Monday, 19 January 2009

Gonna Need More Fuel

14,000 square kilometres.

That is how big the map in Asobo Studios and Codemasters' new racer, Fuel, is. Regardless of your choice of vehicle in the game (there's 70 including bikes, trucks, quads, muscle cars, buggies and dragsters) it will take you hours to cross the whole map, which is open from the start. Worried that the scale of the game means you'll be travelling for miles through an ugly, bland landscape wishing the developers had managed to find time to build some actual gameplay? Well don't be. In fact, the basis for the game world is generated by an advanced engine the team has been working on since 2002. The engine takes satellite photography from a number of sources, calculates altitude and gradient and then renders it in 3D before adding in relevant textures, such as trees, grass or even snow. Astoundingly, the engine then adds in a complex network of roads along sensible routes, before generating hundreds of race events based on these.

Then the developers take this computer-generated world and gets to work. They refine every single aspect of the game, from clearing thin avenues of trees for alternate routes, cutting down the events to the best (about 200 challenges and 70 career events will make it to the final game), and then perfecting each of these one by one. The end result is a massive, but streamlined, map, and plenty more time for the developers to spend working on the rest of the game.

Which of course is what they have done. MotorStorm is the clear comparison here, but there are also elements of Burnout Paradise in the mix. Whilst the game takes MotorStorm's lush greenery and open orange deserts, and you can abandon the pre-laid roads and cut across the scenery, Burnout's sense of speed and flattering handling (managing to make play fun, whilst still leaving room for personal improvement) are also present. The game's career strand is split between time trials, circuit and checkpoint races and 'raids', where competitors charge across the map to a far away point however they want. The 200 challenge events are made up of elimination races, massive raids, agressive fighting races (think Burnout's Road Rage) and helicopter chases. Vista Points are dotted around the map and offer spectacular views, as are car wrecks from which you can steal rare add-ons for your garage. There's even an incredible race designer, in which you can design your own events which span the entire map before uploading the route for others to play.

The massive online map also translates to online play. Whilst online events are plenty, there is also a nifty free roam mode, in which you can drive around doing whatever takes your fancy with up to 15 other racers online. One of Fuel's nifty unique features is that should you wander too far from the rest of your online lobby, you will be automatically switched to another group in your current rough location, ensuring you've always got people to be playing with.

The sheer scale and amount of work that has evidently gone into Fuel makes it one of my most anticipated games of this year, and if the team can replicate Burnout Paradise's fantastic sense of fun and dedicated online community, it will surely have a winner on its hands, and one that will take a hell of a lot to beat. Fuel should be out by the end of the year.


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