This expansive arcade racer may be ambitious, but it doesn't nail all of the basics.
- Hundreds of different challenges and career races
- Cool vistas and weather effects
- Some of the courses are clever and satisfying.
- A big open world with too little to do
- AI doesn't play by the rules
- Racing lacks thrills.
Fuel is an ambitious game that tries to do a lot, but it doesnít deliver where it counts. There's a lot to like in this postapocalyptic, open-world driving game. Some of the races are cool and clever, there are a mind-boggling number of different courses and dozens upon dozens of different vehicles to drive, and the atmospheric environmental effects make for some fun moments. Yet by focusing on the bigger picture, developer Asobo Studios didn't nail down some of the basics that make for fun driving. The racing doesn't feel as thrilling as it should, the artificial intelligence is fundamentally flawed, and the enormous world gives you precious little to do in it. There's a great game struggling to emerge here, but Fuel's strengths are too often overshadowed by its shortcomings.
Fuel's greatest asset--and biggest liability--is its sprawling open world. Every career event and optional challenge is carved out of the enormous, often gorgeous landscapes. There are hundreds of offline races in which to partake, and none of them are exactly the same. Some of these courses, like the occasional circuit race, are cleverly designed and fun to compete in. Circuit standouts include a bridge littered with ramps and debris, and a course that cuts a winding path through an abandoned farm. Some of the longer, broader courses are also designed well and are even exciting on occasion. Racing a motorcycle down the steep inclines of a rocky cliff and improvising a shortcut through a dense forest (and emerging unscathed) are terrific and memorable moments. It's a staggering number of races--and a healthy list of challenge types as well. There are checkpoint challenges in which you have limited time to get from one point to the next; helicopter chases that encourage you to look for good shortcuts; seek-and-destroy chases in which you need to catch up to and eliminate AI opponents that are given a head start; and plenty more.
Shortcuts are the key to winning most races, though you can't get too carried away with them, lest you miss a checkpoint or try to zoom into the woods in a vehicle that performs better on asphalt. Generally, but not always, the AI racers will stick to the obvious path indicated by Fuel's waypoint system (more on this later), giving you a chance to get creative. And creative you'll need to be when it comes to leaving the bizarre AI in the dust. Simply put, the laws of physics that apply to you have only a vague influence on your artificial competitors. The AI racers seem practically glued to the road at times, taking corners without much drifting and avoiding most obstacles. You may see a motorcycle get stuck against a cliffside and then leap dozens of feet in the air onto the path above. Sometimes, competitors will burst forward at insane speeds, or they'll run out of steam in the last mile of a race, letting you pass right by when they seemed capable of impossible speeds a moment before.
The artificial intelligence doesn't seem to be "rubber band" AI, where the competition is meant to stay close to you and provide a sense of competitive excitement. For example, in endurance races you might take an early lead and race 10 miles without glimpsing another vehicle. Rather, "cheating" seems to be a more appropriate term. As a result, Fuel's difficulty level is all over the place. An easy shortcut in the early moments might lead to a quick lead that you'll never relinquish. At other times, you might seemingly deliver a perfect race, yet still manage to lose. This isn't always because of the AI, however. A few checkpoint and timed challenges are too punishing, requiring not just perfection, but ultraperfection. Mistakes are made even more costly by one more element: To make progress, you must finish first. This inconsistency of challenge can be infuriating, because you might cruise along for a few satisfying races, only to hit a roadblock. You can choose the lowest of three difficulty levels if you're having trouble getting past a particular career race, but doing so earns you fewer stars, which in turn slows down career progression.
Ironically, the enormous postapocalyptic wastelands that inspire the incredible variety of courses and vistas also make Fuel's open-world exploration its least engaging feature. It's certainly a gigantic world--5,000 square miles, according to the manual. But it's a gigantic world that gives you very little reason to explore it. You'll discover liveries that earn you new vehicle designs and paintjobs, and vista points that will also lead to unlockable items. These are scant rewards, however, for the long drives through the lonely world required to get to these scattered locales. You can make things less lonely by taking your free roaming online, in which case you'll encounter other players wandering about in the vicinity. It can be a bit more enjoyable to group up with friends or even strangers this way and go hunting for rogue AI drivers together. However, even adding some buddies to the mix can't disguise that there simply isnít much to do while free-roaming. It begs the question: Why bother creating such a huge wasteland, if you don't give players much reason to explore it? Certainly, no one would play a massively multiplayer online game if all you could do was jog around looking for new clothing designs.
Perhaps if the driving were more exciting, checking out the world would be a bit more interesting. Fuel's driving model isn't bad--it's just unspectacular. Some of the vehicles are really fun to drive, such as the cool-looking Deathwing quad bike or the bouncy Knightmare dune buggy. Yet while there are occasional exceptions (screaming down the side of a mountain in your Shuriken), racing doesn't feel fast or thrilling. You might glance down at your speedometer to see that you're zooming along at 90 miles per hour, but it doesn't feel like you're going that fast. This is due to a combination of factors: the way the AI vehicles don't bounce and drift around as you would expect, the minimal blur effects, and the passable engine noises that are too frequently interrupted by ticks and sputters. The circuit courses feature more clutter, so they offer a better sense of momentum than the more barren courses, because there are more objects rushing past you than just bushes and sand.