If the Xbox 1 was the home of the first-person shooter, the Xbox 360 is, for the time being, the home of the racer. Whether you’re into Project Gotham Racing 3, Ridge Racer 6 or Need for Speed Most Wanted, it seems Microsoft’s next-gen console has you covered. Well, almost. Burnout: Revenge is on the way in a little more than a month, and if that isn’t quite destructive enough for you, SEGA last week released Full Auto, an innovative racing game in which the cars have hood- and trunk-mounted weapons.
As overused as the phrase has become, “Burnout with guns” really is the best way to describe Full Auto. The caveat is that it’s more like Burnout 3: Takedown with guns than it is Burnout: Revenge. The competition in Full Auto stays amazingly close throughout each race, much like the opposition in Takedown, whereas Burnout: Revenge got lonely at times as the competition either blew right past you or was left in the dust. What this means for Full Auto is that the game has some great white-knuckle races, ones in which victories actually deserve celebration, but it also makes for some frustrating losses. It’s entirely possible, for example, to lead for the majority of a race, only to finish in fifth or sixth place after an accidental but barely noticeable collision with an innocent sedan.
That’s where the game’s innovative “Unwreck” feature comes into play. Much like Blinx and the Price of Persia, Full Auto lets players rewind time and “undo” the activities of the past few seconds. Misfire a hood-mounted missile, for example, and you can rewind time to try taking the enemy down again. Find yourself the victim of a trunk-mounted mine, and you can rewind time to a point where it’s not too late for you to dodge the mine. Heck, even if you simply don’t like your line around a corner, you can “unwreck” and feather the handbrake a bit more.
For what it’s worth, feathering the handbrake has the added benefit of filling your car’s boost meter. Those who have played Ridge Racer 6 will notice right away that boosting in Full Auto borrows heavily from Namco’s game. For starters, boosting in Full Auto is only effective when you’re driving at full speed; it’s never useful as a post-crash emergency tactic to regain momentum. Second, it refills more quickly if you powerslide around corners rather than using the footbrake, which makes it important to drive with style as well as destructive tendencies.
But, unlike Ridge Racer 6 and many other racing games, Full Auto doesn’t let you immediately dash away when you hit the boost button. Instead, it’s almost as if the boost creates a wormhole, because whatever car was trading paint with you somehow stays right alongside you. And don’t think that tapping your unwreck meter will save you from the wormhole. It’s going to happen. So get used to it.
You should also get used to using a specific weapon set, because as varied as the weapons may be, you’re still bound to find a favorite. Fortunately the weapon sets are fairly balanced, with predetermined pairs like missiles and smokescreen, shotgun and rear grenades, machine gun and mines. At a certain point in the game you can customize each loadout by diverting power from the front weapons to the rear or vice versa, which adds some depth. Say, for example, you’re in a game of pursuit and will need some powerful long-range weapons. If you choose the missiles and smokescreen setup, both of which default to level 2, you can choose to make the missiles level 3 (heat-seeking) and the smokescreen level one, thereby addressing your long-distance needs. It’s not exactly deep customization, but in a game like Full Auto, you shouldn’t be expecting Gran Turismo– or Forza-like options anyway.
Still, in both Burnout and Full Auto, there’s always the risk of the gameplay getting boring. After all, how much “revenge” can one person exact before it gets tiresome, or how many buildings can one racer demolish before it’s time to move on? If you found yourself bored with Burnout, you’ll feel the same way about Full Auto, and vice versa. However, Burnout gets the edge for one simple reason: its mission structure.
In the Burnout games, there’s never a story-driven campaign, nor are there overly complex races, but the different race types are spread among several levels. In Full Auto, however, players are forced to race through five or six races of the same type before they unlock the next mode. By the time you’ve completed 50 percent of the game, you’ll find that 50 percent of the actual modes are still locked. Rather than simply make certain modes harder, as in the PGR series, Full Auto actually keeps its modes locked until you’ve played the entire preceding series. Consequently, Full Auto feels monotonous at times even though the actual number of modes makes it diverse. Had the developers mixed-up its modes a bit more, Full Auto would feel much more satisfying.
