Wheels of Destruction Review (PS3)
Occasionally a game will cripple my fragile gamer hands. In the case of Mario Kart DS it was the terrible lack of ergonomics in the way you hold the console. With Dance Wii Sports it was because I tried to throw the bowling ball at Mach 5. In Street Fighter 4 it was simply too many games… and too many frustrating defeats which led to me crushing the pad in a death grip. Wheels of Destruction however crippled my hands with the dreaded, unfeasibly awful PS3 triggers which act as the accelerator. Holding the trigger for more than 5 minutes causes my whole arm to ache. Perhaps its just me, but I’ve always felt the use of these buttons as accelerators in racing games should be outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment. It says a lot about how fun Wheels of Destruction can be that I played on through the pain for as long as I did.
There was a strange feeling of nostalgia I had throughout every moment I played Wheels of Destruction, and it wasn’t for any racing game I’d ever played before. Instead, every moment of the game reminded me of Unreal Tournament 2003. From the games visuals, to the weapons, the alternate fire modes and even the layout of the environments and the game types, everything evoked UT2003. For a racing game to be so reminiscent of an FPS is a strange thing indeed, but although the whole game occasionally feels like a mod for the PC deathmatch classic, there’s something refreshing about the mashing together of genres. Wheels of Destruction works far better than you would expect.
From the menus to the sound effects, the whole thing feels a bit like a throw back, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s obvious that as a weapon based driving game it owes something to Twisted Metal, and it also feels a little like a game from the same time period as that classic. There’s a lot of nostalgia around the presentation for someone who played games from the PSOne era, and although the small number of basic game modes feel outdated (DM, Team DM, Capture the Flag), I still felt glad to see this type of game appear as there hasn’t been anything quite like if for a long time.
The actual combat takes a little while to get used to, and I was initially sceptical. The controls combine aiming and steering in a way that’s difficult to describe and probably needs to be experienced. Essentially, there’s a basic lock on feature and you need to keep your vehicle roughly pointed at the enemy for your shots to hit. At first this proves to be frustrating as the combined steering and aiming make it seem difficult to track targets and stay on track, especially in tight spaces. As you become accustomed to the control system though it becomes intuitive, and the handling model of the vehicles allows for tight turning and nippy cornering which helps.
You’re vehicle is capable of far more than handling well though. In a bizarre but hugely enjoyable design decision all vehicles are able to “jump”. Even when jumping you have full control in the air to turn, allowing for some ridiculously awesome manoeuvres. There aren’t many games where you can jump in a buggy, turn upside down and send a hail of missiles at your enemy before spinning again and landing on all four wheels, but this game is one.
The courses/levels lend themselves to such acrobatic manoeuvres too. Filled with ramps and turbo pads and teleporters, a great deal of time has gone into designing arenas that play to the strengths of the core gameplay. When you face an enemy in the open it tends to come down to who targets the other first so its good that the levels don’t have many wide open arenas to fight in. Occasionally you still get into semi-ridiculous situations where you both chase each other in a tight circle, both trying to target the other, but even this can be a kind of tense fun.
Little touches throughout make Wheels of Destruction more than just another also ran in the increasingly busy car combat genre. For example, doing a full flip while in the air refills your shields. Some of the level design is also a lot of fun, with a huge pipe on one level allowing you to drive around and upside down if you’re quick enough.
There are concessions to modern games here too. There’s a whole range of different “classes” to choose from, and these include slower but tough APC-type vehicles to nippy buggies and speedy assassin cars. Only with a healthy playerbase established will it become clear what classes (and combinations thereof) make the best teams.
Another balance issue is the weapons that you use in the game, but they feel well designed. In fact, the weapons in Wheels of Destruction feel like pure UT. Most have alternate fire modes and almost all of them are insanely satisfying to us. I don’t know why, but whenever I see a secret door open on top of a vehicle and a weapon pop out I get a (for want of a better phrase) giant nerd boner. I think it’s all that time I spent watching Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors as a kid.
Although its a great deal of fun to play there’s a feeling that the package is just a little slim. The levels are good but a little samey, and there aren’t very many. The music meanwhile is depressingly bland and the game modes show a lack of imagination. As it’s a purely multiplayer game (although there are some bots you can play against) there may come a time when there’s no one online to play against. At this point there wouldn’t be much incentive to come back to Wheels of Destruction.
All that being said this is a fun game that gave me a taste of a genre I hadn’t played for years. It may have crippled my poor hand, but I kept coming back for more. If they add to the package in the future, and crucially allow the controls to be adjusted, I would happily score this a point higher. For now though, it’s a
7 spinning, flipping, burning buggies out of 10