Contrary to popular belief, a car's sole purpose is not just to shuttle its passengers around town. That mundane task makes up only a small portion of a car's potential. Outfit a four-wheeled vehicle with a bevy of ready-to-kill firearms and a sturdy protective shell, and you've got yourself a source of destructive entertainment that would make Henry Ford faint with delight. Sadly, the explosive promise of the automobile doesn't come close to being tapped in the downloadable Wheels of Destruction: World Tour. Through an assortment of problems ranging from minor dents to head-on collisions, Wheels of Destruction makes the joy of blowing up other cars as fun as a drive to the corner market.
Six cars, five maps, four weapons--diversity is not one of Wheels' strong suits. Upon startup, online competition beckons, but if you'd like to get your motor revved offline, you're stuck spinning your tires. Offline competition is sparse and uninviting. There's no tutorial to teach you the ins and outs of vehicular combat, no story to flesh out the motivating force. There's not even a tournament to give battles a proper structure. You play one-off matches against computer-controlled opponents, check out your kill-to-death ratio afterward, and then play another one-off bout until you grow tired of the banality of it all.
If you think going online could solve these problems, there's a grand disappointment waiting for you in that realm as well. There's little difference between online and offline competition save for the incredible lag you suffer when you attempt to challenge other players around the world. Having to put up with severe technical problems when you play Wheels of Destruction online eliminates almost any potential it might have had for being a worthwhile trip down vehicular homicide lane.
There are only two modes of play (Capture the Flag and Deathmatch), unless you consider Team Deathmatch a wholly separate offering. Vehicles are equipped with a boost and can perform a modest jump, but maneuverability is hindered by the slow-to-respond steering mechanics. Tilting the left stick from side to side moves the turret on the back of your car and adjusts the camera. The car eventually responds by positioning itself so its rear is facing the screen, but there's a noticeable delay while this alignment goes into effect. In practice, this makes precise driving tricky, especially in the heat of combat. Once you figure out how to properly drift around turns, the cars become more responsive and enjoyable to control, but driving never captures the uninhibited joy the best vehicular games encompass.
Stages are spread out across the world and are intricately designed to encourage exploration. Secret roads in Tokyo give you various ways to go from your base to your opponent's in Capture the Flag, while Rome rewards anyone skilled enough to manage the plentiful ramps that populate the streets. Level design is one of Wheels' strengths. Through jump-enabled booster pads and tucked-away teleporters, you can escape a pursuer in a pinch or surprise a flag thief with an assault from above. It is easy to get lost in the elaborate worlds because there aren't enough distinct visual cues to clearly separate one area from the next, but over time, you learn how to get from one place to another as quick as a cat, and you feel all the more devious for thwarting your enemy through hard-earned knowledge of the layout.
So once you learn how to manage the steering and commit the maps to memory, it is fun to tool around locales at top speed, performing summersaults off ramps and generally making a nuisance of yourself. However, the core of the game--combat--rarely enters an enjoyable groove. Two basic problems surface in just about every fight you find yourself in. First, the physics are out of whack. When a missile slams into you, your vehicle is hurtled high into the air. Once afloat, you stay there for precious seconds while your opponent peppers you with enough lead to make you cry tears of oil and death. You can use your boost to get out of harm's way, but more likely than not, you'll be dead before you hit the ground. Second, death comes extremely fast. If you aren't catapulted in the air, you're likely to be blown apart with a single hit. These issues discourage you from mixing things up in vehicular fisticuffs, which is downright strange in a game built around unabashed car carnage.
Most of the weapons aren't particularly interesting, either. There's a standard array of guns available that lack the imagination and viciousness to make you take notice. The rocket launcher locks on to would-be victims, so much of the dirty work of carefully lining up shots is eliminated. This works well because fiddling with aiming would be less than ideal while trying to corner hairpin turns, but the hit-and-run nature removes the in-your-face destruction that could have given your kills more immediacy. This issue continues with the railgun and Gatling gun. You simply don't feel the weight of your actions, so you don't become invested in these conquests. This is mitigated somewhat by the flamethrower. You have to be right on your targets to be most effective, and burning them until they're useless metal bricks offers mild satisfaction.
The engine that runs Wheels is sturdy enough to offer some enjoyment. Once you get the hang of the steering, motoring around the expansive maps is entertaining, and it's hard not to appreciate the clever designs of each location. But the other elements only serve to bring the rest of the package down. A scarcity of content is the biggest offender. The single-player battles are a mere training ground against computer-controlled cars, and the online battles are so full of lag that it's not worth putting up with the aggravation. Wheels of Destruction: World Tour is so stripped that it's hard to overlook its myriad problems to uncover the good buried within.