Genre: Combat Racing
Developer: Pseudo Interactive
Release Date: 2/14/06
Well, it’s been a while since we’ve played one of these kinds of games, huh? I mean, yeah, Twisted Metal: Black had cars with guns, but the last game I can remember that actually had combat AND racing was Wipeout, which isn’t exactly high on my list of good games. Okay, Mario Kart and its ilk also feature such dynamics, only minus the death and explosions. Games like Flatout, Burnout, Project Gotham Racing, Midnight Club 3, and Need For Speed: Most Wanted tend to be the racers of choice for most people. I suppose the “not getting shot out of first place” aspect has its appeal, but the desire to ram a rocket up someone’s tailpipe is not one that is easily dismissed.
And Full Auto certainly caters to that desire in spades. Developed by (X), Full Auto is all about racing around blowing up anything that moves. And hey, as a 360 title, while it’s going up against stiff racing competition, it’s not going up against still GENERAL competition; nothing has really come out for the title since DOA 4 (the less said about that the better), and new titles are still slowly trickling in. But is it really worth your money? I mean, I know all y’all 360 owners are itching for new games, but do you REALLY need Full Auto in your library? Let’s take a look… under… no. No no no. No car puns. Let’s… let’s just go.
1. GAME MODES
Storyline? Yeah, guess again. There’s no story here to speak of, so instead we’ll look at what’s available for the aspiring player. Well, your standard Arcade and Versus modes are present, as well as X-Box Live play. There’s also a “Career” mode, which basically amounts to completing pre-arranged races within the set parameters you’re given. There are five kinds of races available to the players, including your standard Circuit (ALA Nascar) and Point-to-Point (go from here to here), as well as Down-and-Back (go to a point, turn around, come back), Lap Knockout (last place is bumped off each lap) and Rampage (shoot anything that moves). Live play only allows for Circuit, Point-to-Point and Down-and-Back racing, which is understandable; no one would want to sit around waiting for a Lap Knockout race to complete if they were already eliminated, and Rampages are one-player only. Versus only excises Rampage play, also for obvious reasons. Overall, it lacks the solid story racing of games like NFS:MW, and the variety of a game like Burnout: Revenge, but FA has enough available to keep you interested for a while.
Game Modes Rating: 6/10
Y’ever heard the phrase “style lacking in substance”? Full Auto is the inverse; plenty of substance, no real style. The graphics are, quite simply, great. Cars look very good and are modeled well, and the damage modeling for the cars is spot on and looks about as realistic as could be expected (realistically, if a rocket hits a car, it’s going to be paste, so it ain’t THAT realistic). The game environments are also modeled quite well, and look exactly as one would imagine. Lighting and fire effects are spot on, and explosions are suitably impressive. Plus, best of all, anything and everything in the environment reacts somewhat to your actions, so if you crash into a storefront, you literally crash INTO the storefront. Bullets tear up buildings, and rockets severely screw up the property value of just about anything they hit. This effect doesn’t translate to non-citified locales, of course, but it’s still very cool to see a game where everything can be messed up severely. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of life in most of the stages; you see cars driving around, but there aren’t any people moving about to compliment this, so all you Death Race 2000 fans will probably go home disappointed. This is not a game-breaker, of course, but it is a little surprising; in a game where blowing shit up is the primary objective, you’d think there’d be some human carnage involved, but such is not the case. Oh well.
That said, nothing is terribly stylish or interesting in appearance. The Boost and Unwreck visual effects aren’t terribly exciting, and everything has a very utilitarian look and feel to it. It’s not that the visuals aren’t pretty so much as they are unexciting. This isn’t really a condemnation, per say; the game simply has no personality to speak of. Kind of like a supermodel with no personality, or a really well-made single color tie. It’s not something bad, per say, but style oriented gamers (IE those that appreciate games-as-art) will find themselves bored with the visuals pretty fast. For the rest of us, however, Full Auto is a visually pleasing experience, period.
Graphics Rating: 8/10
The in-game music is nothing special; generic rock/techno dots the landscape, though the occasional vocalized track pops up from time to time, and these are more enjoyable. The in-game tracks tend to blend together after a while, sadly, but none of them are hideous or offensive, so you probably won’t care much. It should be noted that custom soundtracks are NOT compatible with Full Auto; at the end of every race, the game kicks them off and goes back to its default music. On a console where the biggest claim to fame is the custom soundtrack feature, especially since every game I’ve played prior to this IS compatible with the feature, this is exceedingly lame and highly unacceptable.
