Wheels of Destruction, Developer Gelid Games’s foray into the world of Playstation Network exclusivity, is a car combat game with all the intensity of Twisted Metal at a fraction of the price. It looks good, and its five different car-types give you enough diversity for some serious re-playability. At least, that’s what should happen. During my time with the game, I ran into a number of issues that hold what would otherwise be a fun bargain-bin romp securely in the land of repetitiveness. All the worse is that the game’s potential peeks through annoyingly often, highlighting a number of near-miss design decisions. It pains me to write this because those peeks of potential could be realized if Gelid opts for regular support.
Visually the game looks good if not impressive. For being a PSN exclusive, it compares to disc-based titles well. Environments are highly textured and the backdrops look nice; however, I found them to be very similar and not too reminiscent of the real world locations Gelid sought to emulate. Car models are also well done and have a distinctive style visible from a distance. There is a damage model in the game which allows for tires to be blown off and fire, sparks, and smoke to spew, but your final death always takes the form of a small and bland explosion.
The included audio is generic but fits the theme of the game. Gunshots sound like gunshots, and missile-explosions sound like missile-explosions. It didn’t blow me away but it also didn’t stand out in any noticeable form.
From the outside, the game seems to play very similarly to other car combat games. Getting behind the wheel is another situation entirely. Instead of using the left stick to control the vehicle and the right for the weapon reticle, Gelid opted to consolidate gun- and car-control solely to the left stick. Want to shoot a guy to the right? Turn to the right. The vertical axis is less important since most playable areas are level; however, you are freely able to aim up and down. Unfortunately, shooting at someone in the air is often a lost cause unless you’re using the missile power-up which has a lock-on function. For this sole reason, the missile is the defacto long range weapon.
Most reviewers criticize this control scheme, but I found that it grew on me the longer I used it, similar to learning an FPS for the first time. Each vehicle has the ability to boost, drift, jump, and do a 360 degree turn in mid-air. The physics powering the game allow you a great deal of control once you assimilate them. Until that happens, though, be prepared to feel awkward and to die frequently. This is a skill wall and one of the ways the wheat will be separated from the chaff.
Both online and offline play are available, but offline is more of a training tool than an experience. It’s fully functional, but lacks a narrative and challenging AI to make it worthwhile for the long-term. It is easy, if a bit buggy – for example, if you capture a flag, your enemies will get harder, real quick. Still, the mode allows you to learn the controls in a competitive setting without being subjected to completely helpless deaths.
In short, offline-mode acts as your training wheels before getting into the real game. Online play, when it works, is a lot of fun. It is readily apparent who is new, however, so be prepared for a learning curve. Matches last twenty minutes and maps are large. When you master the controls, you’ll find yourself racing around those maps, picking up power-ups, and blasting away. The driving model is fun. Once you get comfortable with it the simple act of driving and rocketing over ramps is exhilarating.
So why did I introduce this review with such caveats? First, throughout my week and a half with the game, I found it extremely difficult to get a match with full, 6v6 teams. More often than not, we were unevenly matched with less than 10 people total. Maps are simply far too large for such small match-ups, and in fact the game would be better suited to an 8v8 or 10v10 setting. Unfilled matches are game-breaking with maps this large and matches so long. The most often outcome was for players to congregate in open areas and remain there. Wheels of Destruction does not work as a small arena game and these types of behaviors make dropping games the most appealing option. Thankfully, this criticism is one that will likely fix itself as more players pick up the game.
The second issue is a more core to the central design. There is simply not enough variety to make Wheels of Destruction a long-term stay. Once you’ve played a map a handful of times, the designs begin to feel repetitive. The lack of real character progression means that you’ll enter with everything you’ll end with. Five cars. Cliché yet functional power-ups. All of this is fun for a while, and especially so if you get a good match, but the games lacks a certain flair to keep you coming back for more.
Wheels of Destruction isn’t a bad game. No one ever said that games needed to be 100% original, and I see real value in creating affordable takes on AAA franchises. Gelid Games should be commended for that. At a fraction of the development budget and a $10 buy-in price, I think we can be forgiving of some generic audio samples or in-progress match making. All of that said, there is still work to be done if Gelid hopes to bring this game to its full potential.
It may take some time, but when everything clicks – when you’re in control, when maps are played well, when opponents are skilled and competitive – Wheels of Destructions hits the high notes of the car combat genre. At the moment, however, those times are too infrequent and too late-in-coming. Buy it to support these types of games coming to PSN; buy it to show Gelid that it’s worth supporting. But if you’re looking for an instant-in, something as polished as that $60 Eat, Sleep, Play game, you may be better off looking elsewhere.
2 / 5
Note: This review is based on gameplay on the Playstation 3 console with material provided by the publisher.