image from fuel-game.com
“Surface specific handling” is named as one of the main features in the Vehicles section of FUEL’s official web site. Well I sure hope so, as every game I can remember from the past ten years has had surface specific handling. Ever driven off the track in any racing game? Slows you down, right? That’s surface specific handling.
Let’s get straight to the review. If you don’t know what FUEL is supposed to be, check the link above. FUEL is one of those games that sounds like a great concept but the final product is the opposite of what it should have been. A game where you can roam thousands of miles of land on quads, dirt bikes, race cars, buggies, trucks, etc. So where does it fail? Everywhere.
I’ll start with the vehicles. Some of them look like they’ve been built from trash picked up in a post- apocalyptic dumpster. That’s fine, but what theme are they going for here? What’s with all the broken, rusted cars on the sides of the roads? How do they fit in? This certainly isn’t the worst part of the game, but it just doesn’t make much sense.
Next part is the gameplay. It feels like a Wii port. The gameplay is way past arcade style; it’s like arcade dumbed down for five year olds. You can make 180 degree u-turns going 110mph on a dirt bike. Every time you even touch the left or right arrow keys to turn, the screen violently turns and the vehicle you’re using makes a sharp swerve, almost as if trying to turn off the trail. Going downhill, you’ll accelerate from 80 to 90 miles an hour in one second, and then it suddenly stops accelerating and you can’t go one mile faster, even though you’re going down a 70 degree cliff. Grand Theft Auto (the first one. yes, the one that was two-dimensional.) has more realistic handling and gameplay.
How can it get worse? The sounds. Engine noises sound nothing like engines. Every time a vehicle reaches redline, it makes this dumb clicking noise which sounds nothing like a rev limiter or an engine that’s reached max RPM. It sounds like a clock ticking, but about fifty times faster. And that’s another thing, nothing actually stops at redline. All vehicles rev past redline, almost to the end of the gauge, then shift up, then the arrow shoots back to a bit past redline and it continues. It only switches gears when it’s way past redline. And there is no manual option, so you’re stuck with this. The in-game music is also horrible. You don’t expect much good music from games, but this is some of the most boring generic music I’ve heard. I’d rather listen to static from an old analog TV.
And then there is the actual racing part. You’re one minute behind the first one or two computer controlled riders, and then 500 feet before the finish line you always somehow blow past them. This happens in every race. The AI players accelerate too fast for the vehicle they’re using and you can’t catch up no matter the shortcuts you take, and then when you’re getting closer to the finish line you easily pass them. The AI is also pretty dumb, trying to climb hills on sharp turns and getting stuck, running into trees and obstacles, etc.
Bugs. At least I think they are. So far I’ve managed to go through a guard rail and through a building. I’ve also went through some trees, jumped off of others, bounced off of some, and crashed into the rest. Most crashes automatically respawn you, so the damage you get is pretty much pointless. I’ve also crashed while landing a jump onto flat land with both wheels level – as soon as I touched the ground, it respawned me. I’ve also been respawned once for no reason at all – I was going straight on a paved road and all of a sudden I get respawned. And no I’m not pressing the respawn key accidentally because I remapped all the keys. The stock key configuration was completely idiotic. Space was gas, Ctrl was brake, Zero on the number pad was handbrake, and turning was with the arrow keys. And on the menu, you have to press T and Y to switch between the menu items and you can’t remap those keys. That’s completely stupid.
Graphics are usually important to me in a game. The graphics in FUEL are good yet bad at the same time. Sitting ten feet back from your computer screen the game looks great. However, if you take a look at normal viewing distance, the textures are blurry, antialiasing just makes everything look blurry, a lot of edges aren’t antialiased at all, the vehicle tires don’t look like they make any contact with the ground, and I could go on about more minor things. To top it off, the game won’t even let you change the settings, so I don’t even know if I’m running at full settings or not. There are only four choices apart from the resolution, antialiasing, and filtering, and they are normal maps, dirt maps, occlusion, and shadow maps.
In conclusion. The vehicles look fun and there’s a big selection, but a lot of them are just weird and don’t make sense in the setting and theme. Gameplay sucks big time and it feels like this was designed for little kids to play on their Wiis. The sounds are terrible and boring. Racing makes the AI do stupid things, and the AI is stupid in general. The game is full of bugs and stupid things you can’t control but should be able to, like auto-respawn, manual or auto transmission, etc. Graphics look bad except when you’re racing, which makes them the best part of the game. And that’s not saying much because they still look worse than GRID or DIRT, Codemasters’s previous two racing games. I also didn’t mention anywhere that the open world is pointless. There’s nothing to do that’s actually fun, and 97% of the land is the same. You can’t do any tricks when getting air (yet the game automatically does tricks for you for some reason).
My grade: 3/10. If you’re looking for something fun, go play Twisted Metal. If you’re looking for a racing game, play NFS, GRID, DIRT, etc. If you want to roam about offroad and do stunts on ATVs, dirt bikes, cars, trucks, and the rest, go play GTA. FUEL is a waste of time, and I will be uninstalling it shortly. The concept sounds great but the game fails at everything it tries to do.