As far as sound effects go, gunshots sound suitably heavy and pulse-pounding, explosions are appropriately powerful, and trashing buildings offers appropriate effects. The only complaint I can offer up is that, having played various games of this type that have some sort of commentator (Ridge Racer, Burnout), I have to look at this game and wonder why it doesn’t. It’s Death Race Lite; having a little Unreal Tournament style announcer to speak up during particularly awesome frags would add a lot to the experience. This puzzling omission notwithstanding, however, everything else sounds just fine, and that’s about all I can ask for.
Sound Rating: 6/10
Full Auto plays surprisingly solid once you learn the fundamental mechanics of the game. As with most racers, you’re provided a gas and brake, which do about what you’d expect. You also have a hand brake at your disposal for tight turning and drifting. Rounding out the race controls, you get a Turbo button to give yourself a quick boost of speed when needed, which is earned by making tight turns effectively (IE by not crashing into things). All of this should be old hat to most racing fans, and you should be able to slip into the racing elements of FA with no problem. The driving physics cater more to fans of arcade racing than fans of realism, and cars are suitably loose, but not all over the road. You probably won’t find yourself fishtailing or spinning around off of mistimed turns, though you may find yourself flipping over or smacking into stuff on occasion.
Then we get into the combat mechanics. You have two buttons for your equipped weapons, which are associated as primary and secondary (not a shock, I know). Your primary and secondary weapons are usually associated as front and rear weapons, respectively, though some combat sets match you up with the same direction of weapon for both. Weapon variety is pretty reasonable; you’ve got machine guns, missiles, mines, grenades, shotguns, rockets, and others, and all of the various weapons are assigned to different presets. The game attempts to balance out the weapons, so you might have machine guns and missiles, or machine guns and mines, or a shotgun and grenades, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. You can’t change the weapon presets in single or multi-player combat, which makes sense, but is a little depressing. There are meters on-screen for both of your weapons that show how hot your weapons are becoming, and if the weapon overheats, you have to wait for it to cool off. This is the only restriction on your weaponry, however; weapons are infinite otherwise, so as long as you monitor your heat, you can spam whatever you have available.
You also have an armor gauge onscreen, and this tells you, unsurprisingly, how much damage you can potentially take before you become a stubborn stain on the black top. Your vehicle has armor on all four sides, so you will have to monitor enemy positions relative to your armor and try to keep your more damaged sides protected. Crashes, explosions, and enemy weaponry can deplete your armor, though these can all be avoided by good driving and, when required, judicious use of the Unwreck meter.
Unwreck works as follows: blow stuff up, the meter fills. When you feel the need to rewind a bit (for whatever reason you can possibly come up with), press the button to rewind time. You can use Unwreck any time you want, so long as there’s some power in the meter, and as blowing up any old thing puts power into the meter, you’ll find that you’ll not want for Unwreck power most of the time. In theory, Unwreck is pretty damn cool, though if you come to rely on it, you may find that you’ll have a problem with later Career missions (where Unwreck is purposely disabled) and online play. Also, while the reasons are understood, being unable to Unwreck in Live play kind of sucks, as said feature is really one of the major selling points of the game, and without this, the game becomes more generic.
Speaking of the online play, let me talk about online and versus play for a second. Versus play is about the same as standard play, only with split screens, and (as noted) the lack of Rampage as a play option. I’m not a fan of split-screen racing, but for those who are, it’s about as good as it gets here with no notable slowdown or problems. Online racing is smooth as can be, and I never noticed any real lag or stuttering present, and no visible framerate drops. You can participate in ranked matches or casual, unranked play, and finding competitors for both is easy as can be; you can either jump into the first match the game finds for you, custom search for a match based on specific parameters, or create your own. If you create your own, you can customize the classes of car that are eligible to participate and choose your track as needed with no problem, and everything is easy to navigate and engage, which just makes online play that much better.
There are a few other minor issues here and there that pepper the experience. Turbo isn’t as useful as it could be, due to the fact that it only works when the bar is full (pressing it when the bar is half full produces no effect). This is the same problem I had with Ridge Racer V, though here it’s less offensive, since I can shoot opponents to take the lead. Tracks also aren’t very large; while Circuit races can take a while depending on the number of laps, Point-to-Point races seem, in many cases, to end as they’re just getting heated. With certain weapons, you can change the direction of the aiming reticule, but this can be a touch unwieldy if you use the default control scheme, but it’s a nice thought, though. There’s also not a lot of variety between the cars, weapon pre-sets, and tracks; there’s enough here for a good first attempt, but when one considers the amount of options available in most competing titles, there’s a noticeable dearth here.
