Fuel is a free roaming racing game released in 2009 by Asobo Studio and Codemasters. You may know about this game through its title, because before it was released, Fuel was declared to have the “Largest playable environment in a console video game” by Guinness World Records. Unfortunately not even this achievement could help the game; it was overshadowed by the release of Dirt 2, and only sold a few hundred-thousand copies.
As mentioned before, this is a free roam racing game with a world slightly larger than the state of Connecticut. In case you’re not a major in geography, that’s over five-thousand square miles of fully explore-able and diverse terrain with no load times in between areas. Within that area there are seventy races, nearly two-hundred challenges, and seventy-five vehicles to utilize. The game advertises “fearsome weather” but other than a single race which featured tornadoes, it seems like that “fearsome weather” just means it rains occasionally.
Being the biggest game ever is all well and good, but how is the racing? Vehicles range from dirt bikes and sports cars to monster trucks and the vast majority of them handle well and are a joy to drive. Unfortunately, the actual racing isn’t executed as well. I noticed fairly early on that the AI opponents race the same way every time. They will always make the same mistakes and never realize you’re there. By the end, I even began to notice that I would pass them at the same point I had last time through. The game honestly began to feel more like a series of time trials rather than a heated race between die-hard racers. It never felt fun during the races; it felt like a chore to unlock more areas and vehicles. It may be more fun to race online with real people, but regrettably, I was unable to find anyone playing.
Fortunately, the free ride was extremely fun. I cannot express how amazing it is to just pick a vehicle and drive wherever you want. Climb a mountain, drive through the desert, and speed along a curvy road. It was a nice change of pace to just enjoy the scenery; plus there is an online free ride mode so you can enjoy your ride with friends. And no need to worry about the long distances, the game features a quick travel system to visit places you’ve already been to as well as races.
I wasn’t floored by the graphics, but I did enjoy the astronomical draw distance, unique vehicle designs, and the sheer size and diversity of the world. Because even though the textures aren’t very impressive, it was nice to be able to see for miles around and know that you could actually drive there. Asobo Studio wasn’t lazy with the vehicles either, there’s just about any kind of vehicle you can think of and they all look awesome. The one thing I was disappointed with were the load times. It takes one to pick a storage device, one to load the menu, one to enter the world, and one more for every time you respawn. That means I sometimes had load screens during a race, which is absolutely unacceptable. Now these loading screens were never too long, normally under fifteen seconds, but it completely breaks the flow of the game.
The story isn’t special, but it gives you a reason why thousands of miles of roads are abandoned. In an alternate present, vast areas within America are labeled “no-go” areas due to extreme weather because of global warming. Modern society has shunned fossil fuels in favor of new clean energy resources, but not everyone wants to give up fuel. Adrenaline junkies now gather in these abandoned areas to race their gas-powered, garage-tuned, machines. Of course, you have to read the manual to know that. The story is never really mentioned in-game, but this doesn’t really bother me since racing games tend to be light on the story anyway.
Fuel doesn’t do anything unique with the controls: right trigger is to go, left trigger is to brake and reverse, X is hand brake, Y is reset/respawn, and start is to pause. It’s nothing new, but then again, “if it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The vehicles handle just right, somewhere in-between realistic and arcade style. There’s just enough sliding to make the hard turns, but not too much to spin out every time you hit something.
Sound is a real mixed bag, because although the vehicle sounds are good, there’s no licensed music. Only generic guitar riffs that will repeat throughout the entire game. It’s not as bad as it sounds, the guitar riffs are decent, but it would have been nice to have some actual licensed songs. The engines, for the most part, sound good. There are a few exceptions where the smaller vehicles are concerned, but it’s understandable since they would have less horsepower.
I really didn’t find any moral problems with this game; vehicles bumping into each other is about as violent as it gets. If you crash, the game fades to black and resets you. There is no cursing in-game, though I did see h#ll written once. It wasn’t something most people would see, but it was still there. Honestly though, you would see worse than this from a NASCAR race on TV.
Fuel is an interesting case, because although the actual “game” part isn’t fun, it’s an absolute joy to roam the world, traveling from one picturesque view to the next. Although other people may enjoy the racing, I know I didn’t. But I know I did love the free ride, and I wish I had friends who had this game. If you or your kids love to just drive around, and you have some friends who are willing to try something, I would check this one out.