Review – Fuel
So this is odd. Fuel is another one of these extreme racing things that involve off-road vehicles riding along dangerously slippy tracks whilst generic instrumental rock blares out in the background. Even your rider starts off bare-chested and with a big, stupid tribal tattoo running down his torso so you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘fuck off, I’ll stick with MX vs ATV/Pure/Baja (delete as appropriate)’ seeing as how they all do the same job and at a slightly lower price due to their age.
Indeed when it got announced no-one here at PEOWW was particularly arsed about playing it and that became even more the case when the reviews started rolling in. Lukewarm praise and lots of criticism has seen this game averaging around 70% in the gaming press and, as everyone knows, most of these places treat 70 as the average so things really didn’t look good for Fuel. Indeed, regulars will notice we’ve had to outsource the counterpoint review to a guest reviewer. Truly this game just isn’t getting the love.
This is the thing though, Fuel is excellent. The racing is clearly meant to be the main focus of the game, and we’ll talk about it in more detail later, but the real draw of Fuel is the game world. Set in 5000 square miles of American terrain, Fuel allows you to leave the competitive racing world behind for a while and just go riding. Pick a point far, far in the distance, turn off your GPS and ride for miles. These trips are staggeringly long to the point that a thirty minute ride will barely register on the zoomed-out game map.
When combined with the game’s sped-up day/night cycle the views become stunning. From seeing the sunset over a lake, to speeding through a forest fire at night on a motorbike (in first-person view of course) to seeing thundering, orange skies from deep in a canyon there’s always a reason to stop and stare. You don’t have to do this (all the races and challenges are avaiable from the main menu when you’ve unlocked them) but you should.
Within the game world there are various collectibles such as oil cans (‘fuel’ is currency in this game for purchasing new vehicles), liveries (paint jobs for the various vehicles) and vista points (unlock them and then drive there to get a really nice view of the game world, they act as teleport points also) so it is worth your while having a drive around. Of course, eventually you’ll want to participate in some actual races especially as completing them unlocks the collectibles in new areas (although you can always drive to those areas in the meantime).
The racing is definately good fun with the various vehicles (bikes, buggies, trucks and cars) all handling nicely and with some tense and enjoyable races to participate in. Each race can be tackled at one of three difficulties with the harder ones unlocking more stars (which in turn unlock the new areas).
What’s not as tasty is the slightly bizarre AI which seems to be directly affected by your vehicle’s progress in an almost rubber-banding fashion. At the start of the race, these opponents will literally leave you choking in their dust as they speed off into the very nice sunset. However, if you can stop yourself from crashing into any trees you’ll eventually catch up and by the end of the race you’ll, inexplicably, be twice as fast as them. Although if you so much as clip the scenery near the end they’ll be uncatchably fast again. I’ve had so many odd race outcomes that it’s beginning to feel a bit random and often when I’ve won a race it’s been by big margin after several near-misses and I’m not sure I can think of a reason why I’ve done so much better.
One of the very best things you can do in life is take an American road trip, driving across the country, through desert and plains, over mountains and across vast expanses of flatland.
The trouble is, of course, is that it’s very expensive. Never fear, though, Fuel is here to help. Now you can indulge yourself any time you want, but this time you don’t have to stick to the roads. You can drive for countless hours without backtracking or hitting the edge of the map, you can see beautiful sights that, given the five-thousand square miles of the game map, you can be pretty sure nobody else has ever seen – and you can race.
If the free roaming is perfect for chilling out and kicking back, the races are full of tension and excitement as you struggle to hit the checkpoints, take risky shortcuts and hope you don’t fall into yet another lake. The combination of the racing and the roaming, which fit together perfectly, makes Fuel something truly special.
If you’ve ever longed for the freedom of the American road, this game is for you. Just make sure you set up custom soundtracks for the long drives and the lengthy load times between races.
Secondary Score: 9/10
Read more Fuel commentary from Rev at Invert Y here.
In the end you get a sense that the race really is between you and an undisclosed time limit. The AI will get in your way and pose the occasional challenge but if you can keep your speed up, plan your path wisely and not crash, the stars are yours for the taking. On the plus side, many of the races allow some scope for shortcuts and it can be well worth taking a detour from the asphalt and instead plough through woodlands as the crow might er… ride.
There is definately something satisfying about winning a race after navigating through trees like some petrol-head version of the Evil Dead but even when you have to stick to more traditional pathways, the racing is generally enjoyable especially if you drop in and out of them as a diversion from the main pursuit of chasing sunsets and hunting down collectibles.
Other minor annoyances include the rather intrusive, and yet oddly unreliable, GPS system, the sort of bland music that you’d expect on an advert about the benefits of wearing a cycling helmet and the minimal amount of traffic you get when free-riding but these are easily overlooked once the game grips you.
So what we have is a good extreme racing game set in a beautifully expansive gameworld. By setting races in various combinations of sunlight, vehicle type, terrain and weather there is enough variation to keep you interested. The whole here is arguably more than the sum of its parts and if the idea of yet another ‘gnarly’ racing game turns you off, imagine being able to see a huge mountain in the furthest depths of the game’s near-infinite draw distance and then setting off in that direction knowing that within a hour you might be watching thunderstorms from its summit.