Driving with Diesel in 'Wheelman'

It sounds like a winning combination for a successful video game: over-the-top driving action in an open-ended city, Hollywood-style special effects and film star Vin Diesel as the lead character.

Wheelman, a joint effort between publishers Midway and Ubisoft, doesn't live up to its potential, but still proves to be a fun and wild ride.

You play as Milo Burik, a beefy undercover agent and skilled driver-for-hire who arrives in Barcelona, Spain, to infiltrate three crime syndicates — the Los Lantos Cartel, Chulos Canallas and the Romanian Underground — and stop a major deal from going down involving a mysterious briefcase. The story is truly awful, as is the dialogue and delivery. Even Vin Diesel's cheesy lines are read without any feeling, as if the actor was handed the script minutes before the microphone was turned on. But most gamers aren't buying Wheelman for the deep plot.

In Wheelman, Burik begins taking on missions for seedy characters to win their trust, like similar characters do in Grand Theft Auto. Most of these will take place behind the wheel of vehicles — such as retrieving stolen cars, ramming a rival gang leader, evading a group or driving someone to safety in a cab — but many will also take place on foot, where Burik must use cover, and weapons, to take down thugs.

While racing through the digitally recreated city of Barcelona at top-speed, you will master a handful of tricks, such as hand-braking, 360-degree spins, drifting, motorcycle wheelies, racing over ramps, nitro boosts and earning "focus power" to slow down time for more precise gunshots. Two of the more fun driving moves, however, are "melee" attacks, where the right analog stick on the controller can be pushed right or left to ram those chasing you, such as police cars (which could result in a cinematic explosion, not unlike the Burnout racing games) and "air jacking" where Burik can hop from one vehicle to another, if timed correctly, to steal the car he's pursuing. Great fun.

You can access your PDA to see a map of the city, drop waypoints down, accept the more than 30 missions (and 100 or so side-missions) and head to the garage to repair and re-paint vehicles to help lose the cops. Burik can unlock vehicle upgrades and new weapons, and destroy all 100 lion statues peppered throughout the city for a bonus.

The game isn't terrible: the high-speed shoot-outs and vehicular combat are quite rewarding, controls are intuitive and the graphics are impressive (despite some odd bugs where a character disappears when hopping into your car). But Wheelman could've been much more had any thought been given to the story, characters and dialogue. Instead it feels like a series of Grand Theft Auto -style missions and movie-like stunts loosely strung together.

Plus, the game doesn't offer any multiplayer modes at all, either on the same television or via the Internet. Ironically, an entire page in the Microsoft Xbox 360 manual is devoted to the Xbox Live online gaming service, beginning with the sentence: "Play anyone and everyone, anytime, anywhere on Xbox Live."

Wheelman doesn't come close to the awesomeness of the Grand Theft Auto games, but still delivers an entertaining joyride for fans of open-world, run-and-gun-and-drive-like-mad adventures.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gannett.com.