That’s not to say Full Auto isn’t fun. Let’s be honest: when you pick up a game like Full Auto, one where you’re going to race around 18 different tracks blowing stuff up with hood-mounted missiles, you’re not looking for a meaningful relationship. You’re looking for a quick hook-up that helps you work the road rage out of your system. In that regard, Full Auto is amazingly effective. Watching with glee as a city shows persistent (and massive) damage for an entire seven-lap race, looking fondly as cars’ windows blow out and fenders fly off, laughing out loud as a subway train flies off its tracks after you destroy its bridge … these are the feelings Full Auto was meant to evoke. And it does. The only omission, and it’s a big one, is a free-roam mode. The developers spent so much time focusing on city-wide damage and physics that they forgot to include a way for gamers to fully appreciate it. A free-roam mode in which players could line up the perfect shot and act like Godzilla would’ve boosted Full Auto’s entrainment factor tenfold.
The need for a free-roam mode also underscores how good the game looks. The cars are almost as cartoony as they are realistic, but that’s their intended style, and it’s refreshing to see a developer not try to create unlicensed knockoffs of real-world cars. Instead, it’s the environments that steal the show, but not for their sheer sex appeal. The urban levels bear a striking resemblance to Burnout, while the off-road environs aren’t quite as varied as Rallisport Challenge 2. But the architectural details, the nooks and crannies that your car can get stuck in and that you can completely destroy, the massive destruction and debris that persists through an entire race … those are great details. From a pure graphics standpoint, Full Auto looks good, not great. But from an architectural and polygonal perspective, Full Auto is remarkable.
Many people have claimed the framerate in Full Auto slows to a crawl when the action gets too intense, but there’s really only one mode in which that regularly happens: Rampage. Granted, Rampage mode is all about blowing stuff up as rapidly as possible, so if the framerate hadn’t taken a hit on a certain level I’d have been very surprised. In fact, the action is so deliberately intense in Rampage that it’s the only mode in which your weapons don’t overheat after four or five rapid shots. For the majority of the other modes, it appears the developers intentionally chose to slow the action after big explosions, simply for dramatic effect. Still, not everyone will agree with the developers’ stylistic slow-down, so it still might annoy some gamers.
Like the Burnout games to which it’s so often compared, Full Auto would seemingly come alive on Xbox Live. Unfortunately, it dies a slow death. The Unwreck mode isn’t included online due to the logistics of making it actually work with eight people, but I can live with that. Instead, you just have to focus on your position and number of kills, both of which earn points that determine your rank at the end of the race. The problem with this is that players earn more points for killing opponents than they do for finishing in a good position, and not completing a race doesn’t affect your overall total. As a result, most Full Auto players online simply blast one another while onnly one or two try to finish the race. When the five or six trigger-happy players fail to finish in the allotted time, they’ll still win the point total. If Pseudo Interactive wanted to balance the destruction and racing aspects online, they should have given players more incentive to actually race. Instead, Full Auto deteriorates into little more than a Twisted Metal arena-combat clone.
Finding a ranked match on Xbox Live is amazingly fast, but anyone who’s grown accustomed to hanging out in the lobby after a match is in for a rude awakening. Reason? The match ends just as quickly as it started once the time runs out, leaving most players completely in the dark about where they placed, how they scored and how the competition fared. This all changes in unranked games with friends, but considering the ranked games are where the points really matter, it seems odd to not let players review the results.
The only thing keeping Full Auto from being one of the best racing games of the past 12 months is Full Auto itself. Had the developers mixed-up the gameplay modes and added a free-roam mode, Full Auto could have been the pure arcade racing experience for Xbox 360. The content, cars and modes are there, but their organization isn’t diverse enough and leaves something to be desired. If there’s ever a Full Auto 2, and if it addresses these issues, it will have a great shot at being a must-own title. But this first outing, as enjoyable as it may be at times, just isn’t.
- Gameplay: 7.8
- The combination of guns and racing is awesome, but the organization of modes isn’t. Unwreck is ingenious.
- Graphics: 8.2
- The cars are simple and the environments are merely “good,” but they gain ground for their destructability and persistent damage.
- Sound: 5
- Forgettable. Boom and rat-a-tat-tat are all you hear, and they get really old. It’s honestly better to play muted.
- Replay: 7.5
- Varying medals for each race inspire some replay, but the “saving grace” of online play is a big disappointment.
- Overall: 7.8
- With different organization and a free-roam mode, this would’ve been amazing offline. With luck, the sequel will make some online adjustments, too.
— Jonas Allen