Imagine yourself in post apocalyptic environment, as a helicopter with a mad-max style vehicle suspended below is lowered down to grind up the terrain with numerous paths to overtake your opponents while making your way to checkpoints or the finish line. Thats sorta what it is like with Codemasters recent release of FUEL.
FUEL has you participating in career races and challenges through out 19 different Camps that are unlocked as you win. The races themselves give you fuel for winning which has become scarce due to the fact fossil fuels are being shunned for sustainable living, but even with limited supplies it is also used to purchase your vehicles as you progress through the game. In some races its not only the fuel thats won but yet different gear for your driver, Maverick Spottings - good luck with these as you hunt a vehicle down in an attempt to ram it and add it to you collection or receive notification of a Doppler truck to relay map details of a camp to you.
Offering a driver editor, FUEL allows you to customize how your person looks with the gear on. It is not over the top but kept simple and to the point allowing for gear to be put on the riders head, chest and legs if you wish. You could be the adrenaline junkie and just go without and endure the punishment of the elements. Along the lines of customization that is also available for the 70+ vehicles you will gain access to, motorcycles - quads - monster trucks/Rigs - and buggies to name a few, allowing for livery to be applied in different colors and body panels sprayed with preset colors. While exploring around each camp you can find 100+ liveries on vehicles that have raced their last races, abandoned to take and show off on yours.
Something else that you will discover when in Free Ride is that there is ramps/jumps that have oil barrels on them. Essentially the barrels are located in certain areas through out the camps giving you additional fuel when found. There is 500 of them in total to run across in your journey so keep an eye out, because depending on the time of day it could be hard to see with a full night and day cycle. This triggers your lights to come on shedding some light onto the scene allowing you to continue through the great beyond.
Once you get into FUEL you will quickly learn that there is no real set direction for the gameplay, which is your career. There is no bio on any of your opponents or hype as to who might be a rival or winning racer for that camp. IT would be nice to really have purpose to what you are doing to add character and depth. Only thing you know is to race hard and fast and come in first place as any other positions gets you nothing but a retry. Controls are straight forward and easy to get used to just like many of your driving games, right trigger gas, left trigger brake-held for reverse, X for handbrake, Y respawn/reset, right analog to look around and left analog to steer. This is also very useful in correcting your vehicle in mid-air for a great landing.
Challenges are another way of earning more go-go juice if you dont want to run through a career race. The variety ranged from a Knock Out race, Blitz-time attack through checkpoints and beat the clock, Endurance - Race from point A to B and outlast and out perform the opponent or take out your rivals by any means necessary in Seek N Destroy. Speed Runs were cool as you try to get to the Finish marker in a set amount of time, which was similar to the Chopper Chase where you had to find the best line across the map to reach the helipad first.
Bringing up helipads they can be useful in getting around from camp to camp quickly instead of driving the entire way across the map. A Chopper picks you up and drops you off at the desired helipad, unless you just want to Free Roam and pull up the map, back button, and set a destination and you will get the GPS arrows to help lead the way. The GPS arrows will definitely come in handy during the majority of the races/challenges that you encounter, its your friend to guide you.
Free Roam not only allows you to take in the wonderful environment of FUEL but does so with Vista points that give breathtaking views of the world. A birds eye view of the havoc on the land and the rolling hills and make-shift paths that cut through them. Much brush have been burnt or still burning, debris scattered about everywhere as obstacles to slow your roll. During some races you may encounter a severe thunderstorm with lightning streaking the skies and thunder crashing as a funnel forms and a tornado touches down thrashing and throwing around objects. The visuals are what you would expect from Codemasters, detailed and crisp but I did encounter some framerate issues at times while in races with a lot going on which was a letdown and during some of the big storm sequences.
Maybe after the Challenges and Career races you want to change it up a bit you can enter into the Race Editor and create a race of your own on whatever camp you might find as your favorite. Once you have gone through and set checkpoints through out your course you can then see how well you stack up to your design. Once saved these races can be accessed and played with your friends online to find out who will come out victorious.
The multi-player portion of the game allows you to join up with other to Free Ride a camp and mess around, exploring the 5,000 miles of North America that has been scaled out, but the ability to race all of the career tracks to test your skills. Choosing between Ranked or Player matches, depending on what sort of challenge you are seeking, then pop into a Quick Race or look for a particular mode. Racing against others over XBL is definitely a bit more challenging then the A.I. offered up in gameplay.
Overall I was hoping for a bit more with this title from Codemasters especially after playing DiRT and seeing how they did the interactive load menus as a great visual during loads which wasnt present here. The load screens were plain at best and ran some general stats along the bottom but not the cool stuff seen in their other racers. FUEL is a very cool world thats been designed nicely with some great weather effects although lacks some depth in the gameplay to really draw you in like I really wanted.
Suggestions: The only things that would come to mind would be to have added some background to the racers or stats to compete with and not just coming in first and moving to the next race/challenge. Also for all of the great territory and land covered in a race why not have a replay to watch the action unfold afterwards.