This expansive arcade racer may be ambitious, but it doesn't nail all of the basics.
Nevertheless, Fuel does offer occasional bursts of excitement, many of them by way of its cool weather effects, which feature in a number of set-piece races. Sand- and windstorms not only fill the screen with gritty debris--and the speakers with authentic whooshes--but may also lead to scripted events, such as trees falling and partially blocking your way. In one of the most memorable races, an entire tornado weaves about, limiting visibility and toppling towers in your path. The environmental effects are highly atmospheric, which makes certain races much more enjoyable than they otherwise would be.
You'll never worry about getting lost at least, even in the darkest and windiest of races. The GPS navigation arrows will be perpetually in your face, giving you a generally good idea of how to get to your destination. This moving trail of arrows looks rather disruptive at first, though eventually you'll get used to it and even occasionally appreciate its guidance, though you can turn it off if you prefer. Most of the time, it works well enough, guiding you down the path of least resistance (though hewing out a smart shortcut is the best way to win many races). Other times, the GPS just flat-out breaks, trying to lead you across lakes or up cliffsides that no vehicle in the game can navigate. It might even give up completely, pointing to one spot, then pointing back a few feet, and then pointing to the original spot again in an endless loop of inadvertent hilarity. These issues are memorable because they're so blatantly obvious, though to Fuel's credit, the GPS functions rather well considering the scope of the world. In free roam, you can set a waypoint anywhere, though it's odd that hovering the map's reticle over an exact target, such as a livery or a vista point, doesn't place the waypoint directly on that target as it does in most games with such a feature. If you want to be exact, you will need to zoom in on the map and be precise about waypoint placement, which just makes no sense considering that most waypoints you will want to place will be directly at these targets.
Environmental effects aren't Fuel's only visual standout. While there are a lot of plain-looking areas, the game as a whole looks great. You'll glimpse ruined cityscapes, race across snowcapped mountains, and navigate through fallen windmills, and it all looks extremely impressive. Vehicles didn't receive as much attention as the landscapes did; there is no damage modeling, and some vehicle textures and reflections don't look right. Yet the visual fidelity is high considering how much terrain is covered. The long loading times and occasional frame-rate jitters of the console versions are much less of an issue on the PC. However, antialiasing support on the PC is nonexistent; Although there are AA options in the menu, toggling them has no appreciable effect on how the game looks. You might also find yourself vexed by the day/night cycle. Transitions between day and night are abrupt and frequent, and it gets so dark that nighttime driving is an annoyance that comes with no obvious benefit. The cycle was likely meant to make free roaming seem authentic, but it just feels like one more reason to avoid the open world altogether.
Free roaming isn't the only way to play online. You can play career races against other drivers, and it's a pleasure to leave behind the inconsistent AI and take on some real opponents. Playing online can be great fun, and it's also a good way to discover cool new shortcuts to follow in your next online race. Lag is an issue in Fuel, though, causing vehicles to teleport around on occasion and even disrupting the countdown timer. Also an issue is that you are bumped back to free roam after completing an online race. It's mind boggling that developer Asobo Studios didn't allow players to remain together in the race lobby, or at least drop them back to the online menu. Nevertheless, the number of online courses is impressive, and using Fuel's race creation feature, you can add to that staggering list. It's a cool feature, but its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than dropping checkpoints behind you from within free roam, you place them on the overhead map. This makes it hard to gauge what the terrain is like, which in turn makes it difficult to make a fun and clever course to race on. Additionally, you can't practice on your course against the AI (you can test it all by yourself, though) or limit the types of vehicles available to the players who join. The idea of creating your own race is good, but as delivered, the feature feels half finished, and it's unlikely that most players will get anything out of it.
If you want to get the most out of Fuel, you should plug in an Xbox 360 controller. Other gamepads and wheels may work, but many players are reporting difficulties with their racing hardware of choice. But even given this drawback and others, some players will embrace Fuel's overall ambition. Nevertheless, if you're interested in racing--and there's a good chance you are--then you'll likely be disappointed by the game's shortcomings. Sure, there are a lot of races and vehicles, and there's a huge, unpopulated open world to check out, if that's your thing. Yet Fuel often seems to go out of its way to invite goodwill, only to let you down. If you're the patient type, it's worth checking out, but if you're looking for offroad excitement, games like Pure and Dirt are better choices.