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Fri, 28 May 2010

Game review: FUEL


So here's an idea: you want to make an open-world racing game, set in a post-apocalyptic landscape of huge proportions. You want to have a variety of on- and off-road cars and bikes available to use, challenges and unlocks for the more obsessive players. You want to be able to free-ride anywhere at all when you're not actually racing. Then you hit a snag: what's the background? Why are you and a few other extreme-sports types racing around these thousands of square kilometers full of abandoned buildings, crashed big-rigs and (occasional) cow skeletons? What calamity led to this entire world being abandoned to a bunch of reprobate dirt-bikers? A tough question, and the writers are sent away to come up with something. Then you and the rest of the team have a brain-wave: we won't bother writing a backstory! Let's just race!

Of course, this half-hearted unexplained apocalyse annoys me a bit; I'm a story kind of guy. Therefore I'll make up my own: the zombie apocalyse came and went, 28 Days Later-style, but only in North America. All the zombies died off, leaving a few rugged survivors. One of these groups happened to be into moto-cross, and decided to make the best of a bad situation by ripping up the empty landscape to their hearts' content.

An astonishing amount of effort has gone into the world of FUEL - there are literally thousands of square kilometers to explore, all painstakingly handcrafted. They've obviously employed some people as level designers that are borderline OCD to put this thing together. The landscape is suitably anarchic, full of rusting cars and burning forests. It looks superb.

This game really boils down to some extreme-sports guys' fantasy: a whole world devoted to tear-assing around in vehicles, with no rules or limitations. The developers (Asobo Studio) have stripped out all the boring parts of vehicle racing and left only the races themselves, plus the freedom to just pick any direction and drive as far and fast as you can. If you crash, you're back behind the wheel in seconds - no worse for wear.

The races themselves are varied and quite well done, with checkpoint races, pursuits and standard lap races mixed up between vehicle types and environments. Winning races serves to earn career points, which unlocks more of the landscape to explore. Spaced out around the maps are "vista points", generally high spots overlooking some spectacular scenery. You can also pick up extra designs for your vehicles; purely cosmetic, but it does serve to encourage you to get off the beaten track. For mine, it's the freedom to drive anywhere that elevates this about generic racing.

Overall, this is a fairly good time. It looks good and it's great fun just hooning around exploring the world. It's crying out for some single-player story mods though, this world is too good to waste on the racers!

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