Fill ‘er Up!
Fuel is the new racer published by Codemasters, the same name behind racing powerhouses like Colin McRae: Dirt as well as Race Driver: GRID. With such great titles behind them, it is easy to assume that Fuel would have been yet another title that will live up to Codemasters’ high expectations, particularly in the racing genre. But, while Fuel is certainly competent as a racer, and is indeed a great deal of fun, I can’t say that it really excels as much as I was expecting it to.
According to some minimal in-game narrative, Fuel takes place in an alternate reality where the world has run out of fossil fuels, and people have moved to carbon neutral areas. However, since the world is no longer using fuel, a special breed of racers has cropped up to use the world’s last remaining stockpiles of gasoline. They use all manner of vehicle, including cars and ATVs, to race around the barren wastelands that used to contain humans. There really isn’t that much to the story, but honestly, it’s a racing game, so I wasn’t expecting much.
The game starts you off in a free driving course in a small area. You can drive around and practice your turns, but you really can’t do much. In order to start your career mode, you’ll have to enter a complex menu, triggered by the select button. From here you can see the world map for Fuel, which has actually set a world record for its length, but more on that later. In addition to viewing the map, you can also select driving missions from the career mode as well as a special challenge modes. These two modes will be specific to the area of the map that you have unlocked, and each area will have a set number of races that you must win before moving on.
The main career mode features pretty straightforward racing, with plenty of fun tracks and obstacles. When you travel to a certain area of the map, you will have between 3-8 career events associated with the map. It isn’t enough to simply place or show, you’ll have to finish first and earn stars for your performance in order to move on. Fortunately, if you find yourself really struggling on a particular track in the career mode, you can always adjust the difficulty before starting up the race.
Although the career mode races are all about speed, the challenge modes are a little more off the wall. One of the early challenge mode missions involved chasing a helicopter and beating it to its location. Other challenges include cutting off drivers, and even tagging them like you would in the Burnout series. The challenge missions were a lot more fun than the career mode, and even though you need the stars to move forward, I found myself having a lot more fun with the challenges.
After clearing a certain number of challenges and career races, you will be able to move on to the next area. There are about twenty different areas that you need to unlock in order to completely unlock all the areas in the game. The game’s map is incredibly huge, and Fuel recently set a world record with the size of it’s in-game world, which is 5,560 square miles in area. Although I have yet to unlock the entire map, I used the level editor to create a track spanning about 1/10th of the map. It took me 30 minutes to drive across this comparatively small track. The sheer size of the world of Fuel is truly impressive, and if you just have a hankering to drive around, this is a great game with which to do so.
However, this is where Fuel starts to develop some issues. Although the world is plenty big, there’s just not that much to do within it. The game is not set up like Burnout Paradise, where you just pull up to an intersection to start a race, and the huge world seems wasted when all the races are just a menu away. Sure, you can come across a race in the wild, but there is no real reason to drive to it when you can just use the menu. You can also drive around and look for cars to add to your garage, but that just didn’t seem like enough of a motivation to really drive around the expansive world.
Another issue I had with Fuel early on was with the visuals. Honestly, the tracks and vehicles are a bit simplistic. Although the world is huge, the truth is that it’s not filled with terribly much, and repeated obstacle elements punctuate the landscape again and again. However, the one exception to this rule has to be the weather effects. Honestly, I found them quite impressive, and riding through the rain, high winds, tornadoes, and lightning storms to be quite the exhilarating experience.
Control in this game falls squarely in the arcade genre, with speed and quick turns being emphasized over precision driving. The game never punishes you for going off-road or damaging your vehicle (after smashing an ATV right into a tree at 50 MPH I was able to just reverse and drive away), and if you get too far off course or have a colossal wreck, the game will just reset you back on the track. The game even forgives you for being lost, and you have your own reset button you can use to right yourself if you have gotten too far away from the action.
Fuel is definitely not a bad game. In fact, I liked it a lot. However, it is not the standout title that I was expecting it to be. Last year’s GRID was such a memorable racing game, and I was really expecting Fuel to be another standout title in the same vein. Despite being a very competent racer, and one fans of arcade-style racing will enjoy, Fuel just doesn’t ever cross the line into “amazing” territory. If you were expecting lightning in a bottle, Fuel keeps the electricity in the environmental elements and out of the gameplay.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
Levels and cars are a little simplistic on a technical level, but the weather effects are impressive. 3.6 Control
The arcade style of control lacks depth, but is perfect for fans of the control style. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is generic, and motor sounds are repetitive. 4.0 Play Value
The career mode is rather lengthy, the challenge mode, provides plenty of game variation, and playing online certainly provides decent replayability. But, lack of split-screen multiplayer is regrettable. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.