REVIEWS -- FUEL -- PC
FUEL needs sympathetic drivers
by Lazare Gvimradze
Fun factor: Average
Worth to: Rent
A game misunderstood even by the developers themselves, Fuel delivers unforgettable journeys rather than arcade racing.
Codemasters are widely known for their latest driving games like Colin McRae: DiRT or Racedriver: GRID. Apart from having a few quality products in other genres (Overlord), arcade racing has really become their thing these days, so they didnít hesitate to fund an Asobo Studio, a company developing a somewhat prospective game by the name of Fuel. The biggest promise we got, of course, was the ability to traverse post-apocalyptic California in all its glory, stretching over 14,000 (!) square kilometers of detailed, authentic terrain. Thatís exactly what we got, without one extra drop of Fuel.
14,000 kilometers of repetition
Itís strange really, but the potential of the gameís storyline was immense, judging from arcade standards. In the not-too-distant future global warming, as well as severe climatic changes, devastate America, forcing people to evacuate to other continents. Everybody leaves, except for a bunch of hothead racers who see the deserted lands of USA as an enormous source for their never-dieing wish for competing. However, the weather also worked hard on crushing the worldís economy, making Fuel the most valuable resource, hence the name. The participants treat Fuel as an official currency, and race across canyons, farms and tornado valleys just to get another barrel of the stuff.
It sounds great, maybe even like Fallout where RPG is swapped by fast vehicles. But the game does little to actually deliver the story or expand it somehow. The world is deserted, yes, but signs of cataclysmic events appear only in scripted tornado races or when you stumble across a burning forest. Other than that, itís just lush green fields and peaceful landscapes bathing in the rays of the sun. There is no character development, not that most racing games need them, anyway.
But as many have predicted, nothing saved Fuel from the disastrous syndrome all open-world games possess: the bigger the space, the more boring the game becomes. And Fuel is plain enormous. From your first few seconds in the 14,000 square kilometer sandbox you are thrown into a never ending loop of mountains, fields, canyons, snowy peaks and utter repetitiveness. Completing challenges opens new areas to compete in, as well as new vehicles. The challenge races offer little variation apart from scripted weather effects. Vehicles handle generally well and are divided into several categories, but thatís it.
Annoying flaws eclipse by mesmerizing vistas
Going online makes other players pop-up in free-ride, and letís you compete in custom races or just roam around with them. However, free-ride is not that useless. You can collect Fuel barrels (by hitting them), hunt for new paint bonuses and discover Vista points, places from where the overwhelming world looks even bigger. Moving around the state can sometimes prove difficult due to a weirdly complicated GPS system that is context-sensitive; if you drive on asphalt the arrows indicate the optimal route to your marked destination via roads, if youíre rallying through off-roads it will reorient on those types of roads, and if youíre ignoring roads altogether it will just show a direct way to the target, often telling you to ride over mountains or cross lakes. It is very hard to get used to it.
Not that traversing all that space can be unpleasant, thanks to a great graphics engine which manages to deliver eye-popping visuals, impressive draw distance, superior lighting model reinforced with day/night cycle and masterful optimization altogether, which really seams like a feat considering the scale of the terrain. The sceneries have a peaceful, almost meditative feel to them, and weather effects really look labored upon. However, after having a closer look youíll discover cranky driver animation, sprite-grass rotating to fit the camera angle, and complete frustration regarding the vehicle physics. If you donít crash after hitting a tree at 120 km/hr, youíll jump up and backwards several meters.
But if you look over all of these minor, but annoying flaws, you get a game that is great at one thing: simulating a meditative journey across endless plains. The atmosphere is further deepened by soothing guitar tunes accompanying the player, as well as mesmerizing sunsets occurring every now and then. The vehicles tend to sound authentic, however judging from their nondescript origins itís impossible to measure exactly how believable they sound, or even look. But the illusion of a deserted, beautiful world filled with custom-made vehicles and daredevil drivers is portrayed more than decently.
Itís the summary of all these elements that uncovers the bitter truth. The game is not good or even tolerable at everything the developers had promised us it would be. We got an absolutely different product, definitely not Codemasters-styled, capable of only giving us the illusion of an enormous world calling us for exploration, and not adrenaline-filled races and full speed crashes on the track -- not something most people will have paid for. Nevertheless, it is good at what it does right, and that fact, coupled with the enormous labor the developers have put in this game, makes it a solid title for the few who know how to enjoy it.
As for the arcade racing part, well, what can we say: itís in desperate need of Fuel.
Developer: Asobo Studio
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Review Date: 07-07-2009
Numbers of Players: 1-8
Players Online: 2-8
Notes: Dolby Digital 5.1, Downloadable Content, User Content, Leaderboards
Beautiful lighting effects and impressive scale make Fuelís visuals stand stall amidst similar titles.
Unforgettable traverses lack reinforcement from top-speed racing sequences. Gets boring rather fast if looking for some adrenalin.
An unusual post-apocalyptic setting coupled with clever writing show that Fuel possesses a little more of a story than other racing games.
Unstoppable guitar verses and engine revving sound authentic, but other than that the game has little to offer here.
A repetitive adventure stretching over thousands of miles proves boring surprisingly soon, but the unique approach is not forgotten easily.