Playing as Vin Diesel, shooting things up in Wanted, and Hulking out in Wrestlemania

There were quite a few demos on the 360 that I had just recently gotten caught up with, some of which were good, one or two that were…um…well, their prospects don’t seem to be as good at all.

The Wheelman Demo for the 360 – (game to be released for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Windows PC on March 24th)
First up was the demo for The Wheelman, the Vin Diesel vehicle in which he tries to make a play for Jason Statham’s role as the ultimate driver-for-hire sans mixed martial arts craziness with oil and bead curtains. The Wheelman was put together by Midway…yes, THAT Midway, the one sold to an investor for $100K and a load of debt…and looks to be published by Ubisoft which has picked up the tab for the title.

It doesn’t make any bones about being an arcade racer because that’s exactly how it plays. If a game has ever wanted to take Hollywood’s take on crashes, smash ups, and street fighting with two ton vehicles to the limit, this is probably where it is at. The demo introduces you to one mission from the 12-15 hour story along with two side jobs that you can play with. The story mission has you driving like a maniac through Barcelona while avoiding police and enemy gangs as you follow the directions of your passenger. Controls were easy to get used to and it looks like they’re following the same standard pattern as FPS’ do in creating some kind of common scheme.

The Wheelman pushes players to drive fast and furiously...ehhh....

After his stint in the Fast and the Furious, Vin Diesel decided to try and maintain a low profile in Barcelona. That didn't last very long.

The race through Barcelona was pretty fun stuff and it wins points for turning your car into a Hollywood-flavored wrecking machine. For one thing, you can do what are called “sideswipe attacks” where the car literally moves horizontally in quick, punching, jab-like motions to slam vehicles off to the side to do some damage. As corny as that sounds, it’s this kind of over-the-top craziness that the game is very good at portraying and makes no allusions as to whether it is trying to be the next Burnout. Another move is called “the cyclone” where Vin Diesel spins the car around to face what is behind him and everything goes slow-mo allowing the player to do targeted shots that literally blow up the pursuing baddies in true WTF action movie style.  The player can also do this in certain moments while facing forward, to blow up the one car that destroys a roadblock that is in his way. Unfortunately, the shooting parts where he’s leaning out of a window while driving don’t work out so well. I just rammed them off the road instead, although motorcycle people must have their asses glued to their seats in some instances.

Sean tried to "ghost the ride the whip" in front of his mom before Vin Diesel jumped into the empty driver's seat

Sean tried to "ghost the ride the whip" in front of his mom before Vin Diesel jumped into the empty driver's seat

Cars blow up with all sorts of exaggerated physics going on as they spin in the air, throwing off shattered pieces like a flaming pinata. People go flying out from their vehicles, too, thanks to ragdoll physics. The weird thing is that most people in the street tend to be able to jump out of your way “in the nick of time” while anyone in a vehicle or a motorcycle can be expected to get some air time. It’s as if it doesn’t want to be like GTA, but in other ways, it tops it in terms of chaotic bursts of stunt fueled craziness. There’s an on-foot thing, too, but in the demo, it’s only to run over and find another car or ‘cycle.

There are two side missions that you only have limited tries on in the demo…limited, as in you can only try them three times before you are done which is just all kinds of stupid…which consist of a scenario where you steal three vehicles in a certain time limit and a race. Stealing vehicles was pretty interesting, but why do they run away from me when they don’t even know I’m trying to steal them yet? The fun part takes a page from the game, Just Cause, because here, if you’re timing is right, you can launch Vin Diesel from his chase vehicle to the target in an “air jack”. It’s actually cool to watch, if not completely unreal, but it works once you swallow the fact that the game plays as a collection of everything that Hollywood has taught us about car chases.

Vin Diesel's truck cab has apparently bullied this poor BMW wannabe into submission. So much for taking it back to the chop shop.

Vin Diesel's truck cab has apparently bullied this poor BMW wannabe into submission. So much for taking it back to the chop shop.

The race also lets you use whatever you had learned in the previous events of the game, meaning that you can take out the opposition if you so choose or put them to the wall. All in all, I loved the demo’s purely escapist attitude, but some of the mechanics can be a little too silly for players looking for a little realism while they gun their way through Spain’s capital which might be the deciding factor as to whether you might want to open up your wallet to this.

The graphics are also another story…quite frankly, aside from the cars and some of the special effects, there’s not much else for your eyes to be excited about. Don’t let the screenshots fool you…this is a case of where the game looks better when everything is standing still. At the end of the story mission during the in-game cutscene, for example, as nice as they’ve modeled Diesel’s face, everyone seems to be laminated in plastic. Most of the city’s visuals also suffer from bland textures, some of the crash effects are underwhelming, and coming to a near stop from head-on collisions is a little weird. But the music keeps things hopping and Vin Diesel, a self-professed geek gamer himself, provides his own voice on the audio front.

Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Demo – (game to be released for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Windows PC on April 7th)
Diesel appears in another demo, this time the FPS follow up to the fantastically successful Escape from Butcher Bay which I thoroughly enjoyed. Starbreeze is back in top form along with Vin Diesel providing his likeness and his voice as the anti-hero, Riddick, who finds himself in a ship where he isn’t so much trapped as everyone else is trapped onboard with him (sorry, I couldn’t resist…I saw the Watchmen this weekend). This was a lot of fun and brings in even more of the detailed, dirty tech that Riddick is known for along with his ability to shoot out lights, using the darkness to hunt his prey whether it’s with an assault rifle, curved knives, or his bare hands. It’s got plenty of F-bombs thrown around as much as there are bullets and the enemies will mock you if they get the drop on Riddick. The game will also include Escape from Butcher Bay which eventually leads into the Dark Athena scenario, making it a double bonus for Riddick fans like myself. It looks like it’s going to provide even more of the darkly atmospheric bloodletting and bone breaking that players have come to expect from Riddick…and there’s nothing wrong with that.

One new twist to the game is the multiplayer component. A short movie plays after the demo showing it off with capture the flag and a mode that looks like it takes place in the prison of Butcher Bay that seems similar to “conquest-styled” gameplay with what appears to be an objective-based mode. I’m sure Deathmatch fanatics will latch onto this one as they play to send as many of their opponents into the Underverse.

Riddick prefers the hands-on approach

Riddick prefers the hands-on approach to dealing with his enemies

Legends of Wrestlemania – (game to be released for the Xbox 360, PS3 on March 24th)
I’m normally not into wrestling games, but in my younger years, I did watch quite a bit of WWF/WWE along with my brother. When I heard that this was coming out, and took a look at the roster, I couldn’t help but feel some sense of nostalgia for the time when Hulkamania ran wild alongside Soviet-caricature, Nikolai Vokoff, and the Million Dollar Man as they swaggered into the squared circle. When I fired the demo up, the first track to play was Hulk Hogan’s old theme, “Real American”, giving me the impression that this was going to be one of the finest pieces of fanservice that may be made for WWF/WWE fans.

Andre and Hulk face off. One interesting note is that the developers had to resize the wrestlers...Andre isn't this, um, short, for one thing.

One interesting note that IGN's preview had pointed out was that the developers had to resize the wrestlers. Andre isn't this, um, short.

The demo comes with a Singles Match mode and a mode where you can relive the classic match-up between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock at Wrestlemania XV. You can only pick Hogan and Andre the Giant in the singles matchup and it looks like it defaults you to play as Stone Cold in the Relive mode. The controls…take a little getting used to, but the characters look fantastic onscreen. They’ve got their signature moves down along with their in-ring personas. Michael Buffer lends his voice to announcing hte start of each bout and commentators Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler call out the shots which makes for some great audio candy.

Andre and Hulk face off. One interesting note is that the developers had to resize the wrestlers...Andre isn't this, um, short, for one thing.

I had more fun with this than I thought I would, but I couldn't pull off the Big Leg Drop.

Production values are impressive…it sounds like for each of the 40+ wrestlers in the game, they’ll have their signature themes play as they walk into the ring. When I started up the Relive match between Stone Cold and the Rock, a video montage showing what led to the clash and then how the match actually went down started things off. There also seem to be in-match objectives that you can do in order to earn bonuses in the game. I just wish there was a referee in the ring that could also be hit for even more classic moments, but that’s just me.

Wanted: Weapons of Fate demo – (game to be released for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Windows PC on March 24th)
I didn’t watch the movie, although everyone I’ve talked to says I should, but I thought I’d try out the demo. Unfortunately, this was the least fun of the demos that I had tried. The game takes place after the events of the film and comes with a tutorial and a taste of the main story. It feels like it’s part Max Paine, part Gears of War with its cover system, but has none of the excitement that normally should be part of either title which was surprising.

It takes place in third person and a tutorial narrated by someone trying to sound cynical but instead sounded like someone who wants to put you to sleep guides you through the basic actions of the title. Once that’s done, you take part in a fight aboard a plane, using cover and blind fire to suppress enemies and hopefully take them out before they do the same to you. Now, this does sound like it could be the start of something awesomely cool, but several things have me worried.

Cover, shoot Generic Bad Guy #12, cover, shoot Generic Bad Guy #13, rinse and repeat ad-nauseum… I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be excited about. It certainly wasn’t the premise after what I had seen in the tutorial, but then again, I didn’t see the movie so fans of the film and the comic might get more mileage out of this than I did.

The cover thing also seems a bit sticky and the camera can blind you in certain instances when you slide into cover, hiding Mr. Generic Bad Guy #14 who runs up to you and begins blasting away with a shotgun. The enemies tried to make things interesting with some F-bomb laden banter, but they felt more like cardboard targets that were simply in the way. The shooting mechanics didn’t seem as tight as they could have been in a game like Max Paine where I could shoot the kneecaps of bad guys peeking just around the corner of a wall, and there was no explanation why I couldn’t pick the up the sub-machine guns that everyone seems to drop. In short, I didn’t feel as if I were this unstoppable assassin that was any better than Max Paine on his worst day.

The graphics and sound aren’t much to write home about, either, although some of the detail work on the character models looks good. It might find some fans out there, but I don’t see myself playing this one unless it was as a rental.

This might look like it's an exciting scene as long as you can overlook your inability to leap over rows or in accidentally depressurizing the plane with bullets

This might look like it's an exciting scene as long as you can overlook your inability to leap over rows or in accidentally depressurizing the plane with bullets

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