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Fuel (PlayStation 3) artwork

Fuel (PlayStation 3) review

" The sense of freedom is incredible. Like a good improv actor, the game always says “yes” to you."

What attracted me to look into playing Fuel was the size of its open world and its setting. The game is set in what I would describe as a much happier version of Mad Max. Global warming and such has ravaged much of the planet. Violent weather changes have made much of the world uninhabitable, especially the wide open spaces of deserts, mountains, and forests. Humanity has made out pretty good though, with a huge majority of the world's inhabitants seeking refuge in big cities that are now functioning on green technology. The game focuses on a group of daredevils who have secured some of the last drops of fossil fuel and headed out to the dangerous great outdoors to have some fun, organizing races, challenges, and scavenger hunts over a huge amount of open country, all in the name of one last hurrah for off-roading, gasoline, and motorsports.

The scale of this open-world racer is truly mind-boggling. Let's take a look at some popular recent open world games and compare. Fallout 4 comes in at 43 square miles. GTA 5 is 49 square miles. The Witcher 3 just about doubles those to at 84 square miles. Just Cause 3 goes to 400 square miles. How much bigger do you think Fuel is??? Believe it or not, it is 5,560 square miles!! I can't believe how tiny it makes other games seem. It could fit like 10 Just Cause 3's inside it with room to spare!! And it all really is one giant functioning area. Unbelievable.

This giant open-world map is divided into many large territories. Each one contains 3-6 career races, 10 challenges, and numerous things to find, including breathtaking vista points, liveries on hidden vehicles, and also moving targets such as trucks that contain the location of other hidden stuff, and mavericks, which are bonus vehicles you can add to your collection... if you can catch them. There is really no wrong way to play Fuel, but let me tell you how I progressed through the game.

First, I would take on a territory's career races. This is the only part of the game that you truly have to do, as you must win at these races to unlock new territories. These are the game's prestigious main events. Typically each territory has a few checkpoint races, where you race cross-country from point A to point B while hitting all the checkpoints. There might also be a race that involves doing laps around a checkpoint-ed circuit. Because these races are built right into the open-world, you can literally drive anywhere. If you wanted to, you could literally just go off course and drive for 50 miles away from the race. What this means practically is that any kind of short cut you can imagine is possible during a race, as long as you hit all the checkpoints. If you notice on your mini-map that the road that leads to the next checkpoint is a round-about way to get there, and your vehicle is mighty enough to drive straight across the giant hill in the way, go for it, you can knock a huge amount of time off your route. This might sound abusable, and in some races it totally is, but in general the game is really balanced in the way you can and cannot use shortcuts. Driving on a paved road or a dirt path is much faster than driving purely off road, so you have to plan your shortcuts wisely. If you aren't in a vehicle with a high off-road stat, you can forget about most shortcuts. If you are in a really good off-road vehicle, you still have to plan wisely. If you don't nail your shortcut, the opponents who stick to the road might beat you to the punch, especially if you hit a tree as you try to crash through the forest. You also might need to hit a hill at a really high rate of speed to make sure you get over it in a timely manner. There is a lot to consider when taking shortcuts off the beaten path, and it took me many hours to truly master when I should head off as the crow flies and when I should stay on path.

Career races are some of the most challenging events in the game, especially if you crank the AI all the way. I recommend you do this if you are an experienced racing game player, or if you want to be one. The AI is tricky and won't give up. It is able to come back from big leads, or leave you miles behind in the dust, and even do nasty maneuvers to run you off the road or steal the lead from you seconds before you hit the finish line.

Aiding you in most races and when you are exploring the world is your GPS. If you are out exploring, it points you to a point of your choosing on the map. If you are in a race, it points you to the next checkpoint. It is represented by a stream of arrows floating overhead, following the path it thinks you should take. Learning to read what the GPS is telling you about what turn to take next is an art form, and one you'll need to master in order to succeed. Another art form is learning when to ignore it. Much like a real GPS, the one in this game will often tell you to take what is obviously a slower (or totally nonsensical) route. If you're paying attention to the mini-map in the corner, you'll often see a little side path that might get you where you need to be quicker. It takes a long time to learn how to pay attention to the actual environment, the GPS, and the mini-map all at once, but after hours of practice and racing, it is an amazing feeling to multi-task the different information you are getting from the mini-map, the floating arrows of the GPS, and your view of the trails ahead of you to make informed decisions about where to go in the split-seconds of a heated race.

