It's hard to get too excited by yet another racing game, but occasionally one comes along and just blows your mind. The last time that happened for many for 'Burnout 3' and then 'Burnout Paradise', but for others it was 'GRID' and 'Dirt'. If the publisher of the latter two isn't a household name for racing fans yet, it should be. Codemasters's name is starting to become synonymous with great racing action, but they've outdone themselves with the off-road racer, 'Fuel'.
- Great racing action across thousands of miles of beautiful scenery
- 70+ vehicles
- Unbelievable amount of racing to do across a wide array of different game modes
- Excellent audio
- No deformable terrain
- Some pop-up
- Wide open spaces offer very little interaction
- Starter cars are a pain to control
It's hard to get too excited by yet another racing game, but occasionally one comes along and just blows your mind. The last time that happened for many for Burnout 3 and then Burnout Paradise, but for others it was GRID and Dirt. If the publisher of the latter two isn't a household name for racing fans yet, it should be. Codemasters's name is starting to become synonymous with great racing action, but they've outdone themselves with the off-road racer, Fuel.
At first glance, it's easy to shrug Fuel off as yet another dirt-treading ATV game. It's true that you'll have the chance to drive around 70 different vehicles, including dirt bikes, four-wheelers, monster trucks, buggies, and other tough jalopies, but it's the scope of the game and the controls that make it so special. There's no story to speak of, and the core of the game is earning stars and fuel to open new areas and buy new vehicles. Fuel is a constant search for new vistas to conquer, and you'll do so by uncovering a landscape so vast that it brings to mind games like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, not Motorstorm.
With a main map world that is several thousand miles in diameter and a horde of individual zones that would be the whole game most other racers, Fuel takes a different approach than other open world games like Burnout Paradise. Where that game took place in a city and surrounding area--offering a variety of different zones--Fuel's massive zones offer a crazy variety of terrain--coastal beach, forest, swamp, snowy mountains, lakes, desert, and everything in between.
Massively Single Player Racing
Exploring each zone offers opportunities for new vehicles, clothing, and other bonuses. There is wreckage to explore and extra cars to catch, but you’ll often find yourself driving around alone in this vast and desolate world. Location markers litter the harsh environment to give you a sense of direction or at least a goal to find. You’ll be reaching for that quick select menu screen after you find out that marker is several miles away. It’s an ambitious idea that rewards gamers patient enough to drive through this wilderness. Unfortunately, those looking for a quick fix will leave the miles of road behind for the last than spectacular menu screen.
Whether exploring or hitting the races, most races have both a useful mini map and the use of a GPS function that gives accurate and useful direction on where to go next. The GPS acts as a leader arrow during a race, which is nearly a necessity for some of the windy course. During open world exploration, however, it helps you keep track of directional markers and points of interest in the game world. If you run out of things to do on a given location, the game includes a simple to use track maker as well. You can create new tracks on the fly thanks to an easy interface and race them, share them, and generally add more to do when you want it.
Enjoy the Ride
Every vehicle style feels different. The game isn't simply a power-sliding affair, since not all vehicles are suitable for such maneuvers. You’ll start out with vehicles that handle only slightly better than the car remains you’re trying to avoid on the long dusty roads. Later wheels give you that extra feeling of control that you need to get around the sharpest of corners. Fuel sports 16-player online play and even cooperative open world racing. Hopefully this racer will earn a substantial place on both Sony and Microsoft's online playgrounds.
The landscape is put together with a gorgeous graphic engine that manages a stunning draw distance, day and night cycles, beautiful weather effects, and highly detailed vehicles and scenery. The visuals aren't quite as photo-gorgeous as Sony's Motorstorm, but then the game's scope more than makes up for it. There are pop-up glitches and lack of deformable terrain. You can knock down small trees, bash into the myriad of old wrecks strewn everywhere, yet leave the place essentially unchanged since you don't even seem to leave tire tracks.
The audio is terrific as well. Although Codemasters doesn't have the deep licensing pockets of EA, the soundtrack certainly gets the job done, with a headlining song from Unkle. More importantly, the car effects are amazingly well done, especially in the first-person view when the sound of the engine is positively pulse pounding.
Without a doubt, Fuel is one of the most entertaining racing games on the market. With a scale that rivals any open world game to date and amazingly tight controls, this is off-road racing done to perfection. Its bold open-world approach may not appeal to all gamers as you’ll often drive for miles without seeing another soul in sight. Players willing to take the time will be fully rewarded. Fuel deserves to be played for a long time to come.
By Jason D'Aprile