Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire. I can't help it, every time I saw, heard or even spoke about FUEL from Codemasters and Asobo Studios, that song popped into my head. Damn you Metallica. The good news is that the song is better than the game, yes, that might be blasphemy for some of you Metallica haters out there, do I care, no.
FUEL's world is a similar one to our own, it's huge, it's full of post-apocalyptic trappings and the most precious commodity is fuel, which you race for. Thusly you are burning fuel to earn fuel...a kind of paradox if you ask me. Anyways, there are no fancy cut-scenes or anything driving fuel, just race after race.
FUEL is a racer and that's all, there's nothing deep or particularly appealing about it. It's a generic racer which works well as a Point of Concept demo. Let me expand on that for a tiny bit. You have this pretty decent open world procedurally generated real-time INSANE size world map, full of zones where you can race in different styles of events or just go free-riding around and explore. The problem is that the world is so big, there's nothing in it. 16 player online seems piddly when you're looking at a map size that set a new WORLD RECORD in the Guinness Book of Records for biggest game space ever.
The technology is impressive, the game is not. The play is pretty generic with various lack-lustre race types peppering the massive space. You can find new paint jobs, liveries and uninspiring vista points as collectables and so on by scouring the whole map. To help you there are Doppler Trucks which when bumped into display the location of all collectibles in the zone you're in.
There's a GPS too, which is totally broken. It tries to be helpful and guide you to the correct direction, it very often plots a 'as the crow' flies kind of course, which means more often than not since it's not intelligent, it'll plot you a course right through a lake.
So you have your circuit races, your point to point races, your various challenges and so on. It's all very typical of the most average of racers. The dynamic day/night feature is quite nice, providing a suitable backdrop to the overall experience. The challenges are fairly fun but get old pretty quickly and the vehicle choice is often locked for the career races forcing you to work with a vehicle you dislike.
There are a lot of vehicles in FUEL, some of them have great handling and there are no boundaries to the game's races or the world. This means you can get creative and take short cuts as long as you're careful. Since there's a lot of litter around from the post-apocalyptic world, dead cars and so on, broken and battered houses, ruined caravans and burned out trees.
Once you've done all the career races in a zone and gotten the requisite points to move on, you move to the next zone. In such a big world there are helipads to help you get around as well.
If you want, and you're that mad, you can try and cross the world by driving to the next zone. Be prepared to spend at least 30 minutes from corner to corner in the first zone for instance if you want to see how big just one of the smaller areas is.
You can make your own custom races too, you can't change anything but the route so don't expect to be able to play with day or night, weather settings and so on. Just lay down points and if you're being a sadistic sod, put a few going into a lake just to upset your friends and make it impossible to win.
FUEL is a mixed bag, it has an impressive draw-distance, and there are some graphical hitches and so on. At one point we actually fell through the game's terrain and the car got stuck, we've seen the camera intersect the hillside and there are numerous other glitches that happened whilst racing as well. The day and night transition, lighting effects, various other shadow and texture designs are good. What's not good is the stupid effect that the developers show when it's windy, bits of blowing dust and grass that comically fill our screen do not make the game look any better.
The detail on the various vehicles is fairly nice, again though, there's a lack of heart that appears in the game graphically since customising your cars is about changing a couple of settings and making the colour shift.
When you're on a quad bike or a motorcycle, there's a nice level of animation on the actual rider or driver. They move pretty well and they'll randomly do tricks as you get big air, letting you concentrate on the important aspect of racing. The cars are well animated with the right moving parts, nothing to truly complain about here.
Car handling varies, that's good. What's not good is when you crash, there's a sudden pop-up of the word FUEL, in a nifty kind of cut out and you fail to see the spectacular wreck. BAD developers, give us our automotive carnage! There's nothing like a sudden FUEL cut-away popping up in your face to pull you out of the immersion of the game in the first place. As for impact physics, there's some, there's no damage modelling per-se on the vehicles but they do get a bit banged up and dirty.
It feels like the opponent cars and vehicles have booster rockets, they are able to rocket ahead even on the easier races and dominate you for quite a while. They rarely crash out and if they do, they're right back in and on your tail like a hyper-bloodhound on hyper-fox hunt day. Either that or they're driven by road ninjas. I believe they use the so-called rubber-band method, to keep it fresh and challenging. However, at the later stages of the game, fresh becomes frustrating and challenging turns into nightmarish.
This music isn't my cup of tea, the game needed metal or something. What we do have is fine if you like that sort of repetitive droning in your ear.
Pretty decent sound design, nothing to write home about but the various vehicles have a different audio feel.
Voice and Dialogue
Not much at all, in fact, not really anything I can say here so I'll just cut it there.
FUEL's online is glitchy and it's prone to serious lag, drop outs and stutters when you're racing. I've been kicked from a race or two due to those issues and the game is more of the same style as it is in single-player. You can make your own races to share with friends and compete in various themed events, variants of tag and the like. You can free-ride with 16 other players in the massive world.
FUEL is ambitious and it's mediocre fun at best. There's excellent technology behind it, graphically it's quite nice but could have done with more polish. Though the online when it works redeems it a little, it still fails to engage with a limp-wristed career and lack-lustre rewards. It works great as a Point of Concept demo and perhaps the post-apocalyptic setting was a bad idea, since the game is devoid of life even with 16 players online.
One to rent, unless you're a hard core racer and want to see the big open world for yourself and determine if it deserves to be in the Guinness Book of Records.