The action racing genre died down for a while, probably thanks to there being too many games and not enough variety between them to keep it alive. In America more than anywhere else, people went mad for the genre and it was there that it lasted the longest. Following the announcement of Twisted Metal for the PS3, it seems that people have suddenly remembered that driving deadly-looking cars equipped with seriously scary weaponry is actually quite good fun, and developers are looking to get in on the ground floor before the concept becomes tired again. With Wheels of Destruction, we have a downloadable game that offers up all the thrills and spills of the genre – without the high price tag.
To be perfectly fair, that’s probably why most people will buy Wheels of Destruction, especially in Europe. With Twisted Metal not actually out yet, the opportunity to download and play a title in a similar vein will certainly be tempting, if nothing else. They’ll buy it expecting little, but will probably enjoy the bit of it that they play; it’ll probably become one of those titles that disappears off the radar quickly and is only followed further by a small group of dedicated individuals.
The first thing that you’ll notice when playing Wheels of Destruction is just how focussed it is on its online modes. We received this game a week and a half before it launched and I’ve spent several hours on it, but haven’t got any trophies or felt like I’ve got anywhere in the game because of the lack of online matches I’ve been able to get into. While I’ve seen each mode in action, got a feel for how each class works, and experienced every map in full, I haven’t received a single reward from it. It’s an odd limitation and one that can only make you suppose the developer doesn’t have a great deal of confidence in the game’s long term value.That in particular is a shame because the game’s actually pretty good fun. Each map is made up of tunnels, jumps, and shortcuts and has a definite tactical feel to it for a game in which you drive around at high speeds shooting explosives at enemy cars you couldn’t possibly hit without auto-aim. You won’t win just by being the fastest or the hardest to blow up, but you might just have a chance if you pay attention to what your allies are doing and look for gaps in the enemy defence. Another fault of offline mode: it doesn’t take long to master the AI enemies, to learn to take advantage of their little quirks and you’ll soon find yourself aching for something a little fresher.
Graphically, I was surprised. Running on the Unreal Engine, it could have gone either way. An Unreal game is only ever as nice looking as the developer is willing to make it and we’ve seen examples of staggeringly beautiful games and we’ve seen examples of monotone, dull games. This falls somewhere in between, offering nice looking textures and general polish but also falling into the trap of “post-apocalyptic means browns, blacks and greys.” Music and sound effects are unremarkable, but not jarring enough that they become annoying. In all, it’s a package that is at least passable and hits the mark where everything is done well enough not to be off-putting.
Actual matches tend to range from “hectic but fun” all the way to “where are all the enemies and why am I in this ditch?” The levels are slightly too big and when the enemy team is on the defensive, you’ll find yourself driving for quite some time before you come across people. Given that they’re all bunched up together, you’ll die rather quickly and then need to drive all the way to the other side of the map again. This is made all the more annoying if you make a mistake and get lost, a recipe for disaster and one that can make a match feel far longer than it actually is. Despite being too big, I think it’s fair to say that the maps are actually quite well made, with enough variety to keep you on your toes.The game boasts a class system that offers slightly different vehicles for slightly different play styles. Slightly is definitely the key word and unless you play the game to the point at which you’re an expert, you probably won’t feel that they’re a million miles apart. Sure, some are faster, some can take slightly more damage, but that doesn’t have much effect on the fact that you have the same goals. As part of a well-organised team, it might make all the difference but unless you’re planning to get together with a team of friends with microphones, you’re likely to find a class and stick with it. For each class weaponry is the same and is available to pick up from the floor, some are far more effective than others and using the flamethrower more or less trumps everything.
Wheels of Destruction is a game that probably wouldn’t have been made were it not for the surge of public interest in Twisted Metal. On a far smaller budget and without the direct support of Sony, there’s no way Wheels of Destruction can compete, and yet, given the release date and description, the developer sometimes seems to beg you to compare. Although it’s not entirely fair, I think that’s what will make this game really fail to shine. With that said, it’s still not a terrible game, and people who manage to get into it are unlikely to be disappointed. With such a focus on the online, however, especially in the trophies, there will come a point where it loses support from the public and becomes nigh unplayable, so, simply put, enjoy it while you can.