Seconds-style 'Made to Order'. Perhaps the most intriguing gametypes are the cat and mouse 'Fugitive' and 'Contracts' modes. In 'Fugitive', players have to deliver a package to a safe-house somewhere in the city, all the while being hunted down. In 'Contracts', the roles are reversed – this timer, you are the hunter. It's these side-missions which Midway will bulk out with additional Downloadable Content, according to studio head, Craig Duncan in an interview with TVG. Depending on which side missions prove popular, Midway will work towards satisfying the fan base with more. Which is nice to know.
Big, brash, and explosive, Wheelman's over-the-top action and Hollywood ethics look set to tickle the taste buds for a wide range of core gamers in early 2009. It may not look quite as pretty as some of its contemporaries, but if it delivers on its promises, it'll be like C4 detonating a balsa wood door.
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