Fuel Updated Hands-On

We take another spin through this climate-changed vision of the American West.

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Fuel (2009)
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It's fair to say that the sandbox racing genre hasn't taken off as quickly as action games set in a similarly open environment. But Burnout Paradise proved it could be done quite well, so now we're beginning to see more open-world racers come join the fray. One of the more intriguing examples is Fuel, a sandbox racer being developed in France by Asobo Studio and set to be released by racing megapublisher Codemasters. In it you pilot a variety of vehicles through a massive map depicting a variety of Western United States natural landmarks in the nasty, climate-changed future. We took an extensive look at the game last month during a visit to the developer's studio, though recently an updated build was shown off here in San Francisco at a Codemasters press event.

You can get the full rundown on Fuel in our most recent hands-on preview. Essentially, the game takes place in a giant map that covers 5,000 square miles of terrain. It's a diverse environment that encompasses all manner of settings, from dense forests to barren beaches with the rusted skeletons of cargo ships washed ashore. It's a big grab bag of natural landmarks plucked from the Western US, including Oregon's Crater Lake, Washington's Mt. Rainier, Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, and Arizona's Grand Canyon. The scope is hard to put into words, but with a 40-kilometer draw distance, it's definitely a sight to behold.

The future is bleak.
The future is bleak.

So while the gameworld is a huge mash-up of rolling outdoor terrain that you can explore however you like in a free roaming mode, the career races take on a more traditional approach. The bulk of the races seem to be point-to-point checkpoint events where you'll be navigating from one glowing red column to the next, while some of the others we saw are circuit events that have you running several laps around the same area. In the case of checkpoint events, these points are usually spread pretty far apart, so you've got a good deal of room to navigate how you'd like to get to the next one. This usually involves a combination of sticking to the road or trail while, in the back of your head, weighing the pros and cons of darting through shortcuts that always seem to be taunting you. We had a lot of fun barreling down steep cliffs with a checkpoint at the bottom when the in-game GPS advised taking a series of cautious switchback trails, or cutting through a dense forest when told to stick to the asphalt road veering around it.

One of the neat things about that GPS system--a series of red arrows floating overhead--is how it adapts depending on what sort of car you're driving. It doesn't just have an ideal line for each race; it has an ideal line for which type of vehicle you're driving and how you're driving it. For example, because motorcycles can scale hills much easier than a sedan, you'll be instructed to take the occasional uphill cut between tracks while on a bike that you wouldn't get in another vehicle. And with 70-plus vehicles spanning different classes, like motorcycles, dune buggies, quads, muscle cars, and monster trucks, you'll have lots of vehicles to choose from.

At this point, the big question you might be asking is why place the game in an open-world setting if all the races are fixed events. That's where user-created races come into play. You can create your own events by dropping checkpoints anywhere on the map, so if you want to do an uphill endurance race straight up Mt. Rainier or a lap around Crater Lake, that's well within your means. These can then be shared online with others, and you can take part in 16-player online matches. But, as mentioned before, you're also given the ability to explore around at will.

So far, we like what we've seen of Fuel. Its artistic design is especially impressive, though one big flaw we've noticed is that the frame rate really chugs during big events. Still, it's a unique take on the off-road racing genre, and we're excited to get the chance to explore the entire gameworld. It's due for release on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 this May.

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