You might be asking what kind of vehicles you can race in the game. There are many different types and a ridiculous amount of vehicles to choose from (over 70, I believe). They range from off-road buggies and dirtbikes to souped up muscle cars and street racing bikes to four-wheelers and big Hummer-style SUV's and all the way up to monster trucks, and everything in-between. The selection is really great, and most vehicles have a quite a different feel and level of performance between them. The mechanical design here is also great. There are no licensed vehicles, but there are quite a few familiar designs as well as many really great looking originals, all with a very, very subtle near future and off-road-centric twist (basically meaning that even the least-off road street racing car still doesn't have windows).

After completing career races, I would next do the area's challenges. These consist of varied events, from racing against a helicopter to chasing down racers and ramming them, to long (20+ mile) endurance races with only a handful of checkpoints. There are also various types of time trials, including the crazy challenging blitz events, which gives you just a few seconds to get the each checkpoint or you lose instantly. Many of the more straightforward challenges are pretty easy and you will blaze through them, but a handful of them, especially the blitz events, require you to basically memorize a long track and perform almost flawlessly on it. Those are frustrating but also extremely satisfying to get right.

Lastly, in each territory I would seek out the stuff you can find, the hidden liveries and vista points. This involves catching a helicopter to the landing spot nearest to your target (re: fast travel), then driving for as long as it takes to get to that remote look-out point or tucked-away livery. Searching for this stuff is quite a change of pace from the game's adrenaline fueled racing challenges, and the music (which is typically a cool garage-band jam sound) chills out to help reflect that. Typically you are going to want a very off-road capable vehicle as you are going to have to go through all kinds of terrain to get to the hidden stuff, from forests and hills to streams and full-on mountain ranges. I really loved this part of the game. It's time consuming and relaxing to drive at your own pace toward that distant mountain top and then finding a trail or climbable cliff-side to get up there. If you are into getting lost in a virtual world, driving around like this is something special. Fuel is one of the only games where you can, just about, go anywhere you can see. When you finally get up the top of a huge mountain, you can see for miles and miles. And if you see a mountain in the far distance, many miles away, you can drive over to it. You could repeat this process many times before getting near the edge of the map. The sense of freedom is incredible. Like a good improv actor, the game always says “yes” to you. The only possible way for you to get out of the game world is to drive for miles toward the very edge of the map. If you go into the game thinking, “I want to drive anywhere I want,” you will totally be able to do that. You'll only ever get to the edge if you think to yourself, “I want to see if I can get to the edge.” It's a truly remarkable achievement.

The many different territories offer all kinds of interesting terrain, from mountains to flatlands, the grand canyon (or at least a non-IP infringing stand in) and giant lakes, dams, bridges, and abandoned city, and a million miles of other stuff.

The main flaw with Fuel is that there are some wonky physics, especially in the way you can end up in a crazy power slide at really high speeds that takes you flying off course and skidding insanely for a quarter-mile. This seems to be due to the fact that you can't flip your vehicle. It's really strange when it happens, although it is your own fault; you were going to miss that curve anyway, but in real life you would just start flipping if you cut that hard at that speed. If you slow down and hit those sharp turns the way you should, it won't happen to you. Also, the kind of jumps and falls you can survive are several orders of magnitude past believablity in comparison with the rest of the game's pretty realistic feel. Overall, these flaws are vastly outweighed by the solid and very well balanced racing action, and most of all, by the overwhelming sense of freedom to the game's open map.

Fuel is a really special game. I'm kind of shocked that it isn't talked about more. I fell like it puts most famous open-world games to shame, making them looking tiny, restrictive, insignificant... It's crazy the amount of freedom the game gives you, and exploring its huge, huge world is really a blast. If you've ever been mad at an invisible wall in a game, Fuel is therapy for your soul, an achievement that would seem impossible to the pioneers of video games. It's a game totally unlike anything I've ever played before. It's also a well thought out and balanced racing game with varied races and challenges and a huge amount of content even if you only access the races through menus and never go exploring. The little dab of flavor of the background story also helps to gel the whole thing together. With just a few touch ups to the physics engine, it would be a perfect game. As it stands, it is truly a monumental achievement in the open-world genre. People are so pumped for No Man's Sky (and rightly so), but Fuel did big first, and it's shocking that more people didn't take note. It's a 4 out of 5.

Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (February 06, 2016)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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