Expectation is a weird one in which I’m still not too sure if I personally like it. On one hand it leads to excitement and allows you to have something to look forward to in the future. However on the other hand there is disappointment and the feeling that you have been let down. Fuel is a perfect example of such a feeling. I expected a lot from the game which wasn’t helped with the hype the game has produced before its release. Press releases stating that the size of the map was a Guinness World Record, taking a whopping 3 hours to drive from side to side. The fact that its open world driving was giving you the ultimate freedom you want, and you can choose a variety of different vehicles to suit the terrain you’re engaging with. The screenshots looked great too which always adds excitement and let’s just say I was looking forward to its release. But was this more of a vision and a dream than actual reality when it comes to Fuel?
To start on a positive note the landscape is gigantic. So you can tell straight away why they are proud of such an achievement as entering the Guinness Book of Records. It’s also littered with various different races, challenges, vista points, oil drums and livery’s for you to drive around to and enter or collect respectively. As the map is so big it’s split up into various different camps with each camp containing a mixture of different races and challenges. You can drive around to each camp in free mode, or once you have visited a camp you can just ‘switch’ camps at the ease of a button or two. The races are pretty standard and consist of the normal checkpoint races, lap races and A to B races. The more interesting races come in the form of challenges. Chopper Chase is where you have to reach the finish point over the diverse terrain to beat the helicopter. You also have no visual aid to tell you where to go so just drive straight as much as possible, terrain permitting of course. Raid has drivers going through the toughest of terrain available and Endurance races are a test of skill, patience and the ability to not get bored easily.
Now this all sounds very well and dandy, but trust me it’s not. The AI is shocking, pathetic and frustrating at the best of times, and the whole race setup is terrible and again, frustrating in a ‘I really don’t want to play anymore’ way. You must win the race in order for that race to be completed. I hate that. No stars or fuel (Fuels currency) for second place which is really annoying as some races fall into the trap of the trial and error scenario. What may appear as a simple shortcut may become a ‘longcut’ and if you stick to the main road, looking at checkpoint races here, you run out of time before the next checkpoint. That compiled with the fact that some races drag on for 7-8 minutes it quickly becomes tiring at the 3rd attempt and adds frustration to the game. There are three difficulty levels too with the normal mode being average. Easy as expected is too easy, so there is no real challenge to gamers. Hard being hard is, well, hard of course and since you need to win every race I quickly decided against that level. So normal it was for me. I hate to harp on about negatives in a game but here’s another; the AI. If you’re sitting around 3rd or 4th with very little track left until the finish line, the AI ahead will slow down dramatically and practically allow you to win the race. It’s very bizarre and very like the catch-up feature used in arcade racing games like Outrun. Yes you may have won, but you don’t get the sense of achievement as basically the cars in front stopped for some ‘fuel’ as you drive past with ease.
Another negative point is the handling. The handling of the game is to put it nicely, not very nice. I didn’t expect Forza Motorsport or even Project Gotham standards, but I did expect better than what is produced. It definitely doesn’t have an Xbox 360 feel about it. Maybe it was just me but it kind of felt like I was gliding along rather than driving. I think they could have improved the feeling with greater vibrations and more destructible environments as bar a few fences here and there, none of the landscape is destructible. There is some damage done to cars but none of note that affect the vehicles performance.
I really hate talking negative but in cases like this I’m just so disappointed. The all new weather system frustrates me even more. Now what I can only assume is supposed to be debris floating around it just looks like something out of the 70’s. Like a really old camera lens or something. This annoyed me a lot when it decided to pitch up during some events. The other weather conditions don’t really affect the game too much, but I suppose it is nice to see that they have tried to change the bog standard ‘let’s keep the weather the same’ routine.
I previously talked about vehicles so I’ll go into a little more detail regarding that. The list is impressive containing over 70 vehicles ranging from monster trucks to quads and buggies. Each vehicle responds differently to the terrain it’s used on with some cars going faster and turning better with others going slower and more likely to crash into one of the fifty million trees. You can buy any of the vehicles at any time providing you have enough fuel to trade. Each race is vehicle specific so you have to make sure you have the correct vehicle for that race, otherwise get back onto the road and earn more fuel through challenges and other races to which you do own the appropriate vehicle.
When you can’t be arsed bothered with the single player campaign I’d love to say the online aspect is great. So I will. The Xbox LIVE aspect of Fuel is just what I needed; a breath of fresh air. Now of course that would be a lie, but still it was so nearly a good point. First of all many gamers seem to get put off by the poor single player races and just don’t bother playing online. Secondly when I did manage to get into a game, be it through online free mode or an actual race, the game just seemed to disconnect on me after a brief session. It’s frustrating like many other aspects of the game to see what should have been a great part of the game. The developers look to have been too interested in creating the biggest map in game history, rather than the main parts of a game that people care about.
Free mode is good. It’s actually quite fun. No rules, no stupid need to finish first, just the need to drive wherever you want. It is quite enjoyable for a while to just set a pointer on the map and try and get there as fast as possible. Searching for vista points are a good marker for this. It does after a while get a little tedious, but free mode is the best part of the game. It reminds me of Smugglers Run on the PlayStation 2 just driving around as I please. It’s just a shame that Smugglers Run, a PlayStation 2 game, was able to include 2 player offline where its Xbox 360 counterpart Fuel isn’t able to.
To conclude this review I leave you with a final thought and some advice. Fuel had the makings of a great game but just falls over too many hurdles. It is fun in free mode but that isn’t enough to nearly warrant a purchase. If you are looking for something to fill up some time rent Fuel as by the time the rental is finished, you’d have likely to have already stopped playing it.