Ice T. was reckless, but he never looked this good!
Those of you who have read my previous driving game reviews should be very familiar with my ubiquitous introductory bitching and moaning. If you've missed out, make sure to visit me here, here and here. My soapbox is your soapbox.
This time around, we take a gander at the Xbox's new terror on wheels - Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions. While the graphics are literally second to none, the developers could still stand a heaping ear-full of some fustian Sanders banter.
The stage is set in and around the bustling streets of Hong Kong. The Yakuza are up to no good and it's up to you to stifle their less-than-noble intentions.
The game is split between two scenarios, each containing ten missions. You can play as a pair of dimwitted female Hong Kong police officers who bear a striking resemblance to a couple anime girls, or you can get behind the wheel as a couple of dimwitted undercover agents trying to expose the nefarious alliance between the Yakuza and corrupt police forces. The story is sparse, makes little sense and is obviously not intended to impress. The comical characters are funny at first, but they quickly become annoying. So much for a good first impression.
At any rate, you engage in one heated pursuit after another as you chase down the wily Yakuza goons in a variety of stylish rides, including the Back to the Future De Lorean. Most missions are thinly veiled demolitions, requiring you to crash into vehicles in order to steal their cargo or simply destroy them outright. But there are a couple street races and other missions not pertaining to fender-bending that are a welcome break from the mindless norm.
Since the gameplay is pretty status quo, it's up to the awesome level design, immaculate visuals and excellent control to carry this game across the average finish line...and for the most part, it does. The level design is fantastic and totally free-roaming. I've never been to Hong Kong, but this is the most believable cityscape I've seen since Grand Theft Auto 3. You'll find plenty of roadside litter (garbage cans, mailboxes, fences, support beams, etc.) to interact with. Plus, there are countless alleyways, side streets and shortcuts (like parks, store shops and courtyards) to take advantage of while pursuing the Yakuza.
While on your mission to right wrongs, you can't help but notice the mouthwatering visuals. Cars have been loaded with polygons, resulting in some of the most vividly detailed hotrods around. The particle effects for sparks and explosions impresses time and again. Bump-mapping and reflective surfaces dazzle your peepers and leave your lower mandible somewhere near your sneakers. If you want to show the nonbelievers what the Xbox can do, then this is your game.
The physics engine is pretty damn impressive, too. Cars rock and roll like you would expect. The damage modeling is very good and very similar to GTA3, albeit with more dents and folds. Watching debris and pedestrians scatter as you tear down a sidewalk at 70 MPH is great fun, but after you've become airborne (which will definitely happen), the physics can be a bit bouncy and a tad weightless. At least these occurrences are rare and will only last for a brief moment.
To my chagrin, you only get two camera angles - first-person and a very tight butt-cam (whoa, that sounded bad). First-person is just impossible. The streets can be very narrow and you're going too darn fast. But the pulled back third-person perspective isn't pulled back quite enough, making the learning curve steeper than it should be. You can get used to controlling your vehicle after a pretty short time from this angle, but a further pulled back view would have yielded a better lay of the land. One of the things we love about GTA3 is how you can enjoy and appreciate the enormity of the sprawling city while driving. With Wreckless, it's really hard to see much more than what's in front of you.
However, the control is excellent (minus the omitted reverse-look function). Gas and brake are gloriously analog-pressure sensitive, making precision breaking and power-turning a cinch. The left analog stick handles your steering while the right allows you to look around and check for elusive Yakuza minions.
Some of the later missions become quite challenging, with a heavy emphasis on intricate driving. But learning how to manipulate the exceptional control is the best remedy for this and entertaining to witness as well. Besides, successfully completing some of the more challenging missions makes for some awesome replays. These can be viewed from three different camera modes, one of which is very cinematic, with cycling special effects a la MTV music videos. Eye-candy galore!
The audio is spot on with realistic engine sounds, crashes and chaotic pedestrians. The standard music score is a thumpin' rave soundtrack that helps with the intensity, but thanks to the Xbox hard drive, I usually put on my own tunes and rock out. Gotta love it!
Despite its somewhat unfinished feel and limited gameplay, Wreckless still manages to kick some vehicular ass. The driving is excellent and the graphics engine is nothing short of an Xbox showpiece. It could have greatly benefited from some kind of car customization or even a carefree take-a-drive mode, but in the end it's a nice Sunday drive.