Codemaster has managed to build quite a reputation when it comes to racing games. In 2007 we saw DiRT appear and a year later we already got to burn rubber with GRID on asphalt. And this year Codemasters launches yet another new title that comes with four letters, just like the previous ones: FUEL takes on Motorstorm, Pure and Baja and adds a 14.000km² open world to that. GRID was big, DiRT was bigger, but FUEL is too big! Bigger isn’t always better, so to speak.
Large open world is something we often see these days but the one from FUEL is really over the top. Fuel’s 14.440km² large playing ground, good for a record in the Guinness Book of Records Gamer’s Edition, is inspired by the many landscapes known in the US. There are areas filled with snow, dry plains, swamps, forests, deserts and vulcanic areas that Codemasters claims to have accurately recreated by using satellite images. Believe me, big is always nice but too big is plain irritating! In between two races you’ll literally spend 10 to 15 minutes on the road before you get to start your new race.
Luckily the world is divided into different zones that become available as you progress. As it would take too much time to drive from race to race there are so-called camps from which all races and challenges in that particular zone can immediately be started up. Next to that you can also buy new cars here, check your stats and adjust your driver to your liking. When winning races you also are rewarded with FUEL, aka the black gold.
Where in other games you get a small prize when ending second or third, FUEL is sadly enough ruthless. You’ll have to finish first or it’s “No FUEL for you”. The smallest error in a ten minute race can be a disaster.
The races can be divided into different kinds. There are the normal ones where you have to do laps, checkpoint races, point-to-point races and timeraces where you need to get from point A to point B within a certain timeframe. Next to that also some more original challenges are present like chasing a helicopter or ramming your opponents.
The number of vehicles is kept pretty limited. You have the choice between buggies, quads, bikes or racing cars. In total there are 70 that you can “tune” with some stickers or a new paint job. While choosing your vehicle in Motorstorm was very important, it doesn’t seem to have a lot of influence here. Also there’s no damage model present which makes crashes feel very unnatural.
Throughout the races you’re helped by your GPS, the pink arrows at the top. These point you, usually, to the fastest and most accessible route. Apparently the GPS had it difficult to nicely lay out your path as when it for some unexplainable reason doesn’t work, things go horribly wrong. Taking risks by not following the GPS is better to be avoided as before you know it you’ll end up in a ravine or river and need to replay the race.
The driving model isn’t bad but a bit simple and limited. I didn’t feel like driving with a buggy or quad through the woods, didn’t feel the grip lessen in snow and didn’t slow down in swampy areas. The controls are a bit rough and there’s clearly some delay between pushing the buttons and the reaction in the game. What I did like about FUEL were the beautiful weather effects that sometimes make the races more appealing. Hurricanes, tornados, heavy rain made for nice twists and variation. Also the day and night cycle is will done.
Just like all other racing games FUEL has a multiplayer mode that can have up to 16 players. Here you can race just like in single player, but you can also get to work with the mission editor. With this you can make your own track at any time by means of adding checkpoints. I did have difficulty to log in and got kicked from the servers multiple times during a race. A big absense in FUEL is the lack of splitscreen multiplayer so that the game can only be played against others online.
Graphically the game looks pretty standard. The different environments look empty and abandoned and the vehicles can even be called ugly. The large world is paid with pretty long loading times but once you’re in a certain zone you won’t get any additional ones. Both the soundtrack, consisting of boring guitar tracks, and the sounds of the vehicles are below average.
FUEL had it all on paper. A huge playing world, extra obstacles thanks to the weather effects and the fast, exciting races. What we finally got was an offroad racer with a huge but pretty empty world with dull races and beautiful weather effects. The multiplayer is a bit simple, the AI is dumb and audiovisually the game falls short. If you’re a big fan of offroad racers and haven’t had enough of Motorstorm, Pure and other similar games then FUEL might be able to catch your interest. For all others amongst you, you can leave this one be on the store shelves.