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August 11, 2009
Fuel - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
23/6/2009AtariCodemastersASOBO Studio12-16
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Not the most exciting screenshot of Fuel!
If there's any one game genre that is already well-cared for on the PS3 it's racing. The off-road racing sub-genre has a couple of gems too; both of the Motorstorm's as well as Pure, which was one of Futuregamez' favourite (and most under-rated) games of 2008. Into this crowded market comes Fuel, developed by ASOBO Studio who is better known for movie-to-game tie-ins like The Mummy, Ratatouille and Wall-E. Have ASOBO Studio produced a game that can challenge Motorstorm or Pure for off-road supremacy?

Fuel is set on an alternate-present Earth which has been ravaged by climate change; so much so that large chunks of America has become unpopulated wasteland. Some brave souls have decided to stick around though, and despite the scarcity of oil, these people like to pass time by staging off-road races with fuel as the prize for victory. It's a somewhat flimsy premise, but given storyline is not too important in a racing game, it can be largely over-looked.

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Racing through the wastelands.
The primary game mode in Fuel is Career, where you partake in races, challenges or simply drive around on your own, exploring the land. The land is broken up into zones and each zone has its own races and challenges. Any available race can be undertaken in Rookie, Expert or Legend difficulty, and winning a race will give you fuel as well as a star. Fuel is the in-game currency used to buy new vehicles, of which there are over seventy available. Stars are used to unlock new zones – the more stars you obtain, the more zones you can compete in, and thus the more races and challenges available to you.

Challenges offer up bigger prizes as well as a variety of different race-types. There's your standard "get from point A to point B any way you can within the time-limit" challenge, whilst others will have you racing against helicopters, or chasing down rival vehicles or perhaps even endurance races which can take upwards of half an hour to complete.

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Racing on the Quad bikes.
Fuel's primary selling-point, and the way it tries to differentiate itself from its rivals, is the huge open-world environment - according to the back of the box there's over fourteen-thousand square kilometers to explore in-game. If that sounds like a lot, trust me, it is. In fact Fuel is in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest playable area in a console game.

Aside from the career mode Fuel can be taken online where up to sixteen people can compete in races or free-roaming exploration. The online experience is not too bad (when you can find a game) – there wasn't much lag or jumpiness in my experiences.

The biggest issue with Fuel is the disconnect between the games central idea – that is, the huge open-world – and its implementation. There may be a massive world to explore, but there's very little reason to explore it. It is entirely possible to ignore the world outside of the races and challenges altogether because you can move between races, challenges and even zones via the in-game menu once they've been unlocked.

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The game looks nice here, but...
Potentially you are intended to fully explore zones in your own time in order to unlock more races and challenges, or to find collectibles like liveries (paint-jobs for your vehicles) and "Vista Points" (a location with a nice view that can be teleported to anytime). However the majority of races and challenges will be unlocked by competing in the already available events and a new livery or vista point simply doesn't justify the ten or more minutes you'll have to spend driving to it. The landscapes themselves are not interesting enough to make you want to spend your time driving aimlessly through them - there may be four square kilometers of forest in the game, but once you've seen a few hundred meters of it in a race, you've seen all you need to.

The in-game map is not much use when exploring either – the area you can see on it is quite limited, and all tracks; be they paved or dirt are shown, making it very difficult to plot a suitable path to any unlockable item. Before long you'll give up on searching for (the mostly trivial) unlockables and just stick to moving around via the in-game menu.

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Another PS3 Fuel screen.
And if we take away the uniqueness of the open-world, we're left with a standard racer and unfortunately the racing is not particularly engaging. Competing in the Rookie or Expert-level races will be too easy for most people, with few of them taking more than one attempt to complete. Legend difficulty is a lot tougher, but the fact that you have to win a race to receive any reward will quickly start to irritate, especially if you lose a particularly tight race.

The AI leaves a lot to be desired too. Your opponents will all zoom off the starting line only to fall away badly near the end of a race or once you hit the lead. There's not much in the way of jostling for position during a race as your opponents will allow you to speed by with no attempt to block your path. There were a number of times I wished I had a weapon or two to attack the enemy with to add some excitement, or some nitro for a well-timed boost, but alas neither of these are possible in Fuel.

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Getting some air in Fuel.
Graphically Fuel is decent without ever blowing you away. The game environment is massive and boasts a 40km draw distance, and whilst that certainly is impressive there's a lot of pop-up whilst driving, and just about everything is pixilated and lacking in texture as you get close. During races you'll see some symptoms of climate change up close and personal, like lightning storms, tornadoes, smoldering trees from bushfires, snow and sandstorms. Whilst the variety of weather is pleasing, graphically none of them are going to blow you away. Water-effects are alright, but there is nothing you haven't seen before, and better looking, elsewhere. There's a day and night cycle which is good to see, though there are no "ooh" and "aah" moments as night becomes day and vice-versa.

The sound was the most disappointing aspect of Fuel for me. There are some seventy-odd vehicles in Fuel, ranging from dirt bikes to dune-buggies to muscle cars, however if you expect any of them to sound different you're in for some disappointment. The entirety of the engine noises lack grunt or beefiness and sound something like a neighbor's lawnmower heard from behind closed doors at a fair bit of distance. The screeching sound of tires as you accelerate around corners is believable, if muted, whilst the sound of loose rock sliding as you power over it is handled well. The background music is decent enough, but certainly can't make up for the mundane engine noises.

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Another screen of Fuel on PS3.
Overall Fuel is not a bad game; it's just a completely unspectacular one. The only thing here that you won't have seen or played before is the huge open-world environment, but this has been rendered largely irrelevant by in-game navigation and a lack of appealing unlockables to track down. The racing isn't as engaging as you might like, and there are few, if any white-knuckle moments. The graphics are decent but you'll have seen much better elsewhere, whilst the sound is entirely disappointing. If you've played your way through the Motorstorm games and Pure and are desperate for some more off-road action, Fuel may entertain you for a while. Otherwise there better games out there that offer more thrills and spills than Fuel ever does.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSA huge open-world to explore with a 40km draw distance sounds impressive and is a technical achievement, but pop-up and pixilation bring it back to the pack. No “wow” moments either.
SOUNDEntirely disappointing. If you’ve ever heard a lawnmower at distance then you’ve heard all of Fuel’s engine noises. Music is ok.
GAMEPLAYA huge world to explore, but little reason to do it. Rival AI leaves something to be desired, but races are still fun at times.
VALUEThere’s a lot to do in Fuel, but the question is – will you want to? Probably not. Other, similar games are half the price now too.
OVERALLFuel has the misfortune of being released into a market with many exceptional titles, and despite the promise of the massive open-world, Fuel falls short of its rivals in every department. Not a bad game really, just inferior to what we’ve seen before.

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