Like anything else in life, you wait years for a vehicular combat game and two show up at once. Typical aye!? Hot on the heels of the flawed but nonetheless highly entertaining, Twisted Metal, comes Gelid Games’ PSN exclusive combat racer, Wheels of Destruction – or W.O.D if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Like Twisted Metal, this too is a flawed experience. Sadly, unlike Twisted Metal, this isn’t a very entertaining one. W.O.D isn’t a game without redemption by any stretch of the imagination and certainly succeeds in attaining at least a few of its goals, but sadly, while there is a level of fun to be had and instances of solid design to be found, an array of poor design choices and an, at times, painfully awkward control set-up contrive to suck any fun that may have otherwise be gleaned from this otherwise ambitious download only title.
Things actually start of rather well for W.O.D; with 5 unique classes of vehicle to choose from (Soldier, Assassin, Heavy, Mechanic and Scout), a large selection of weapons and power-ups to try out and 5 large maps based on real world locations to choose from, W.O.D gives the impression of a download title with a fair degree of depth. Sadly, as positive as this may sound, once your start actually playing the game, things soon begin to slowly unravel.
The combat announcer might be a strange place to start, but my God, this Jersey Shore wannabe has absolutely no place in a combat arena-based videogame. While clearly going for a kind of Unreal Tournament feel, thanks to the announcer’s painfully shrill delivery, the game immediately puts you on the back foot as you attempt to decipher the reasoning behind this most heinous of casting decisions.
Still, as annoying as it might be, I’m not going to judge a vehicular combat game based on its announcer – no, I’ll judge it on its controls thank you very much. Although fine enough when simply driving in a straight line, when the actual combat portion of the experience comes into play (that’s usually pretty quickly), everything begins to get more than a little frustrating. Rather than committing to either a dual analogue option (surely the wise choice), or a single stick alternative, W.O.D seems to settle on some kind of unpleasant halfway house. Although controlled exclusively with the left analogue stick with attacks reliant upon the somewhat iffy auto-aiming, the camera itself tends to move around as if you’re controlling one of Halo’s Warthogs. Again, this isn’t too bad for basic control or, I don’t know, when you’re not moving, but just wait until you try and reverse out of a tight spot for the first time or get your bearings as you are blown into the sky for the umpteenth time (more on that later). I can’t remember the last time I came so close to pulling my hair out but even without any enemies in my vicinity, attempting to reverse and turn simultaneously nearly sent me over the edge more than a few times.
You do get used to it (eventually), but the fact of the matter is, the control scheme, which bizarrely only allows for the attack and accelerate buttons to be swapped is unintuitive and downright awkward. To make matters worse, the vehicles, which are all painfully unimaginative (especially after coming directly from Twisted Metal’s brilliantly varied vehicular options) all tend to feel and control like toy cars. While each class does feel relatively unique, none of them have any weight or connection to the world around them. For a game that goes for such a gritty, post-apocalyptic theme, it’s a shame that all the action feels so light and ineffectual. Sure, the vehicles blow up when shot and react to damage taken, but again, it’s as if small toys are being destroyed rather than actual battle-ready combat cars.
Gelid Games do embrace the strange low gravity of this desolate future Earth by incorporating a basic stunt mechanic that sees you gain additional health and boosts by flipping your car in the air and integrating an array of jumps and boosts across the admittedly well designed courses, but sadly, the flip-side of this is that attacks will often see your car flung up into the sky, in which time the awkward controls once again make regaining your bearings a tricky and ungainly proposition – and believe me, you’ll spend a lot of time up in the air. While each of the four weapon pick-ups (each one with a primary and alternate fire) are varied enough, the rocket launcher/mortar pick-up is painfully overpowered. The ability to use the alternative mortar strike to send an enemy into the air before blasting them out of the sky with a primary rocket blast is all too effective and, if on the receiving end, will leave you upside down, powerless and ultimately destroyed time and time again. The other pick-ups are fun enough, but none are as devastating or downright annoying. Whatever weapon combo you choose though, just make sure you pick up something quick as the standard gatling gun/shotgun combo is about as useful as an asshole on my elbow.
Once you do become accustomed to the awkward controls and feather light physics, W.O.D can prove entertaining. When out on the wider parts of the course, swinging your vehicle about, boosting through the air and taking on huge jumps as you rain down fire on your enemies can be a fair bit of fun and with up to 12 combatants on screen at a time, things can get pleasantly hectic. The thing is, these signs of promise make the poor design choices that let down the experience all the harder to bear.
Visually too, on a technical level, W.O.D. is certainly impressive. Powered using the Unreal engine, everything looks slick enough and battles rarely suffer from noticeable slowdown. Sure, it’s all kind of bland like so many Unreal powered games tend to be, but it’s certainly easy enough on the eyes. I just wish they had pushed the boat out a little more on the 5 maps available. While there are hints of the cities that used to stand at each location, it never feels like Gelid Games made the most of their real world locations. Short of a major landmark snuck in for obvious reference, the majority of arenas could be just about anywhere…..a little more colour wouldn’t have hurt either.
With only three game types to choose from (capture the flag, deathmatch and team deathmatch) and a single player experience that acts as little more than bot-based training for the real thing, W.O.D isn’t exactly rich on features or game modes, but given the relatively low price, that is something I am willing to forgive. The fact of the matter is; there would be more than enough content here to support an enjoyable, competitive vehicular combat experience. Sadly, while we do get hints of what could have been, we are left with an ultimately frustrating experience that can’t really hold a candle to the vastly superior Twisted Metal. I appreciate that the budget price might well prove alluring, but I would strongly suggest saving up your money for the real deal.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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