Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone



One of the most surprising things about the Xbox so far has been Microsoft’s embrace of off-beat titles that might not sell millions, but make hard-core gamers happy. While Munch’s Oddysee and Kabuki Warriors received mixed reaction, the Xbox deserves some credit for embracing the quirky side of gaming. Continuing this trend is Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions from developers Bunkasha Games and publisher Activision. This unique racer features some interesting twists on the standard racing-combat genre which aren’t what you’d expect. Look inside to see how this distinctly Japanese title fares on the American console.

Mixing elements of Destruction Derby and Crazy Taxi yet managing to feel unique, Wrekless: The Yukuza Missions is an excellent arcade driving game which offers players multiple missions and goals. It has a distinctly Japanese flavor with cool anime style characters and a goofy plot mixing things up in the genre. The cool thing here is that players can control either an elite police squad consisting of two female anime cuties or two special agents dressed in odd suits. Your main mission is to knock out the out-of-control Yukuza (mob) off the streets of Hong Kong, which sound simple enough but isn’t due to the many insidious way’s they’ve infiltrates society. The most common way to do this in Wreckless is by hitting the rival Yukuza vehicles with your own car, inflicting damage until they’re completely destroyed. However, there are other ways to defeat the Yukuza, whether by taking out noodle stands, rescuing hostages or intercepting shipments of counterfeit currency, you need to battle the mobsters in a variety of ways. What’s cool about this is that there are two distinct sets of missions for the characters. These missions are entirely separate from another, featuring unique tasks, problems and even a separate set of vehicles. This makes the game much more challenging and goes a long way adding to the replay value. Both are quite challenging, but it seems that the anime chicks’ missions are much easier. In all, Wreckless features 20 different missions and each has a different goal to complete. These varied objectives keep the excitement and challenge levels at a consistently high level throughout the game.

After the first level, where you’re pretty much constrained to a single car, you can choose from several different cool vehicles such as buggies and modified taxis to use in each mission. This is really cool and increase Wreckless’ longevity and variety substantially. It also can have a huge effect on the mission and how successful you’ll be. You usually need to play each level a few times with different vehicles before you beat it which can be annoying. Another reason that you may have to replay levels is that the Yakuza vehicles are unpredictable and run through the levels in unexpected ways. This makes anticipating their next move difficult but this task become much easier once you learn their patterns. If you fail to do this, it can make catching up almost impossible if you fall behind in the race levels. It’s a bit difficult in places, but the frenetic arcade gameplay rarely becomes overly taxing or frustrating in the early going.

Later on, Wreckless becomes a bit harder when things get more interesting when multiple objectives need to be completed to beat a level. These levels can be quite difficult, complex with little room for error because a small mistake can cost you the entire level. While most of the missions basically involve smashing the rival vehicles to destroy them, the designers throw some curves at you as well. These include such interesting tasks as competing against a rival, rescuing a hostage, collecting an item and bringing it to another location and other obstacles that keep you on your toes throughout the game. Wreckless is quite accessible and is enjoyable throughout thanks to its exaggerated physics and simple arcade controls that make playing easy and fun. Wreckless’ simplicity of design makes it an easy title to learn to play and is almost instantly addictive, making the replay value of the title extremely high. The only problem with the controls comes with the button layout puts the reverse button on the front of the D-pad, which is annoying since the acceleration is handled with the shift buttons. This configuration is a little annoying and the fact that you can’t customize the interface is a bit annoying. However, it’s a small issue and doesn’t really detract from the overall experience which is a lot of fun.

Its outstanding visuals are superb, rendering Wreckless as one of the best looking Xbox titles to date. Hong Kong itself looks stunningly realistic with brilliant environments, excellent lighting effects, lots of small objects and pedestrians running around giving the player a good sense of realism throughout. Wreckless’ engine is quite impressive in another aspect, as the vehicles all take and display realistic damage and explode into flames when destroyed. This is quite convincing and adds to the manic frenzy of the experience. While it’s a bit hard to appreciate the level of detail and polish that went into the visuals during the missions, you can see that this is especially evident in the replays which look absolutely stunning. Here you’re able really notice details such as exhaust fumes, sparks flying and explosions plus track marks that give the game an almost photo-realistic appearance. One of the things you’ll also immediately notice incredibly complicated modeling of the vehicles which look quite impressive and seem to react in a realistic manner which makes this modeling really impressive. The off-beat thing here is that while Wreckless succeeds in recreating the look of the real-world environments, this realism is mixed with the anime style characters and some cel-shading, which gives Wreckless a completely unique look. There are also some cinemas between missions that go even further adding to the production polish.

Despite the effort and elaborate world recreation, these levels and environments are don’t get in the way of the arcade-style gameplay, which makes Wreckless all the more enjoyable to experience, making the game work on many different levels. Wreckless levels are large and allow the game to flow naturally. You have the ability to drive anywhere, even on sidewalks. This allows you to plow through the environments, destroy objects and cause nearby pedestrians to run for cover. It’s not bloody however, more slapstick violence which makes the violence aspect fun, not grisly. You can also take shortcuts through the streets with these narrow paths showing how extensive and realistic the level designs are. The game’s realistic street-layouts means that the environments are also filled with traffic that you inevitably smash into and can slow you down significantly if you’re not careful. All of this goes a long way in making you feel like you’re actually battling the Yakuza on the congested streets of Hong Kong.

Wreckless’ biggest fault is that it only offers a single player experience which given the theme and effort that has gone into it, can only be seen as a disappointment. While the two single player mission paths are fun, challenging and addictive, there’s little else here. Once you’ve beaten these missions, there’s not much else to see. The controls are also a tad touchy and some of the missions later on can be excessively difficult. However, despite these negatives, the positives are greater. Otaku wanna-be’s are going to love the distinctly Eastern feel in the game, which hasn’t been watered down that much. The Asian characters and signs give the game a style all its own and the above-average techno soundtrack fits the mood perfectly while also keeping the intensity levels high. While the impressive visuals are impressive and rival those seen in Project Gotham Racing in terms of sheer complexity and realism, this pumped-up arcade racer is no dry simulation. Instead, it’s an almost insidiously addictive game that loads of fun. While only single player missions are offered, there are plenty of them and they’re hard enough to keep you occupied for quite some time. It looks as good as it plays because it delivers both impressive graphics and challenging action. While this release mixes elements of other titles, it does so brilliantly enough to feel original and innovative. It’s not perfect, but Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions continues Microsoft’s early pattern of releasing a larger proportion of unique, yet brilliant titles for the Xbox and plays as solidly as it looks.