Though the Xbox 360 isn't without its fair share of racers already, Sega and Toronto-based Pseudo Interactive's upcoming Full Auto puts a new spin on the familiar racing formula, explosions, and epic destruction. The game first debuted at last year's E3 and turned many a head with its flashy visuals and the fact that it was one of a handful of Xbox 360 games on display. We've kept tabs on the title's progress since then, through its appearances at assorted events, and we've been anxious to see just how it would come together. We finally had the chance to get an exclusive look at a near-final version of the game, which let us take a tour of all of the game's features.
Full Auto's premise is about as simple as they come in games: Race and blow things up. These two simple acts form the pillars of the game experience, and Pseudo has aimed to get a hefty amount of mileage out of them. You'll find a handful of modes in the game that fall into the expected categories. Your offline experience will include a career mode, which features races with different win conditions. When you complete each one, you'll earn different medals based on your performance, which in turn unlocks more content. You'll actually find a hefty amount of content, including new cars, weapon sets, and skins, as well as the next series of challenges. We're pleased by the inclusion of different weapon sets; the variety available certainly keeps things interesting.
For anyone looking for something a little lighter, an arcade mode will feature different race types such as circuit, point-to-point, down-and-back, and lap knockout. If you're looking for some human challenge, you can play split-screen with a friend or hop onto Xbox Live and participate in eight-player matches. You can customize multiplayer races by tweaking different parameters such as car class and starting conditions.
The game's control is easy to pick up and is user-friendly, which ensures that just about anyone can grab the controller and get to racin' and shootin' in no time. What takes a bit more acclimation are some of the specific mechanics that have been added to give the action some depth. The boost meter will let you enjoy short but powerful speed boosts that will let you pass opponents, or will simply get you back in the game if you get left too far behind the competition. To use it, you'll have to fill it by either getting air time or powersliding as you race. The weapons system, while simple to use, will become an element of the experience that you'll eventually want to use more strategically. Though you'll find stretches where it will be to your benefit to keep the fire down on your primary weapon's fire, you'll find nearly as many instances where you'll want to pick your shots a little more carefully to ensure maximum satisfaction.
The most significant element of the game is the unwreck feature, which lets you reverse time--typically, something you'll do when you've exploded and there are no extra lives during a race. While it may sound as though this would take all the urgency out of a race, think again. The unwreck meter must be filled by blowing things up. Although you'll have ample opportunity to do so, you'll also find yourself using unwreck a lot, which means you'll have to do some balancing in order to make sure you have some charge in your meter. After you get the hang of using it, you'll find it's pretty handy and a smart addition to the experience that keeps the pace going at a good clip.
As far as how the game handles, Full Auto, like Criterion's Burnout series, ends up offering an updated, arcadey experience. But whereas Burnout focuses on blistering speed with some well-placed car smashing and destruction, Full Auto is a marriage of speed and epic destruction. For the most part this is a pretty happy union, although having to keep an eye on your car's health, as well as the boost and unwreck meters, tends to keep you from totally losing yourself in the experience. The single-player modes we've tried tend to get a little monotonous after a while, although the multiplayer gives the game an exceptional amount of charm--demolishing opponents online never gets old. While split-screen is fine, Xbox Live will likely be the best place to appreciate the mode's appeal.
The visuals in the game are looking sharp, especially in their native 720p HD resolution, and offer a good variety of locales and scope. You'll tear through an assortment of tracks set in a variety of environments ranging from proper cities to roads that cleave through mountains. Though you'll be confined to a track, you'll find a fair amount of open areas and shortcuts to go through in a number of areas to satisfy those looking to do more than simply stick to the main path. The big thing about the tracks is the amount of interactivity you'll have with your surroundings. Pseudo's penchant for playing with physics is on good display in Full Auto; you'll be able to cause all sorts of mayhem over the course of a race by blowing up just about everything you see. Depending on factors such as the weapons you have on your car or the track you're racing on, you'll find that you'll be able to mess up just about anything with a few well-timed gun or missile blasts.
The other visual aspect of the game that threatens to steal the spotlight away from the destructible environments are the car models, which sport an exceptional amount of detail and, like the environments, can be messed up in dramatic fashion, be it a good, old-fashioned explosion, or having chunks of the body fly off as you come under fire. Though we'd obviously like to see the game purr along at a constant 60 frames per second and certainly hope its performance is tightened up some before it ships, we noted slowdown when things got insane with explosions and opponents onscreen. Though the game never becomes unplayable, we were bummed to see our beloved 60fps racers get bogged down.
The audio in the game is a muscular collection of music and sound effects that duke it out pretty evenly over the course of a race. The most prominent element in Full Auto's audio is the roar of your car's engine, which threatens to drown out just about everything else. The engine noise, coupled with the visuals, really helps sell the sense of speed in the game. The weapons tie for second with the game's soundtrack, depending on the weapon set you have equipped on your car. The different sets of arms you can use let out a satisfying array of effects that lean toward going over the top, which is fine. The downside to the default sound mix, which tends to favor the engine and weapon effects, is that you'll have to strain a bit to hear the game's soundtrack. Pseudo is trying an adaptive approach to scoring the experience that aims to offer a unique sound mix every time you race. Though some of the differences are subtle, we're intrigued by the possibilities it offers.
Based on what we played, Full Auto is shaping up to be solid entry in the Xbox 360 library. The game's arcade-style base is built up with a good assortment of bells and whistles that gives it a breezy sense of fun. Though the single-player game feels a bit one-dimensional after a while, the ability to unlock content as you go helps keep it rewarding. However, Full Auto's multiplayer mode is likely to be what keeps players coming back, with its engaging array of modes. If you're looking for a fast arcade-style racer with a twist, you'd do well to keep an eye out for Full Auto when it ships next month. For more on the game, check out our video page for the first in a series of video diaries exploring its development.