Review: Wheels of Destruction

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To an outsider, designing a car combat game would seem like an easy task.  Put cars into a large area, add guns and some flags to capture, and you have the makings of what could be completely fun.  Car combat games also have the potential to be like any other shooter experience.  Offering different chassis that are heavy and slow but have high health mirror a heavy gunner in any typical military shooter, while a light, fast buggy mirrors a scout where speed makes up for low health.  However, actually creating a game from a design plan isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Action games that incorporate driving can be tricky to handle.  I remember the first time playing Halo (back on PC many moons ago).  The first-person shooting felt pretty good but when I finally got into a Warthog I was ready to quit the game.  It is one thing to make a first-person shooter where the camera control is the same as the direction the player is moving and looking.  Change the game to a third-person view, and the camera better work.  Finding the right balance of camera control, steering a fast-moving vehicle, aiming, and the ability to shoot at enemies all at the same time is a challenge that makes or breaks the gaming experience.  Driving in Borderlands, as another example, took a bit of getting used to, but when all else failed, hopping out of the car and walking was a valid (albeit slower) option.  In car combat games, getting out and walking isn’t an option.

Gelid Games recently released Wheels of Destruction on the PlayStation Network, an Unreal Engine-based arena car combat game.  Mixing concepts of Team Fortress 2 with cars seems like it would be a great thing, but the execution of this idea in WoD is something that falls flat.  The development team obviously put great care in creating interesting levels and car classes, but unfortunately the controls to the game just don’t help to make the overall experience as good as it could be.

As I mentioned above, it is hard to tune camera controls, car controls and shooting weapons and make everything work without stirring up frustration.  I’m not a developer, but I have to question why the game wasn’t maximized to use all inputs on the game controller.  The most frustrating thing about Wheels of Destruction for me is the fact that the camera is tied to steering, which is tied to aiming, which is all controlled by the left analog stick.  What is tied to the right stick?  Nothing.  OK, that’s not quite true.  Pressing R3 will let you change your vehicle class when you are dead and waiting to respawn, but that’s it. Having a separate camera control probably would’ve made the game more complex to immediately pick up and play.  At first.  But at least give players the option to try that control scheme if they so choose.

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To add to the frustration, different vehicles course correct (or steer in the new direction the camera is pointed) at different rates of speed.  I can accept that, but what I find so maddening is that if I want to see what is further over on my right or left, I have to move the camera which in turn steers the car that direction as well.  I ended up in a ditch or drove into a wall more times than I was able to get a lock on an enemy, frequently leaving my ride as defenseless frag bait.

The level design is good.  Ranging from snowy futuristic, battle ravaged cityscapes to bright, circular jungle ruins, each arena offers multiple pathways and various levels to drive around on and attack from. The weight of each car class feels right.  Speeding as the Assassin or Scout classes is perfectly balanced with the slow, plodding Heavy.  One perfect shot from the Heavy to most of the other classes feels great. Lumbering around and not being able to see with a separate camera while driving in the opposite direction, can give other lighter vehicles the opportunity to take out the Heavy and survive unscathed. The balancing made to each vehicle class is well done.

Online matches of team deathmatch, free for all, and capture the flag were easy to find when the game first launched and I greatly enjoyed the fact that I could easily find other matches and drop in or out without issue. However, I think most folks who picked up the game when it first released have stopped playing it already because I have not had any success finding online matches of late.  While the game offers a basic offline mode, multiplayer is clearly the focus. There is something sweeter about playing a car combat game online knowing that the car that I just fragged was someone, somewhere, sitting on their couch cursing at my lucky shot.

Wheels of Destruction isn’t a completely bad game.  It just lacks a good camera system which pretty much makes the overall experience a frustrating, un-fun time.  While the game is only $9.99, there are plenty of other titles available on PSN that your money could (and should) be spent on.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Well balanced class system
+ Great level design
+ Quick loading online match system

Cons:
– Dreadful camera
– No player customized controls

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 via PSN
Publisher: Gelid Games
Developer: Gelid Games
Release Date: 4/3/2012
Genre: Car Combat
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-8
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.