With the triumphant return of Twisted Metal to the PS3, a number of alternative car combat games have appeared and Wheels of Destruction is the newest of these. Available on PSN, it offers a slightly different spin on the genre, as well as offering good value for those hungry for automotive blood.
Wheels of Destruction keeps things simple – there are five car classes to choose from, each with varying levels of speed, agility and armour, five stages and three weapons to pick in each arena and rather than tasking you with destroying a set number of opponents, WOD plays more like a vehicle-based FPS, with death match, team death match and capture the flag game modes, with time-based limits. Powered by the Unreal engine, Wheels of Destruction looks great with lush, richly detailed environments, excellent lighting effects and an awesomely entertaining damage engine. Your car will smoke, burn and lose wheels as you take more and more damage, until you’re left hobbling around on one wheel desperately trying to fend off attacks. The frame rate copes with everything the game can throw at it, too, even with 12 player carnage breaking loose and everything kicking off. Impressive.
Your first experience of playing Wheels of Destruction will be a frustrating one. The computer is merciless and devastatingly accurate and pulls no punches while the controls will have you wishing you had another eight fingers. Every single button on the PS3 control pad is put to use and none of them feel superfluous or redundant in the heat of battle and you’ll need them all if you want to make the most of your weaponry and stand even the slightest chance of survival. After dying for the umpteenth time within the first few minutes of playtime you may be ready to throw the pad down in frustration and walk away but persevere and you’ll soon be jumping, hand braking and boosting with the best of them, dodge attacks with aplomb and giving enemies the runaround. You’ll even manage to get your head around the initially immensely frustrating steering arrangement.
The left stick takes care of this, as you’d expect, but as well as turning your car’s wheels it also simultaneously operates the 360° turret mounted on top of your car. This turret is both a blessing and a curse in an equal measure – it means that you can deliver fire to enemies all around you, and as long as you keep a vigilant eye open you can defend yourself from all sides and go on the offensive from all sides too. However, trying to drive and use the turret at the same time means you end up driving in circles whiles trying to focus fire one enemy and that leaves you vulnerable. The other downside is that even once you’ve reached maximum steering lock the camera will continue to spin around if you keep the stick held in the direction so you have to learn to steer with brief left and right inputs, which help to keep you heading in the right direction but also have the unwanted effect of being somewhat disorienting. It’s a flawed system but becomes less irritating once you’ve got the hang of it.
Weapons-wise you get a Gatling gun fitted as standard on all five vehicles classes which delivers little in the way of damage but does come with unlimited ammo and a one-shot kill, all or nothing secondary fire shotgun. On your travels you’ll also be able to brandish the flamethrower, which sets enemies alight and dishes out damage while they burn, rockets that feature a secondary fire homing function and the deadly rail gun, which is tricky to use but delivers devastating results. Blue shield pick ups help to protect you from damage while green repair pick ups will get your vehicle performing as it should, allowing you to recover from even the most extreme damage.
The five arenas in the game are for the most part excellent, with plenty of variety in terms of presentation and feel. Paris, for example, is small and intense, with no let up in the action, especially if you’ve got 12 players on board. Tokyo is much larger, with skyscrapers, deadly drops and multiple levels while Rome takes on the feel of a coloeseum-style arena. The only map that I didn’t enjoy was London – it feels too big and with no in-game radar, you have no idea where your opponents are on the larger maps and you can find yourself driving around for quite some time, looking for a fight, only to get blown to smithereens when you finally do come across an opponent…
Wheels of Destruction is a mixed bag but there’s something about it that keeps you coming back for more. It looks fantastic, the action is fast-paced and intense and it’s all set to a pumping techno soundtrack that really gets you fired up and fits the game perfectly. Initially frustrating and never anything less than seriously challenging, the difficulty level will no doubt put some casual gamers off and with just the five arenas, only a handful of weapons and a mere three game modes it’s not exactly bursting with content. But it is great value for money, worryingly addictive and the difficulty makes it extremely satisfying when you give your computer opponents a good kicking. And victory will taste even sweeter and more satisfying online, which is where this game will most definitely come alive. It might not be the best game in its class, but Wheels of Destruction is different enough to stand out and entertaining enough to deserve your attention.