While track-based racers are as popular as ever, their open-world competitors are becoming more and more commonplace. Burnout Paradise put you in a fictionalised open city, while Midnight Club: Los Angeles is going one step further by using a real-world location as its inspiration. However, neither one is as ambitious as Asobo's upcoming Fuel--a 100,000-square-mile racer with dynamic weather, alternate routes, and destructible environments. The game is published by Codemasters, and we were lucky enough to be able to get a first look before its unveiling at this year's Leipzig Games Convention.
Because the game is so ambitious, it has taken the developers a long time to put together both the technical and artistic resources. Asobo has toiled away on some high-profile Disney games, including Ratatouille and Wall-E, and because of those games' financial success, the studio has been able to invest in its labour of love. The team originally wanted to do something of a driving massively multiplayer game, but they eventually settled on the idea of a high-concept racer set in an alternate version of present-day North America. Natural resources are low, the world has become ravaged by global warming, and a small group of adrenaline junkies take advantage of the situation. They make the most of the desolate locations and freak weather conditions to take part in high-octane races all over the country, while being free to explore the rest of the land as they wish.
Fuel is still in the early stages of development, but we were lucky enough to see some of the first-ever footage of in-game action. Races will be multivehicle and multiroute affairs, with bikes, quads, trucks, muscle cars, SUVs, and "specials" all tearing up the track at the same time. We were shown images of a tornado ripping through a building, with the resulting debris forcing drivers to take a different route. The best path through each race will depend on your vehicle, but a dynamic global positioning system will show you the optimum routes based on the vehicle you've selected. And with 70 unique vehicles in total, there will be plenty of opportunity for tactical driving.
Global warming has produced quite a mix of environments in the game, with deserts, mountains, canyons, salt flats, forests, beaches, cliffs, and valleys in the roster of tracks. While the country hasn't been replicated exactly, Codemasters promises authentic North American landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, and the environmental damage system has allowed for some artistic license with the cities themselves. There will be plenty for you to explore, and realistic day and night cycles and weather such as torrential rain will provide some variation. Thankfully, you won't have to physically travel the entire breadth of the country just to move between races, because there will be a helicopter to take you between events in an instant.
Fuel's single-player game will be career-based, though at this stage we know only that there will be circuit races. You'll also be able to customise your character with tattoos when you win certain races, as well as create your own races on the fly to challenge friends online. The online mode will offer support for up to 16 players in total, and thankfully the two modes will integrate seamlessly so you'll be able to move back and forth without any interruption. Codemasters also promises postrelease support with new vehicles being made available via download. The only other thing we could ascertain at this stage is that fuel is an important part of your performance. And while you won't ever run out of petrol, the publisher hinted that it might be linked to your ability to boost.
As we mentioned, Fuel is still some way off its currently scheduled second-quarter 2009 release date, but it will be hitting the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the PC simultaneously. We're promised a studio tour sometime in Autumn during which we'll hopefully get to see more of the game in action, so we hope to bring you more on this incredibly ambitious racer soon.