FUEL

I love the driving genre; it’s up there with first-person shooters as possibly my favourite type of game, so when I heard about FUEL it sparked my interest. The promise of traversing the biggest game world ever made, officially certified by Guinness World Records, with multiple vehicle types and the inclusion of unparalleled dynamic weather sounded extremely impressive; just think of all the possible scenarios. Although I can’t disagree with the above, unfortunately the game just isn’t as fun as it should be. This is mainly due to the most important factor of a driving game, i.e. the driving, simply not being on par with the last two years of arcade style racing games. I wouldn’t say I was heartbroken, but I was pretty disappointed…

FUEL loosely takes the formula laid down by the Motorstorm franchise and tries to expand it in terms of sheer size with the usual array of off-road vehicles; quad bikes, dirt bikes, trucks, buggies, SUVs and muscle cars all make an appearance. Although an open world game, unlike Motorstorm, events can be accessed from the menu in a similar manner. These are split into Career and Challenge sections; career events allow you to earn FUEL (the in-game currency) as well as unlocking new areas, liveries, vehicles and gear, while challenge events simply give you FUEL, but a lot of it. You’ll find yourself completing point-to-point, checkpoint and lap races in career events, with slightly more interesting and original event types appearing in the challenge section, such as chasing helicopters and “Seek N Destroy”. There’s some good variation between game modes but none of them stand out, most feeling rather generic.

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As mentioned before, it’s the driving that really lets FUEL down. Although not terrible, it just doesn’t feel right; extremely loose and difficult to control vehicles combined with a distinct lack of speed greatly takes away from, what could have been, an impressive off-road experience. The different vehicle types do drive differently, some performing better than others. The muscle car has to be the worst, I couldn’t even complete the first event of its type because the car was drifting all over the place; I’m normally pretty good at these games! Once you get used to controlling the dirt bike and the larger vehicles, such as SUVs and trucks, they can be fun to drive; at least there’s some enjoyment to be had.

Although not perfect, the driving would make the game acceptable if it wasn’t for a couple of questionable design decision. Firstly, when compared to sticking to the roads and tracks laid down by the game, going off-road actually slows you down! Taking a short-cut is usually detrimental to your race position, which is ridiculous for, what’s meant to be, an off-road game. It’s therefore beneficial to stick to as many roads as possible, which isn’t as fun as careering through the countryside. At least there’s an impressive GPS system guiding you across the rugged landscape at all times; this is pretty vital to winning races as it would be difficult to determine a correct route without it.

Secondly, all the events involving checkpoints, which is most of them, quickly become annoying due to the checkpoints themselves being gates that you have to pass through. Although this may sound trivial, if you do decide to risk taking a short-cut, you usually aren’t at the correct angle to make it through the checkpoint. Having to stop and manoeuvre your way through is frustrating and normally leads to restarting the event. If the checkpoints involved driving through a certain area instead, Midnight Club: LA style, FUEL would have been a little more forgiving and probably more enjoyable.

On starting FUEL, you’re thrown into what truly is the biggest game world anyone has ever played. At first it isn’t really apparent how big this place actually is but, once you’ve got to grips with the games functional but relatively bland map, you realise you could drive for hours, travelling from one side to the other. The fact sheet says it takes about 3 hours but I haven’t checked, the reason being that there’s not much to do. And here lies another problem with FUEL; there isn’t much point in making the biggest ever game world if there’s nothing of interest in it.

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FUEL’s world is split into a number of different zones which do vary considerably; some are barren deserts while others contain richly populated forests. And, although each zone is densely populated with trees, wrecked vehicles, buildings and such like, there’s hardly anything to interact with on your travels through them. Even though there are things to collect (such as vehicle skins and FUEL containers), due to the games incredible scale, it takes so long to reach these items that collecting them soon turns into a chore. All of the above makes driving through FUEL rather dull, when not in an event, defeating the point of having a huge open world in the first place.

Considering its size, FUEL’s presentation is technically impressive as well as having a unique art style which differentiates it from games of the same genre. The graphical fidelity is consistent throughout with good texture work, water effects and a remarkable day to night cycle that includes some beautiful sunsets. The weather effects add another layer of atmosphere, with tornados adding a level of risk to the events within which they feature. All the vehicles have a post-apocalyptic feel to them, even though they are relatively low on detail. Generally, FUEL is interesting to look at, which is more that can be said for many of the driving games available today.

With all this on-screen real estate you would expect the frame-rate to suffer at times; surprisingly it doesn’t. FUEL runs consistently well no matter what sort of event you’re partaking in. But, it isn’t perfect. It seems that draw distance has be sacrificed for a steady frame-rate, meaning that the game’s vegetation and ground detail has a considerable amount of pop-in. Although you can drive anywhere without additional loading, there is a considerable amount of it in-between events and restarts. For every event, move to a new location or restart FUEL has to load for what seems like an age; this wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if the load screen wasn’t so bland and useless.

Even with its problems, I still played FUEL a lot. It really does offer something no other game can, unbelievable size, which, combined with its other positive additions, makes it worth checking out, if off-road racing is your thing. FUEL isn’t a bad game; it’s an ambitious title that only falls flat due to a combination of gameplay issues and some technical limitations. It’s a shame that a game with so much promise and room for innovation got bogged down by some generic gameplay modes and distinctly average mechanics, leading to an overall experience that is neither good nor bad but simply average.

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