Monday, February 27, 2006

Full Auto

Though it's been a major part of PC gaming for years, demos have not been huge in console gaming due to the need to physically distribute a disc. They've been relegated to magazine add-ins, and most demos are played by very few gamers. That's changed since last November: one of the changes the Xbox 360 has brought to console gaming is the downloadable demo. It's easy, it's free, and with a dearth of new releases for the system, you have a hungry audience.

It's a double-edged sword, though: a good demo can easily generate a lot of new game sales, but a horrible demo can drive just as many away. That's just what happened to Full Auto when they releases a lackluster demo containing some early code. The major response the demo of this game got on messageboards was: "I was thinking about this ... not now".

Which is too bad, because the final product is much better than that demo. Full Auto won't go down as the pinnacle of 360 gaming, but it's a madly fun game that delivers on its promise of the most satisfying vehicular mayhem this side of Mad Max. It's explodo gaming at its finest: you drive really fast, and lots of stuff blows up beautifully.

The experiences in a session of Full Auto are unlike anything I've played before. "Unlike" might not be the right word ... I've played things like this, but Full Auto amps it up to such a degree that it becomes fresh. Taking a corner too loose, smashing through plate glass windows and fishtailing through the display floor of an auto dealership as you slam on the gas to get back in the race .... sure, you can quibble about physics and framerate, but that's just dead fun. It's a helluva feeling to decide to drive through that corner coffee shop in order to cut in front of the racing pack, and just as much fun to blow up a tanker full of gas to explode the rival who's half a block ahead. Though the cars themselves aren't much to look at when you peel away from the finish line, the damage is modeled incredibly well. Add that to the beautiful cities, great effects, and some fantastic audio (especially the machine gun), and you have a true next-gen title which looks especially good on an HDTV.

Every game these days needs to have a unique wrinkle, and Full Auto's is "Unwreck" mode, where you can rewind the game a bit to try and escape the fireball fate you are heading for. At first glance it seemed a bit gimmicky, but it really serves to keep the risk/reward of your standard racer in check. Full Auto doesn't want you to drive carefully, or to hold back on a dangerous move and the ability to take a mulligan on a spectacular crash ensures that you can push things just that much farther. The real trick for these kind of arcade racers is managing the risk/reward ratio, and Full Auto has come down firmly on the side of "risk". It fundamentally rewards edgy madness in every mechanic, and encourages the gamer to create the kind of fantastic moments that prompt the classic ohmygoddidyouseethat!

The parts are all there, and Full Auto could easily become a huge franchise with just a few tweaks here and there. Though the game shines in multiplayer (whether online or with buddies'n'beers on the couch), the single player needs a bit more beef: with no storyline or real sense of advancement, the tracks and challenges tend to blend together. There are also a few technical glitches, like framerate issues and some bugs with Custom Soundtracks that need ironing out before this can stand with the best the genre has to offer. The promise is there, however, and I think this is easily as good a first entry as the original Burnout: and that series turned out the best arcade racer of all time. I hope the team at Sega and Pseudo Interactive can do the same, because Full Auto has the kind of impact fun that's hard to build in later.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Excellent review. I am loving this game as well and feel it got a lot of bad press due to that demo. Everyone I've talked to who's actually played the game has really enjoyed it.