Bottom line, Full Auto is a solid game with solid controls. It’s a good first attempt from Pseudo, and it definitely shows potential for growth. The fundamentals of the game will be simple enough to pick up and play, and the game is fun and fairly easy to learn. Online play is fun, though limited slightly by the lack of the key selling point of the title. FA is by no means the best racer available, and it doesn’t offer the best play mechanics, but it’s fun and enjoyable overall, and will certainly provide enjoyment to anyone looking for some ‘splodey racing.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 6/10
Well, there’s the entire Career mode to complete, with tons of unlockable cars, colors, skins and weapon sets ready and waiting to be earned by the player. Live play is also a good amount of fun, and will keep you coming back long after you’ve unlocked everything there is to unlock. While there’s no specific statement in regards to such, I’d also assume there will be Live downloads available for Full Auto at some point, as it’s the sort of product that would highly benefit from such. More variety in the game modes would have improved the replay value quite a bit, but as it stands now you’ll get plenty of replay out of Full Auto as it stands.
Replayability Rating: 7/10
In Arcade races you can change the difficulty of the opposition to suit your tastes, and in Career mode the difficulty progresses fairly smoothly, assuming you go up the ladder in order instead of jumping around. If you’ve got some solid racing skills you shouldn’t have too many problems until you get to the later Career missions (one life, no Unwreck… woof), though some missions will break it off in you more than others.
Of course, Live play totally negates any computer balance issues. Regarding online competition, the cars are all largely balanced within their classes, so assuming you put cars of like class up against one another (as opposed to putting a C class against an A class, for instance) you shouldn’t have any problems. The weapon sets are all about as balanced as can be expected, and for the purposes of game balance, it’s a good thing weapon sets cannot be mixed and matched, as the presets make for more balanced matchups.
Balance Rating: 7/10
Racing is nothing new, car combat is nothing new. The Unwreck meter is an interesting feature, though it has its roots in prior games, and it’s implemented well here. Overall, what Full Auto does is fairly unique in its own right, but if you’ve played a Twisted Metal game and/or a racing game in your life, you’ve pretty much seen most of what FA has to offer before.
Originality Rating: 4/10
Let’s face facts: driving around and blowing stuff up is crazy fun. The single player mode will get you into the game and keep you interested, and Live battles can be pitched affairs with equally skilled players. There are better racing games available for the 360, but none of them do quite what Full Auto does, and that alone should be more than enough to draw you in if you have even a remote interest in such a game. But really, why wouldn’t you?
Addictiveness Rating: 7/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
It’s a new game for a system that has very few new games. If you waited outside of a Best Buy for thirteen hours to get your hands on a 360 (not that I did that… *cough*), you’re pretty much dying for ANYTHING to play at this point. Okay, yeah, it’s something like the fourth racing game to come out for the system so far (fifth if you count the recently released Burnout: Revenge), but if you’re a racing fan, you won’t care. And hey, even if you’re not, you can blow stuff up whilst racing around. That’ll probably encourage your racing spirit a touch.
Appeal Rating: 8/10
Just a couple of points to make this time around. First off, on two separate occasions the game locked up while loading, on two different 360’s. I’m not entirely sure if this is an issue inherent to the title or to the systems, but as it was an error that occurred twice on separate systems, it deserves noting. Second, the custom soundtrack problem is incredibly annoying, and there’s absolutely no good reason for Sega to not have attempted to fix this prior to release. Said feature has been, without question, my absolute favorite feature of the system so far, and to find that a title I otherwise enjoyed has this problem is rather lame. Third, I was under the impression that I paid $400 for a HDD equipped system so that loading times would be mitigated somewhat, seeing as how there’s a 4 GB page file available to the system. Waiting ten to twenty seconds (I timed it because it seemed a bit excessive) for a three-minute race to load, then waiting another ten to twenty seconds to go back to the menu seems a bit much. I understand that the tracks are heavily destructible, and probably require a lot of system resources to assemble, but it still seems excessive. Otherwise, I enjoyed the game quite a bit, and if you have a 360, I definitely recommend dropping the cash for a rental, if nothing else.
Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10
Game Modes: 6/10
Overall Score: 6.4/10
Final Score: 6.5 (FAIR).
Short Attention Span Summary
Good, solid racing meets good, solid shooting in Full Auto. It’s not the most original, the most engaging, or the most tight racing game on the market, but it doesn’t really aspire to be. It’s fun and enjoyable, and does what it does well, and for 360 owners looking for something to screw around with until Oblivion hits, it’s definitely worth a rental if nothing else.