Massive jumps…exotic locales…the off-road racing genre has some of the most visually satisfying games out there. From Motorstorm’s car variety and graphics to Pure’s massive jumps, off-road racers may not draw as much attention as their track-confined colleagues, but their appeal is in some ways, more widespread. Asobo Studio’s FUEL looks to evolve the genre by introducing a massive, open world to race and explore. Unfortunately, treading new ground has also lead this game to fall off the preverbal cliff into, unable to pull itself out of the ditch.
Gameplay is the typical assortment of options that most racing games come with. You have races with different disciplines in each vehicle, and winning them earns stars, which dictate progress, and fuel, the game’s currency. Similar to these races are challenges, which range from helicopter chases to time trials to seek ‘n’ destroy, which is similar to Burnout’s Road Rage mode. You earn more fuel to buy more cars, and earn more stars to unlock more base camps. These base camps are scattered around the land and serve as your HUB for the races and challenges in the area. Unfortunately, due to the lack of inspiration of the world you drive in, along with some spotty AI, the different races and challenges turn out to not be that enjoyable, with only a few moments of fun in-between the monotony. The vehicles themselves don’t feel all that exciting to drive, with the exception of one or two motorcycles. The game also has weather effects such as sandstorms, rain, and even tornadoes, but they don’t affect the vehicles handling at all regardless.
Free run mode, which lets you explore the world at your own leisure, isn’t all that exciting either. Throughout the world, there are markers on your GPS, giving the location of events, as well as collectable liveries to customize your car further, vista points which don’t really serve any purpose except to give a decent view of the land, and Doppler trucks. These Doppler trucks, when hit, can provide locations to all the aforementioned locations in the area of the land you are in, depending on the color you hit. The problem with this is that the rewards aren’t really worth it. Later on, you can unlock vehicles by hunting down certain Doppler trucks, but is generally not worth it.
As mentioned earlier, the game’s high point is the amount of terrain you can traverse. The problem with this is the very noticeable amount of draw-in throughout the game. The world itself looks average at best, and muddled at worst with low quality textures close up. The drivers and their customization options are average. The different vehicles are modeled pretty well, but don’t have any type of cosmetic damage on the vehicle. The vehicles do get dirty however, though with some very poor looking mud textures. The biggest problem is with the world itself. Even though it has thousands of miles to work with, almost all of looks boring and uninspired, which makes driving through the game more of a chore than an enjoyable.
Sound design is one of the biggest offenders of this game though. The game’s music is just an endless loop of very forgettable generic rock songs. While I can understand that not all games can get licensed music, a more diverse soundtrack or simply better songs would have done the trick. Sound effects from cars are what you expect, with the appropriate sounds going off depending on the type of terrain you’re on. The weather sound effects are ok, though one instance where there was heavy wind made it sound like loud static was coming through my speakers instead.
Fuel definitely separates itself from the competition with its expansive open area. However, despite its technical achievements, it fails to nail the basic necessities that most of its competitors games give. While other off-road games like DIRT 2 and Motorstorm: Artic Edge coming soon, Fuel doesn’t have enough to offer to bring itself to the same level as them. Perhaps this may serve as a foundation for a better game down the road, but as it stands, it’s not enough to get out of the wilderness of mediocrity.