In the racing game Fuel, Earth has been devastated. Not from terror attacks or nuclear annihilation or even lead-filled paint from China. No, we’re talking the big one here … global warming. Our world has been decimated by dust storms and tsunamis and the planet’s temperature has shot up, oh, at least a 10th of a degree. So mankind has either died or run for cover.
Oh, but a gaggle of rebel motorheads never got that memo. Because they really don’t care what their gas-guzzling, exhaust-belching hot rods have done to the environment. All they’re concerned about is when the next race starts.
And, in fact, that’s all this game is really concerned about. The deadly environmental tale is only in place so gamers can have a sprawling, post-apocalyptic world to speed around in. Players start out with a shirtless, heavily tattooed roughneck as their representative avatar. And then they pilot dirt bikes, dune buggies and ATVs through abandoned highways, dry river beds, deserts, forests and rural back roads.
Over Hill, Over Dale
On the face of things, this single-player racer is kind of fun. The game’s sense of real-world physics helps make speeding off a rocky cliff and bumping through a field littered with ramps and rubble feel believably adrenalized. Environmental effects such as torrential downpours, tornadoes and falling, sandstorm-blown debris can also push up your pulse rate.
Once you get the knack of things and race your way to a victory, you start gaining stars and fuel as reward. The stars help you unlock new race zones and buy new outfits for your gearhead. And the fuel rewards purchase upgrades to your current ride and new souped-up vehicles—eventually earning big block muscle cars and heavyweight trucks.
Along with lots of unique races, there are also quite a few individual challenges scattered around in the thousands of virtual miles of landscape. These include time trials where you have to make it through a course or hit a series of checkpoints before the clock runs down. Chopper Chase, for instance, dares you to blaze your way around mountains and lakes to an unknown finish line before a helicopter can fly straight there. Seek-and-Destroy bids you to catch up to and bump a speeding AI opponent that’s been given a head start.
Don’t You Try to Join In!
Through it all, Fuel does a good job of keeping its E-rated head above polluted waters. Yes, there are some power-sliding crashes and cannonball jumps that end up splashing down in the deep end of the lake. But the action either thumps to an unbruised, non-scraped halt or respawns on a nearby lakeshore. No blood and guts or fiery eruptions. Even that deadly sounding Seek-and-Destroy challenge is little more than a game of tag. And as tattooed and edgy as some of these muscular drivers look, their most objectionable actions are a few mild pointing taunts as they pass one another.
It’s unfortunate then, that this user-friendly game can seem kind of limited. Races are varied, but eventually feel repetitive. And as I mentioned, this is a single-player game. So young racers can’t get a buddy—or a daddy—to join in on the play. Multiple players might have actually made the game’s open world a lot more debris-dodging and ramp-jumping fun.
But the only way you can compete against another live gamer is by going online. That requires a broadband connection and parental permission. And there are lots of concerned parents out there who have decided that their little Tommy or Timmy aren’t up to facing the potential pitfalls of online gaming. They recognize that a player’s verbal or typed interactions can be more problematic than virtual dustbowls or erosions in the digital ozone.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.