As a primarily visual medium, video games can occasionally forgo rock-solid game mechanics in favor of slick, flashy visuals and get away with it. Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions on the Xbox is a perfect example of style over substance, where the developer's main concern was creating a unique, cohesive look for the streets of Hong Kong, complete with narrow, bustling streets, miles of glowing neon, and a nearly palpable level of humidity. The game did reasonably well on the Xbox, and Activision has subsequently ported Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions to the PlayStation 2. And though the game touts a fair amount of new content, the technical limitations of the PlayStation 2 rob the original of most of its visual style and slow the pace considerably, resulting in a mediocre mission-based driving game with poor handling.
The basic structure of Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions for the PS2 is largely the same as that of the Xbox version. The game is split into two independent stories revolving around the presence of the Japanese Mafia (or Yakuza) in Hong Kong. The first story puts you in the shoes of two female Hong Kong police officers, and in the second you play as a pair of bumbling "spies" with questionable training and motives. Each story is made up of 10 missions, many of which are very similar between the two plotlines. As the HK cops, you'll have to destroy a cavalcade of Yakuza cars that have hijacked an armored truck, and as the spies, your mission is to steal the contents of the armored truck itself and deliver them to your employer. The level of difficulty increases as you progress through the game, but the complexity of your objectives is basically the same all the way through. There are easy and hard versions of every mission, and the big difference between the two difficulty levels seems to lie mostly in the amount of traffic and the durability of the enemy vehicles. Each mission has a secondary objective, like destroying 400 objects on the street, hitting 60 cars, or finishing the mission with 30 seconds left on the clock. Completing the secondary objective will unlock an especially difficult bonus mission, and completing the bonus mission objective will unlock one of the game's many, many bonus cars.
Outside of the primary story mode, Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions has a two-player mode not found in the Xbox version. There are seven different two-player gameplay variants to be played in four different areas of the city, though they all involve one player chasing another, just with slightly different scoring conditions. Most interestingly, this mode is not played on a split screen, instead putting both cars on the screen at the same time. This can make for some awkward camera situations, in which the player being chased has to turn a blind corner without knowing what's coming, though the separation needed to "escape" your pursuer is small enough that this isn't a game-breaking issue.
Wreckless belongs to a fairly exclusive club of mission-based driving games with destructive tendencies, along with Acclaim's Burnout series and Rockstar's Midnight Club: Street Racing. In Wreckless, it's almost as important to destroy as much property as possible as it is to actually complete the mission objectives. This may sound thrilling, but everything in Wreckless has a hollow, thin feel to it, making the destruction seem less than satisfying. The cars you'll drive feel like they're perpetually on the verge of being completely out of control, and this, combined with the crowded streets and sidewalks of Hong Kong, helps create the game's overall chaotic feel. Somewhere in the game's transition from the Xbox to the PlayStation 2, the speed of the cars you'll drive has decreased significantly. In fact, you won't find a car in Wreckless that can move at speeds above 90 unless it's going downhill. Though the cars still handle as though they were moving at ludicrous speeds, forcing you to constantly fight the controls just to keep your car driving in a straight line and making the car unmanageably unpredictable.
Also, for reasons unknown, the vehicles in Wreckless on the PlayStation 2 come equipped with a missile launcher. In an apparent attempt to counterbalance the cataclysmic effect of the missile launcher, Yakuza cars tend to be more resilient, and the civilian vehicles are a lot tougher too, no longer blinking out of existence when you tip them over. In the end, though, Wreckless is really no more or less difficult on the PS2 because of the addition of the missile launcher, and it's actually not an incredibly exciting piece of hardware to use, which raises the question of why Activision felt the need to include it in the first place.
The slower pacing of Wreckless on the PlayStation 2 is most likely due to the hardware's inability to render the high-speed action at a reasonable frame rate. Almost all the special effects, high-resolution textures, and detailed car models that made the Xbox version so easy on the eyes have fallen victim to the relative weakness of the PlayStation 2 hardware. But the real tragedy here is that even with all the atmospheric filters stripped out, a minimal amount of particle effects, and dumbed-down textures and car models, the game still suffers from some nasty slowdown when there are a lot of cars onscreen. Even the prerendered cutscenes, which were done in real time on the Xbox, appear to have been shoddily captured and compressed.
Though the game's graphics have taken some pretty bad knocks in the transition, the sound design in Wreckless has remained largely unchanged. The soundtrack is mostly high-energy electronic music, which is a suitable fit and complements the embellished sounds of destruction as you plow through dim sum carts, sandwich boards, phone booths, potted plants, and, of course, other cars. The game features competent voice acting in its cutscenes, but you'll generally hear little chatting during the actual missions, save for the curt directions of your boss on the radio.
Without the Xbox version's gorgeous visuals to distract from its weak gameplay mechanics and simplistic mission objectives, the PS2 version of Wreckless doesn't have much going for it. Players expecting the same visual smorgasbord seen on the Xbox will be deeply disappointed with Wreckless on Sony's system, and those looking for a driving game with a mean streak would be better off checking out Acclaim's superior Burnout 2: Point of Impact.