Guns, love them or hate them, they are a common occurrence when it comes to videogames, but guns mounted on vehicles are much less frequent. We have seen many incarnations of the racing combat genre, if we look back, gamers have been playing combat racers since the likes of Spy Hunter in 1980’s that featured oil slicks and front mounted machine guns. Since then gamers (that are old enough to remember) have ‘mounted up’ in many similar games such as Quarantine, Carmageddon, Interstate 76 and the most popular today being the Twisted Metal series. Personally I remember and played to death all of those titles and find it a thrilling escape away from the more civilized racer, such as Project Gotham.
So it was much to my excitement to hear that Full Auto from Toronto-based Pseudo Interactive was on its way to the Xbox360 after a lukewarm reception on the PC back in 1999. Since its PC version Pseudo Interactive has been hard at work pumping next-gen content into the Xbox360 version. Full Auto’s second outing managed to turn a lot more heads during last years E3, including the attention of SEGA who snapped up its publishing rights. After a slight delay Full Auto has launched on the Xbox360 in a month shared with no other 360 titles. This puts Full Auto under some serious pressure in delivering to gamers that have been waiting for something new since the last crop of launch titles.
From the first boot up, Full Auto’s presentation cries out a ‘Burnout’ look and feel. Various modes are on offer from the off - these include Head to Head, Xbox Live, Arcade, Career mode and Leaderboard. On review of these options it makes you think – why isn’t there a story mode? It seems a leaf has been taken out of the Project Gotham book as Full Auto has abandoned the idea of a story mode in favour of racing in goal based challenges.
In Career mode you’re faced with 17 different race series. Each series contains between 6-8 races each with their own goals and achievements. Most race events ask you to win in first place while others increase the list by requiring a particular amount of wrecking points or the total destruction of a set number of rival opponents - all this in a required time limit too! The most difficult of goals earn you Gold (Full Auto) while less requirements earn you Silver (Semi Auto) and the basic achievements (mainly just coming in 3rd place) earns you Bronze (Survivor) and unlocks access to the next race event in that series as well as extra cars, body colours and additional tracks in the arcade mode.
Full Auto offers a variety of unlicensed fantasy vehicles which do resemble many real-life cars over the past years from modern trucks and 4x4 jeeps to cars reminiscent of the late 50’s and 60’s. Each vehicle has its own characteristics, from its armour durability to its handling and speed. Choosing the correct vehicle for the job will tip the balance on whether you have a trouble free winning race or coming last place in a smouldering wreck. You will find the heaviest armoured vehicles are tailored for long endurance races while the smaller, lighter and faster sports vehicles are more suited for shorter, less demanding events.
Each vehicle has its own assigned weapon load out, or a range of load outs. Matched pairs of primary and secondary weapons are offered to you and differ depending on what vehicle has been selected before hand. Primary weapons are mainly used as offensive weapons; these vary from dual machine guns to shotguns. Excluding the missile launcher, most secondary weapons are defensive types that are mounted on the trunk of your chosen vehicle. Defensive weapons range from mines and grenades to smoke screens, all of which are fired out from behind your vehicle and into the path of your pursuing opponents.
In the race itself you begin at the back of the pack, this isn’t such a bad thing as from the start it gives you something to aim for and kill, which helps build up wreaking points. Wreaking points are won for destroying pretty much anything and everything - if you shoot the wall of a passing building you get some points added to your wrecking points score, but not as much as destroying your opponents or turning a whole bridge or building into a pile of rubble. With each destruction, your Unwrecking meter is increased which you can use to reverse time similar to the recent Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. This feature allows you to ‘unwreck’ by reversing time, cheating death and giving you the opportunity to redo that fumbled last corner where you hit the wall or where you drove over an opponents well positioned mine that lead you to your own destruction. It’s an unusual and unique feature for a racing genre but as well as looking good it really does work. Power sliding and performing jumps in races also builds your turbo meter in a similar fashion though the actual turbo itself doesn’t leave much to be desired when compared to the speed increase you get in titles such as Burnout.
