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Wheelie not that good

Vin Diesel is a gamer. As well as forming his own development studio, Tigon, the Hollywood action star recently admitted to having a level 70 World of Warcraft character. Diesel must know then that his new game, Wheelman, isn't very good.

With a nod to both GTA and Burnout, the three-years-in-the-making action fare puts the baldy in the role of Milo, an undercover police type - and driving expert - investigating a drugs ring in sunny Barcelona.

Here the Riddick star's got his fingers in almost every pie; there's off-route, GTA-esque exploration around a (poorly) recreated Barcelona and high speed police pursuits that attempt to mimic the Burnout school of intensity and destruction.

And then when you eventually climb out of your motor you can partake in (clumsy) cover shoot outs, ala Gears of War, but nowhere near as good.

Expectedly, bar a few areas of the game Wheelman's all a bit 'Jack of all trades'. The star of any open-world game is of course the city or environment you're encouraged to explore. But the problem here is that Wheelman's take on Barcelona is neither interesting, technologically on par nor even anything like the actual Spanish city (I was there at the weekend).

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Empty, pedestrian-less streets accompany roads wider than the zeros on Fred the Shred's pension. Traffic seems to be made up of different coloured smart cars and for some reason the city's been littered with more chevrons than the M25.

Every now and then the odd irresistible smash through a subway tunnel or café-filled alleyway grabs our attention, but compared to the detail and sheer amount of content on offer in GTA IV and Burnout Paradise - hell, even Saint's Row - Wheelman is severely lacking and whiffs of last-gen.

Diesel's game doesn't fair much better when you get out of a car either. Ignoring the fact that the environment is emptier than our office come 5:30pm (the sun's out), shooting feels stiff and explosive barrels seem to stalk you from every corner.

Where there is some enjoyment though is in the arcade-style, leave-your-brain-at-the-doorstep driving mechanics. The game's mission set-up, which basically involves a map and some Spanish blokes dishing out missions, has you tearing up rubber in some admittedly fairly non-conventional driving tasks - and for a short while it's enough to keep you amused.

The strictly arcade approach to car combat, which has you ramming other cars and performing 'vehicle melees' with the right analogue stick, is the highlight of an otherwise clumsy action experience.

Key to vehicle mash-ups is the focus meter, which rewards you with boosts and special moves for driving like a nutter.

Smashing through scenery and blitzing above the speed limit unlocks Milo's Matrix-like slow-mo powers, which include the ability to freeze time for some devastating first-person engine bull's-eyes, or the same trick but during a 360 degree spin - so you can nail the Spanish guys chasing you from the rear.

It's fairly harmless fun - if a little gimmicky. You'll start off simply hijacking cars with the game's ridiculous 'air jack' manoeuvre, which has you jumping 30ft out the driver's door onto the roof of a speeding car, before removing the man behind the wheel, Master Chief style.

Eventually you'll partake in more interesting tasks such as driving recklessly enough to scare a passenger into providing information, or speeding a motorcycle through a subway tunnel with some drug-dealing hombres.

But ultimately Barcelona itself is nowhere near well designed or interesting enough to keep you playing long. And the sloppy on-foot combat will only put you off even more.

We reckon those looking for a proper Vinny game experience - and Diesel himself - will be far happier when the excellent-looking Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena arrives next month.

Buy Wheelman: Play / Amazon

The verdict

A clumsy and lifeless last-gen action game

  • Decent - but gimmicky - car combat
  • Empty, featureless city
  • Clumsy on-foot sections
  • Whiffs of last-gen
Xbox 360
Action, Racing / Driving