14,000 square kilometers (8,699 miles) is a huge span, even for a game. Sure, it’s a great back of the box bullet point, but is FUEL’s vast open world its biggest downfall?
There is no doubt that FUEL is the biggest console game ever: they even have a world record to prove it. Plains stretching from the tips of dusty and wind-ravened mountains to frozen streams at the bottom of craters all look great, considering the mega sized scale of it. There are conveniently placed roads and shortcuts, as well as opportunities to go off-road and really tackle it head on, which is the best of what FUELhas to offer. Finding your way around this miniature North American state is made possible by an intuitive GPS system.
When in free roam mode, markers are set far in the distance, but also visible on your compass at the top of the screen letting you know the location of, and what lies in the way between you and your objective. This feature works well, but can be a little misleading, as an objective which seems to be on flat land and remotely close can occasionally turn out to be atop a huge mountain, or across a giant mass of water, which can sometimes be time consuming to drive around.
On-screen arrows point you in the direction of the closest road or side track to your goal. The GPS system works well for the most part of FUEL but players will find that getting to hard to reach places (like mountains) will have the GPS asking the player’s vehicle to sprout wings and take flight to the top of a mountain.
The world looks great, from every deserted car to flooded city, and the apocalyptic atmosphere is an opportunity for a great narrative to emerge from, even from a racing game. However, apart from the opening cinematic which explains why there won’t be anyone accompanying you, there is no explanation to where the people went or why half the ‘’world’’ is either burnt or simply gone, which is a major disappointment, and doesn’t help immerse you in the world it creates one bit.
It’s questions like these which arise after players crash into the fiftieth abandoned and indestructible truck on a highway “why did they have to leave in such a hurry?” It’s a great premise which carries similar cues from the Ghost Recon games which imply a not so distant, possible future. It’s a branch which would greatly benefit the world and make it seem more believable and worth investigating. Due to the uninteresting landscape, exploring the massive open world will become tedious and boring after a while, and players will begin to simply press start, select career and go from there rather than driving around to each different event and challenge.
The events in FUEL are probably the biggest downfall in the grand scheme of things. It’s not the actual events or racing which suffers: the A.I in FUEL is one of the most frustrating and inconsistent things in current-gen racing games. The races themselves consist of either Checkpoint or A- B on/off road races and lap tracks, which generally means the races will last from 4-6 minutes long. Due to the large amount of races, and long time commitment to them, late crashes are all the more frustrating. The A.I which you race will become your greatest enemy and greatest friend, but not before making you lose a few times before hand. The lack of ‘rubber banding’ ( keeping the race close, the A.I will either attract players who fall from behind or stick to players out in front to make the race more engaging and close) is a real downfall for FUEL.
There seems to be 3 presets for the A.I; “get out way in front and not look back”, “get out way in front and in the final stretch slow down and let the player win”, OR “stay behind the entirety of the race, only to speed up exponentially and win the race in the dying seconds”: none of which are fun at all. Failing a race is the most frustrating part of all. ‘’Try harder or fail forever’’ flashes on the screen, sending players back to agonizing load screens which seem to reload the entire map, accompanied by some of the worst garage band music I’ve ever heard. It’s these testing presets which encourage players to select the easier difficulties at the beginning of the race.
Getting through the single player races can be done on Rookie, Expert or Legend. Each difficulty is worth one star, and stars are used to progress through the single player races. It’s a fairly simple premise of; harder difficulty, more stars. It’s a shame that you have to simply redo races on other difficulties, and there is not only no reward for coming 2nd or 3rd. The A.I difficulty is also so inconsistent on the Expert rank in particular, that there is no incentive to take the challenge, as players will lose by 3-4 hundred meters after racing a perfect race, because in FUEL, sometimes taking perfect turns isn’t good enough.
Each star is also worth a certain amount of “fuel”, which is used to be spend on better vehicles. The vehicles themselves are a mixed bag: ranging from trucks to hovercraft, the selection of vehicles will excite any motor enthusiast. FUEL comes from the same team as DiRT and other such racing games, so the weather effects and cars look very impressive, but the severe lack of destruction of vehicle is a little disappointing. Handling your ride also has the typical arcade racer vibe but the control can be too floaty or just downright poor on tight corners and navigating narrow paths. Although the vehicles do look a little like toys, it’s not a distraction, as the game needs to be played in first person to get the feeling of speed.
Plummeting down a near vertical mountain side with seven other racers in your face and a tornado ripping up houses around you describes some of the best FUEL has to offer. Moments like these, although they are short lived reflect the trailer and screenshots which lead us to believe that that’s what FUEL was going to be. The races all seem to be very deliberately designed and it works in favor of the game’s unique map sections. There is never a race which seems to be a dull A-B without either tiny trails to the top of a mountain or a power pole crashing down right on top of those unlucky enough to drive underneath it. The game’s feeling of speed is only conveyed through the first person view, hitting excess of 130KMPH feels extremely slow in the third person angles but is accented in first person with the constant whipping of grass, reeds and narrowly dodging trees.
Apart from the fantastic music from the trailers, FUEL sounds pretty average. Nameless tracks of what seem to be garage band demos will have players switching them off and playing their own tunes. FUEL’s online section features online free roam, ranked and non-ranked races. All work relatively well, but there seems to be no incentive to explore the already dull world with a few friends except maybe the longest jump competition. Racing against real friends is also a lot more fun than taking on the one-sided AI, but due to the dull locales, you’ll probably stop enjoying it pretty early on.
FUEL, on the surface, appears to be a very solid racer. It has a solid, experienced team, pretty graphics, and huge open world with some extreme weather effects. However the inconsistent and frustrating A.I is a real setback, and players will find the easier difficulties more enjoyable but with no real reward, and a slap in the face when they fail. Unfortunately, FUEL’s biggest selling point (a huge, beautiful, but meaningless world) which will only entice those who are completionists to reach out and explore it to its greatest extent.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
The open world looks great considering the scale, only to be let down by ‘toyish’ looking vehicles.
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Inconsistent A.I problems make the game way too frustrating to enjoy fully.
Vehicles sound like they should, but FUEL contains a terrible soundtrack during frequent load times.
There are lots of collectibles for those achievement/trophy hunters, and there’s a huge world to explore: the biggest ever, in fact.
FUEL has an interesting premise that’s jarred by gameplay problems which just aren’t fun to experience.