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by Activision

11-01.jpg (3570 bytes)Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions is a fast, colorful, hyper-kinetic romp through the streets of Hong Kong. It is vehicular mayhem to the arcade extreme—viscera over intellect, all id and no ego. It is stupid, shallow, and often frustrating. But, you know what? It is also kind of fun.

3-01.jpg (8655 bytes)The story is this: the notorious Yakuza are everywhere and the city is in turmoil. The streets are no longer safe for civilians. It is up to you to change that by…driving like a madman at dangerous speeds through the crowded streets, bashing into everything you see, leaving a wake of panic and destruction behind you, all while trying to maneuver into a position where you can take out the Yakuza vehicles by, you guessed it, crashing into them. As solutions go, I guess this one falls into the category of "it sounded like a good idea at the time."

5-01.jpg (5647 bytes)The game is divided into two scenarios, one in which you play as a pair of buxom policewomen known as The Flying Dragons, and another in which you play as Ho and Chang, two bumbling Chinese spies. Each scenario contains ten levels, which are often the same, only played from the other characters’ perspective and with different objectives. So, in the first level The Flying Dragons are trying to destroy the Yakuza cars that are chasing an armored car while Ho and Chang are trying to wreck the armored car itself. This is cool when you realize that your rivals in head to head competitions are actually the other characters. Then again, it is a little disappointing to know that you are resigned to playing the same levels twice. As far as personalities go, I have to say that I prefer Ho and Chang, if only because I am less tired of the big doofus anime male cliché than I am of the silly anime chick cliché. You know what I am talking about—those squealing women in schoolgirl outfits who are crying over spilled pudding one minute and kicking your ass the next.

10-01.jpg (5721 bytes)The gameplay itself is the very definition of arcade style: simple in concept, difficult in execution. Basically, each mission places you in a certain part of the city, assigns objectives for you to complete, and gives you a time limit in which to complete them. One level will have you trying to foil a Yakuza plot by wrecking three of their cars, another will have you trying to destroy more evil dim sum stands (don’t ask me) than you computer controlled opponent. Some levels get pretty inventive. For instance, early on there is a level where you are trying to stop a giant dump truck. You can’t hurt it by crashing into it, but there are volatile explosives in the bed of the truck that will do significant damage. Your objective then is to race along side of it and find terrain that is high enough to launch your little car at the explosives and set them off. Dumb, yes, but unique and fun.

awesome-01.jpg (7916 bytes)The interface in Wreckless is simple and intuitive. The menus are easy to use, and really only consist of picking a scenario, difficulty level, and whether you want light or heavy traffic. The control set up is about as uncomplicated as it gets: steer right/left, gas, brake, reverse gear/emergency brake, action, and camera controls. The game screen displays your speed, the time remaining, and time taken. It gives you in game clues like directional arrows and objective labels. There is also a map, which lays out the streets and shows your position and that of your enemies. The map is the only frustrating element here as the layouts are often confusing and it usually doesn’t show all of the streets.

good-01.jpg (7613 bytes)The graphics are truly phenomenal. This is an intricate and bustling city, filled with buildings, bridges, parks, pedestrians, sidewalk shops, etc. Everything is dense, layered, and finely rendered. The cars are gorgeous. They are reflection mapped and flush with details, even the interiors are complete. And damage occurs in real time to both the cars and the city. You can mow down patio furniture and fences, knock over neon signs that spark and sizzle when they hit the ground, and all the while your car becomes more and more devastated, though it never stops running--or performing perfectly for that matter.

cool-01.jpg (9355 bytes)This is not to say that there aren’t problems with the graphics, and elsewhere, however. The simplistic nature of the game does get a little goofy after a while. Not everything is destructible; you pass right through trees and lampposts and anything else that might be inconvenient. After you hit a civilian car it will stop, flash, and disappear. This prevents traffic jams from stopping the game, but it is also obvious and corny—hit a Yakuza sedan and it keeps on going, hit a moving van and poof, it goes away. It is also a little corny that all of the pedestrians are able to move at the speed of light in order to get out of your way. Even if you do manage to ram a person, say, against a wall, he or she will be unaffected and just glitch out until you back up and they can walk away. Again, this is the arcade nature of the game, and it keeps it from getting a mature rating, but it is worth mentioning for people who get bugged by this stuff.

9-01.jpg (8445 bytes)The sound isn’t all that great either. I appreciate the fact that the volume levels for the engine, sound effects, and music can be adjusted separately. This is especially true for the music as it is dull, and you can’t create your own soundtrack. This way you can turn it off, still have sound effects, and listen to your stereo.

7-01.jpg (6475 bytes)And why is there no multi-player mode? This game is just begging for one. The elements are already in place—two sets of characters, each playing the same levels with different objectives. Just split the screen, interlace the action so whoever completes their goals first wins, maybe throw in a combat game and voila! Okay, it’s never that easy, but you get the point.

4-01.jpg (6766 bytes)Wrapping up, I want to stress that this game is what it is—a wild and kooky, arcade style crash and bash driving game. Some people love these kinds of games. Others do not. For some reason, be it the premise, the preview material, or the ad campaign, a lot of people seem to be expecting something on the level of Grand Theft Auto 3. Many reviews I have read try to make a comparison between the two. There is none to be made; they are two very different games. I popped Wreckless into my Xbox with GTA3 on my mind, and at first I hated it. Had I not been assigned to review it, that may have been that. But I sat down with this game, figured it out, loosened up a bit, and then it happened. I became addicted. That is what arcade style games do best—they hook you. Wreckless is kind of a dumb game if you think about it too much, but it is pretty fun if you don’t. It is short, simple, and the gameplay is repetitive. Again, all arcade style traits. I think I can tell you right now whether or not this game is for you. If you love Crazy Taxi, and you have ever thought, "Man, it would be so cool if there was a game just like this, only instead of picking up passengers you just sped around, tearing up sidewalks and parks, flying off bridges, and crashing into stuff!" Then you will love this game. Some of you are drooling right now. Wipe off your mouths and go pick up this game. The rest of you rent it, see if it grabs you. 

Jeremy Kauffman   (05/02/2002)


Ups: Some real graphical highpoints; fast-paced, simple action; easy to pick up; potentially addictive.

Downs: Overall pretty shallow game; arcade style leads to some low points; no multiplayer.

Platform: Xbox