Genre: Combat Racing
Developer: Pseudo Interactive
Release Date: February 14, 2006
There's been precious little released for the XBox 360 in the days following its headline-grabbing launch, and few 360 owners would complain that they didn't have enough racing games. Still, Sega is offering up Full Auto as one of the 360's first post-launch titles, and it's likely to find a happy home there. Full Auto's final build is a game wholly without redeeming social merit, dedicated entirely to giving players the adrenaline rush that comes only from smashing things while driving a thinly-disguised '57 Chevy. Despite the presence of a career mode and a host of unlockable content, Full Auto really shines as an impulse title that welcomes players to spend a quick twenty or thirty minutes slaughtering innocent bystanders with their car-mounted machine guns.
While thoroughly chaotic and destructive racing titles are hardly in short supply for the 360 - Need for Speed was available at launch, and Burnout Revenge is on the way - Full Auto takes more of a Roadblasters approach to its mayhem. Your car has a loadout of weapons you can use for annihilating the opposition, generally consisting of a pair of machine guns for getting rid of opponents in front of you, and mines for eliminating ones to your rear. There's some variety in the weapon loadouts you can choose, but it's been severely limited in our time with the game. Instead, Full Auto offers more options in the way of driving mechanics than you usually see in a combat-flavored racing game.
The big innovation for Full Auto is a mechanic simply called Unwrecking. As you race, your Unwreck meter builds. When the meter is full, you have the option of hitting your R1 button to make time reverse by about five or so seconds. This is enough time to undo a truly catastrophic mistake, like getting shot or jack-knifing into a tanker truck full of propane. You don't seem able to use it to un-destroy your car when you've lost the game, so there's incentive for the player to Unwreck frequently rather than sitting on their meter until they're in deeply dire straits. To say Unwrecking is useful is an understatement, and we'll probably be futilely stabbing our R1 buttons when we play future racing titles, which this innovation was there. The fact that it's not, especially given how flamboyant and stylized even more sim-style racing games have gotten in recent years, frankly seems a bit baffling. It seems in hindsight ludicrous that a feature like this didn't at least show up in one of the many Burnout titles that have been released in the past five years.
Unwrecking aside, though, Full Auto presents the player with a very familiar experience. A lone player can go through a Campaign mode where points are accumulated by winning races, and new cars and other options unlocked for use in other game modes. The unlockable content forms the bulk of the car and gameplay options in the game, so if you want to do more than scratch the surface of Full Auto you'll end up playing this mode whether you like it or not. When you just want some quick action, you can go into Arcade mode and play a single race, using whatever cars, tracks, and options you've unlocked in Campaign mode. For two players, there's a split-screen head-to-head mode. XBox Live offers head-to-head races for up to eight players. While racing, you'll be rewarded for executing particularly spectacular jumps and crashes with special camera angles that show off your car flying beautifully through the air. Likewise, a particularly intense dogfight with rival cars can result in some beautiful side angles as your car takes particularly sharp turns.
The game's controls have the utter simplicity you'd want in a pick-up-and-play arcade racing title. L1 lets your car turbo boost when you've built up sufficient meter, with L-trigger for brake and R-trigger for acceleration. The A button controls your machine guns, while B button lets you drop mines. The left analog stick controls your vehicle, while the right analog stick allows you to lock on to enemy vehicles and alter camera angles. Despite the varying types of races - Rampages where you need to obliterate cars at a rapid pace, point-to-points, Circuits, and many others - what you do in races is pretty much consistent. Try to proceed through your course as quickly as possible, juggling Boosts and Unwrecks to improve your time, while obliterating every opponent you get the chance to. The races tend to be very brief and intense, so the basic repetition doesn't hurt the gameplay the way one might thing.
Almost like a puzzle game, Full Auto is easy to pick up and play, but has gameplay subtleties that are quite a bit harder to master. Aside from simply not getting into time-wasting smash-ups, you need to judge which route through a stage is best and how to manage your use of the Unwreck and Boost meters. Figuring out where to Boost will come naturally to many racing gamers, but the Unrweck mechanic is so unique that it takes quite a bit of time to manage. Even an advanced player can potentially shave seconds off his or her score simply by undoing a particular turn or botched jump.
Full Auto is a textbook case in what a difference the availability of an HDTV makes to a player's ability to enjoy the system's graphical power. Played on a standard resolution TV, Full Auto resembles nothing so much as a polished XBox game, with most of the small details in the tracks and cars rendered impossible to see. Played on an HDTV, Full Auto delivers a fantastic sensation of speed thanks to the immense detail of all the objects depicted in the game. Every object in the game is gloriously destructible, from signposts to your own car, and breaks apart in amazingly detailed ways. As you race the first few times and get a grip on the way the car handles, your inept slides around the track will result in a lot of very impressive object-smashing. Running over mailboxes and telephone poles eventually gets to be fun, although detonating gas tankers does your car too much damage to be consistently enjoyable.
Audio is shaping up to be Full Auto's weak suit. The default BGM tracks are quite decent attempts at a sort of generic pulse-pounding electronica, but aren't the kind of thing that really stick with you after you finish playing. Sound effects are better-implemented, from the satisfying squeal of your car's tires on a tight turn to the roar of the various engines in the game. The somewhat bland music may well be intentional on Sega's part, as Full Auto is a game that is ideal for just turning off the BGM and enjoying with music streamed from your PC or iPod.
Full Auto doesn't exactly fill a hole in the 360's library, but it's certainly a game that's bringing a different spin to the racing genre than the console has seen before. Fans of fast action and pick-up-and-play games are probably going to be very satisfied by it, especially since the 360 release schedule in upcoming months is looking fairly sparse. The real question with this title is what kind of staying power it will ultimately have once the 360 library fills up with more titles. Still, for now, Full Auto hits stores in less than two weeks, and it's about the only thing for the 360 that is.
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