A genre that saw its heyday in the early days of 3D gaming and has mostly died out these days is what you would refer to as “vehicular combat.” The standard template for this involves players commandeering vehicles of some sort, driving them throughout various arenas where they find power-ups that give them an edge in taking out their opponents. Recently, the genre has made a bit of a comeback with a new entry in the Twisted Metal franchise, and now Gelid Games is taking a stab at it with a multiplayer-centric, class-based take on the core concepts with Wheels of Destruction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do enough to give itself much of an identity or selling point in today’s market.
The only hints at a story in Wheels of Destruction lie in some vague descriptions for each map, describing how the specific cities have fallen apart or been rebuilt. There is no single player-focused campaign at all, with the only full modes being online or offline play for three stalwarts of multiplayer: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag. The first two function as you would expect them to, with players driving across various landscapes, finding power-ups scattered across the terrain, and blowing each other to smithereens with them. Capture The Flag is the same thing, only with opposing flags for each team to capture.
One of the game’s big selling points is that it is class-based in its car selection system. There are five separate vehicles to choose from which vary in specific statistics like durability and speed, and you may switch between them every time you are destroyed. Truthfully, this isn’t all that different from older games except for the fact that players are not limited to one specific car throughout the whole match, and aside from some exceptions like the ‘Tank’ car’s extreme durability and handicapped speed, they don’t feel all that different. Maybe giving each car custom weapons of some sort would have helped, but all vehicles start out with a default machine gun attack. Allowing for customization of each class to suit players’ interests could have also improved this downloadable release.
There are five different maps in the game, and the developers did a good job of creating a different theme, aesthetic and feel for each one. Some have wide open spaces, while others have narrow ramps spanning multiple levels of altitude. Despite those positive facets, some stages have areas that look like terrain when they’re actually instant death-bringing pits. However, the included graphics look decent overall, with some nice detail applied to the cars themselves. You’ll see different types of turrets retract and pop out as you switch weapons, and as you gradually get blown apart, your car will look increasingly battle-scarred and damaged, down to having flames and sparks flying off the damaged parts.
Wheels of Destruction‘s controls take some getting used to. Instead of the main analog stick directly controlling the steering of your car, it aims the camera and targeting reticule in the middle of the screen, and your vehicle automatically turns as best as it can to go in that direction. This leads to some difficulties in going down more specific paths or efficiently turning tight corners. The vehicles have numerous other control functions such as the left and right triggers providing two different types of attacks for each weapon, as well as the face buttons providing brief turbo boosts and a jumping feature. One neat inclusion is the ability to turn your car in the middle of big jumps, which the game even encourages by replenishing some health if a player successfully performs a somersault.
A feature that could have been implemented better is the inclusion of blue jump pads in certain parts of levels, which greatly increase the jumping altitude of any vehicle. The problem here is that the pads are manually activated with the jump button, and cars need forward momentum already going when they jump if they want to get over certain borders. There were many times where I attempted to use a jump pad, and while I was able to perform the high jump, I wasn’t able to move forward to reach the surface above me. Frustrating plummets back downward resulted from these failed efforts.
The weapon line-up is limited and uninteresting. As previously mentioned, all cars start out with a machine gun, but you can find missiles, mobile bombs akin to plasma and a flamethrower with a secondary function that shoots a destructive ring of fire out of your car. There really should have been a wider variety of weapons available, or at least some that didn’t feel like they’ve been done countless times in the past.
If Wheels of Destruction had more fleshed-out elements to it, or some spark of originality, it would be a lot easier to recommend. Sadly, it is underwhelming to the point where it feels like it could have easily been made a decade ago, with only a graphical downgrade to run on the systems of the time. That period may have been a better fit, seeing how vehicular combat was still a viable genre back in the days of such systems as the PlayStation 2. As it is, all this game does is remind us of why the genre has largely been left behind.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.