Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions is an action driving game in the spirit of the Runabout series. Like the Runabout games, Wreckless puts you in control of a car in a world full of crash-friendly physics and asks you to complete missionlike tasks. Unlike the Runabout games, Wreckless makes an excellent graphical showpiece. But just like the Runabout games, Wreckless has more than its fair share of problems, relegating it to rental status.
In Wreckless there are two storylines, which you can hop between from mission to mission. In scenario A, you'll play as two ditzy female cops who are driving around and busting up Yakuza vehicles. In scenario B, you'll play as two ditzy male spies who are...driving around and busting up Yakuza vehicles. Yes, the two scenarios seem similar, but the missions between the them are different. In the first cop mission, you'll have to ram Yakuza cars to stop them from harassing an armored car. The first spy mission looks incredibly similar, but the objective has changed to breaking up the armored car and stealing its contents from under the Yakuza's nose. As the game progresses, you'll take on many different tasks. One cop mission has you driving around and ramming into dim sum stands in a race against an opponent. One spy mission challenges you to drive around to different locations in the level and snap photos of a high-ranking Yakuza official. The missions range from mind-numbingly easy to controller-destroying, frustratingly difficult. The game is usually pretty good about giving you a range of missions to choose from, but you'll have to complete one set of missions before you're allowed to move on to the next set of levels.
The game has fairly basic controls. You can accelerate, brake, and drive in reverse. The cars handle fairly well but don't turn quite as well as you'd hope for in an action-oriented game like this. Something a little more powerslide-friendly would have made for a more interesting game. As it stands, you'll find yourself spinning out quite often, whether caused by just barely wrecking into something or taking a turn at superhigh speeds. This bogs you down more often than you should. Another problem is that it's pretty easy to get your car high-centered and stuck, and occasionally the game simply won't reset your car, leaving you to either quit or wait for time to expire unless another car hits you and knocks you loose. Normally, you would expect the game's heavy traffic to really get in your way and trap you behind a wall of cars, but Wreckless handles this with an almost humorous feature. When noncritical cars are destroyed, they stay onscreen for a few seconds and then blink out of existence, Double Dragon-style.
The one shining point of Wreckless is its graphics. The vehicles look great and deform very well after a few crashes. You can also see the drivers inside the vehicle turning the wheel as you steer, which is a nice touch for a subgenre typically devoid of such graphical extras. But the lighting effects are where Wreckless really stands out. The cars spark up when they collide with one another, and night missions fill the city streets with beautiful neon signs and other little features. The game also uses a blur effect that shows up during most crashes. It's a neat effect that gives the game a sense of style that wouldn't be there otherwise, but the effect is overused, and by the time you reach the end of the game, you'll likely find the blur's "popping" on and off jarring and annoying. The game's replay mode is styled after Gran Turismo 3's, complete with the "MTV style" playback that employs a lot of sweeping, dramatic angles and lots of color and lighting effects to spice up your previous runs. Replays can also be saved for later viewing. The game's soundtrack is generic and uninspired--this is one genre that could probably benefit from the sort of licensed soundtrack that Activision's sports lineup is known for.
Wreckless looks great. If you're looking for a great-looking game that will show off the Xbox's graphical muscle, Wreckless fits the bill. However, a general lack of gameplay depth, drab physics, and annoying mission design all get in the way of what could have been a fantastic, action-packed driving game. Check it out at your local rental store before going any further.