The graphics in the game do hold its own, with its own style and I would go as far as to say the closest game I could compare it with would be the Burnout series. You will not find accurate real-life modelled vehicles as seen in Need for Speed or Project Gotham, but that said you will not be able to make such a beaten and twisted wreck from these mentioned games as you do in Full Auto. Using the games built in instant reply function near the end of a heavy endurance race, you can inspect your abused shell of a car in all its high definition glory. The surround environment cannot be moaned about either for a title that isn’t meant to be pigeon-holed in the photorealistic environments category such as Project Gotham.
With eight cars racing on screen in close proximity together, blasting each other to a pulp while, in turn, blasting the surrounding vicinity into fire, smoke and finally rubble, it’s amazing at times to think how all this can happen without a drop in frame rate. Well all this chaos comes at a price. Firstly there is a slight fog in the distance to mask key popup areas though this isn’t that noticeable when your eyes are mostly glued to the road and trying to avoid all manner of objects and missiles - it’s only the longest of straights or open planned areas in the tracks that you notice the popup if at all. Secondly all this destruction leads to severe slowdown at times; this happens most often when there is too much happening on screen. Only once I have witnessed the frame drop into single figures but considering the amount of flying debris, cars, bullets, missiles, mines, fire and smoke you tend to forgive the slow down as it doesn’t hinder your experience when it happens for such a short period of time.
If you have your 360 hooked up to a 5.1 surround sound system you will be in for a real treat. The sounds of your bullets piercing through your opponents vehicle never fails to put a smile on your face, while the rumbles from the engines and explosions give your subwoofer a good run in. The games soundtrack isn’t too bad either with a good mix of generic rock and dance tracks to suit all kinds of tastes.
Full Auto’s multiplayer experience has its highs and lows. Online play can be done via ranked servers which unlock Live based achievements, gamer points and boosts your rank levels while unranked servers are there for a quick blast or practice. Up to eight players can take part in multiplayer mode, though most of the fun will be had with no less than four opponents. There are no civilian vehicles present when playing online so it’s just yourself and the other online racers but if you manage to find an eight player race it still is total destruction. It goes without saying that the Unwreaking feature isn’t present when playing against players online; though having some ability to mess with your opponent’s progress in other ways than weapons would have been fun.
When it comes to achievements, Full Auto is a good little earner. Within a few hours of game play you can earn around 250 gamer points, unlock 14 achievements and be 30% into your career. With over 17 modes and around 6-8 track races in each, there is plenty on offer to keep a racing combat gamer happy. You could probably complete the career mode in over 6hrs but its unlikely you would earn gold medals in every race event, so for the collectors among us that must obtain all medals and achievements, you will be playing for a fair few more hours.
So should Full Auto be part of your collection? Well, Full Auto fulfils the pick up and play type of gamer as this game really is easy to get into. It’s a shame that there is no sense of progression or achievement from race to race - if there was some kind of story mode feature I am sure it would appeal to a wider audience. Each vehicles performance seem to close together to a point that when a car is unlocked you don’t scream with joy, you just accept the fact that there is a new car available which you have already driven in the previous race, almost like the car is second hand. Customized weapon load outs would have been a nice feature also instead of preset ones and more variety wouldn’t go a miss with weapons like flamethrowers or circular saws and maybe go back to this genre’s roots and take a page from Spy Hunter by featuring oil slicks and spiked tires.
Overall though, Full Auto delivers where it counts most and that’s gameplay, they should have a ‘FUN WARNING’ stamped across the box. Sure it suffers from frame rate problems but over 90% of the time its silky smooth and the rest of the 10% is already forgotten round the last corner. If like me and your fan of Twisted Metal then this is a great substitute until something similar and destructive knocks this title off its podium with a barrage of missiles. Full Auto 2 anyone?