With the Twisted Metal reboot fresh in the minds of PS3 owners, Wheels of Destruction really couldn’t have come out at a better time. As a downloadable car combat game, it's able to give car combat fans something new at a relatively low price. For $10, you get a primarily online car combat game that forgoes the usual roster of characters in favor of splitting the cars up into classes, kind of like an FPS game.
Also like an FPS, you can swap your class after a death. This allows you to try out every possible car within one game and find the kind that works for you. When I first played, I used the Assassin class and found that I loved the speed, but didn't like the low tolerance for damage. After that, I tried the in-between Soldier class and fared slightly better, but it wasn't until I climbed aboard the massive Heavy vehicle class that I was able to shine and go on thrilling kill streaks.
The combat itself is easy and giving weapons primary and secondary functions does help breathe new life into its array of standard weapons. Both control layouts are easy to learn...with one huge exception. For some reason, the left stick is used to both aim your weapon and steer. The right stick, which many have grown used to using for aiming weapons for the past decade, isn't used at all. This results in a frustrating and unwieldy driving experience a lot of the time, and makes it very difficult to go exactly where you want to go, but does make aiming a breeze. It's pretty close to being a game-killing issue. Driving with R2 is a breeze, jumping with X works nicely and allows to you steer in mid-air, while shooting with R1 is very responsive, and switching weapons with the d-pad feels really natural.
I'm hoping the left stick issue can be remedied via a firmware update because it's easily the game's biggest problem and makes getting from point A to B harder than it should be - let alone trying to survive, do damage, and avoid taking it. Just making a slight turn to pick up a grouping of power-ups is a chore thanks to the control setup, and the only way to easily turn quickly is to jump a lot and turn in mid-air.
The online focus on the game currently hurts it more than it helps because there simply aren't many people playing the game. While that does have the added benefit of making every match lag-free, it also hurts the game's online death match, team death match, and capture the flag modes because there's a lack of competition. The offline game offers up the same modes as the online one, but for some odd reason, lacks the ability to pause the action, which is just kind of odd. Beyond the lack of lag, the only other benefit to having a sparse online community is that it makes most matches one-on-one firefights, instead of single-player where it's you against a group of opponents.
The stages themselves are perfectly fine, but not really memorable, are quite claustrophobic and don't give you a lot of room to move around. Generally, each one has two wide-open sections with some gimmicks involved like speed booster pads that give you health or TRON-esque trim lighting shields or a giant ramp of some sort, and then you've got a slew of little areas off to the side that are great for back and forth firefights. They're all named after real-life areas like Paris, Seattle, London, Tokyo, and Rome, but don't really resemble the areas in the slightest. Paris lacks the Eiffel Tower, London doesn't have Big Ben, and Tokyo is full of English text on the signs, so I'm not really sure why the developers bothered to name the stages after real places.
Visually, everything looks fine, but not really great. The environments all have a fair amount of detail, but are hurt by not really resembling their real-life locations at all outside of the pre-match artwork. The vehicles are all nicely-detailed though and all look quite a bit different from each other, although they are rather generic compared to the more outlandish designs in the Twisted Metal or even Vigilante 8 series. Weapon damage looks awesome though, with cars slowly falling apart leading to things like trying to drive on two wheels because you've taken almost too much damage and have to hurry to heal.
WoD's rock-heavy soundtrack is good enough to get you hyped up while you play, but won't stick with you afterwards. However, the sound effects are outstanding, with things like the whoosh from a turbo pad, explosions of rival vehicles (and sometimes your own), and blistering flamethrower sound as highlights.
All in all, Wheels of Destruction is a mostly fine game that doesn't really stand out in the car combat genre. It's also greatly hurt by its controls, which work well for most things, but when simply driving in a particular direction is tough to do in a game where driving is the focus, it's nearly impossible to recommend it right now. If the developers fix the control issues down the line, then it's a maybe; right now, your $10 is better spent downloading Twisted Metal 2 on PSN.
This review is based on a redemption code for the PlayStation Network release of Wheels of Destruction provided by Gelid Games.