• Wreckless Review - Microsoft Xbox

    Judging by his recent appearance on Frasier, Bill Gates can't act, however, he and Microsoft can produce a console worthy of our fine industry. The Xbox launched with a game so good that it has almost spoiled its owners. Halo, then followed by the very playable Project Gotham and Amped was indeed an impressive launch, but then of course things had to go downhill. In 2002, while obviously still early on, the Xbox has failed to deliver a game that Xbox fans can truly shout about, and when a game like Wreckless is the best original title of the year so far, you can't help but worry.

    Silent Hill 2x and Genma Onimusha maybe the more accomplished games, but they are merely slight updates to what Playstation 2 owners were playing almost a year ago. Wreckless though, is one hundred percent original, and will only appear on the Xbox. Unfortunately, gamers have little to celebrate with Wreckless, despite having a few great moments and one of the most impressive graphics engines ever to grace a videogame.

    Wreckless let's you loose on the streets of Hong Kong in various cars as either a pair of female elite squad members or two male government spies and the goal in both are to try and bring down the elusive mafia, the Yakuza. The two scenarios, completely independent from each other, both have 10 seemingly unrelated missions that show surprising originality and variations on the 'ram and destroy' theme that was expected. While the majority of the levels just feature a slight alteration to this idea, setting up a petrol head's version of 'tag' for example, Wreckless occasionally throws-up a few tests of control, one mission has you taking photos of the Yakuza boss by driving to predestined locations along sprawling pier and interestingly, platforming sections make an appearance throughout the game. 'Throws-up' would perhaps be describing these sections most accurately; they are generally the weakest aspect of the game, testing your patients rather than skills.

    The best levels are the ones that really let you loose on the Yakuza, causing mayhem on the streets of Hong Kong with complete disregard to other road users, pedestrians and roadside objects. One of the early missions for example has you attempting to recover 6 'plates' that the Yakuza has stolen. By ramming their sleek black cars you are able to retrieve the plates, that Yakuza car will however then try and steal back the plate by using the same ramming tactics. Trying to track down the final plate, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed while being chased by five other cars is certainly one of the highlights of the game.

    The experience is improved dramatically by the graphics, which as mentioned earlier are extremely impressive. The city itself has been created with striking realism, towering buildings, a sprawling road network and absolutely filled with destructible objects such as barriers and Dim Sum stands. Add to this a vast number of different partial effects, real-time reflections on all of the cars that occupy the games roads and some of the best lighting effects ever seen (the sun shining off the windows of buildings and cars, as well as metallic road barriers and the road itself just has to be seen to be believed) and you have further proof that Microsoft weren't lying when they said the Xbox would be the most powerful console on the planet. Like the rest of the game though, there are problems here that should have been addressed before the game shipped. The framerate is mostly locked at an acceptable 30fps, but can drop on occasions when things get too much for the console. And while the draw distance is impressive, the blurring, presumably used for a depth of field effect, has been poorly implemented resulting in an disorientating game world when suddenly the screen gets worryingly blurry, rivaling the N64's finest.

    Getting down to the nitty gritty of the game reveals time and time again that Bunkasha have rushed Wreckless to make sure it qualifies as an Japanese Xbox launch title. Particularly nasty accidents for example can actually get your vehicle stuck onto a roadside object or into the side of a building. While most times it is possible to free yourself (or be auto-righted), occasionally the only way to get free is to wait until the timer runs down and the mission is over.

    It's almost as if Wreckless doesn't want you to enjoy the game, even learning to live with some of the more forgivable problems, something will always prevent itself in a very unfriendly and unwelcome way. The particularly irritating subway levels spring to mind, where whole sections appear to have been designed purely to irritate the gamer (and in turn, to damage the Xbox pad and any nearby walls). In attempting to be original, Bunksha have managed to undo their own work by deciding to add in such unfavorable level design in contrast to the almost brilliantly simple arcade 'bash-um-up' missions. Going against these arcade rules that the developers themselves set up early on is ultimately the games biggest fault.

    Despite this woefully inconsistent design, where for every aspect of the game both a positive and negative manages to work their way into the picture; Wreckless manages to remain a fun game. Inconsistent does of course mean that at times something has to be good. While it never manages to reach the sublime gameplay Sega managed with Crazy Taxi a few years back, Wreckless does manage to put a smile on your face during it's better moments. Perhaps if Bunkasha had replaced some of the constrained, frustrating missions with more of the free, enjoyable ones, Wreckless could then just hope to come close to games like Crazy Taxi. But even if these major faults were fixed, Wreckless still holds a huge number of amateurish problems that really should have been sorted before the game was released.

    Wreckless does come recommended, if only to experience the wonderful graphics and replays. Stick through the many rough patches and you may well be rewarded with a surprisingly enjoyable game, just don't expect anything more than an arcade driving game that might tempt you every once in a while.

    A review by Pete Johns
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