Genre: Combat Racing
Developer: Pseudo Interactive
Release Date: February 14, 2006
Buy 'FULL AUTO': X360
What's better than cratering the streets with a hood-mounted missile launcher as the car ahead skids around a parked tanker truck? Perhaps the ability to rewind the action, take better aim, and make sure your opponent doesn't take that corner so easily after all? That's how Full Auto for the Xbox 360 hopes to hook you for a round of next-gen combat-racing action.
While there's much to be said for the opportunity to undo mistakes Sands of Time-style in a racing game, it's also reason to be skeptical when a game pushes wide-scale destruction as its main selling point. That's especially so in a racing title, as shoddily tuned AI or sloppy controls can wreck the competitive essence of the game before you get to drop your first mine.
Full Auto delivers the destruction as promised and serves up the racing in competent-enough fashion to make the experience consistently fun, if not universally remarkable. Yes, the turn-back-time Unwreck feature feels like a concession to people who don't like racing games, but it's fun to try and try again, and it doesn't come into play when you're competing online in any case. With some occasionally intrusive slowdown and some floaty lemons among its arcade coupes and SUVs, however, Full Auto still finishes respectably, if a few slots out of first place.
Not big on story, Full Auto's career mode doesn't waste juice on too many contextual distractions. It's all about completing successive trials to open up new race series, tracks, vehicles and decorations. You start out with the Hitman, Guardian and other pokey Class C rides and work you way up to the speedier classes, more weapons and into more contrived scenarios like having to race against a group of faster opponents. A simple pick-up-and-play arcade mode is available, too, if you're not in it for the long haul, though you do have to clear career races to unlock the sportier models.
Each car is rated for durability, handling and speed, and you need to give those attributes at least a glance, especially if you care to find a style of play that meets more than moderate success online. In single-player modes, if you're a decent driver and manage your handbrake slickly enough to powerslide effectively more often than not, even cars with lower-rated durability can get you across the finish line without worrying too terribly much about surviving your opponents' ballistic onslaughts. That makes several of the career-mode series feel too easy, especially in the early going, but it also ups the fun factor of simply jumping in a Class A and lead-footing it around the track.
The Unwreck feature actually encourages sloppy speed, allowing you ample rewind time to retry precision turns or to make a faster correction and avoid an enemy mine. Unwreck proves most useful in tiny bursts in those kinds of situations. After a few hours, though, it becomes little more than a mistake-corrector, a crutch for undoing that unfortunate twitch that dropped you from 1st place to 8th in the crucial final stretch. It effectively compensates for that all-is-easily-lost cloud that hangs over most racing games, but if you don't like that tension, why are you playing a racer in the first place? And if you really don't like racers, Unwrecking probably isn't sufficiently exciting to win you over, regardless of the mine-dropping trailer hitches and other combat add-ons.
Race types are familiar circuit, point-to-point, and last-place-chump elimination varieties, with a down-and-back option that offers a certain anticipatory appeal since you know at some point you're going to have to pull off a fast 180-degree turnaround to maintain your position. The reward system gives new colors for your rides if you finish 2nd or better and score enough Wreck Points. It's difficult to get beyond the arbitrariness of the system, though, when placing 1st and earning 60,000 more Wreck Points are the only differences between a silver Semi Auto medal and a gold Full Auto.
Even so, when you learn how easy it is to build up Wreck Points, the medal system encourages you to replay races and not settle for second best. The ongoing record of Semi Auto and Full Auto finishes also helps by shaming you into trying again if you're tempted to accept a bronze Survival medal just to open up the next race. It remains a disappointment, though, given the emphasis on destruction, that the rewards really don't amount to anything more involving than scoring your ability to remember to hold down the fire button.
Online, of course, other players are more demanding than all that. Full Auto's online base sports a decent number of fairly accomplished players who've learned how to make the most out of the right combination of vehicle and weapons loadout. Using a rear-mounted weapon to maximum effect is essential if you're going to last very long in a fast but less-durable car, but even with conscientious grenade-dropping, you often feel slightly too vulnerable to the machine guns of opponents trailing behind. Overusing your weapons and having to wait for the cool-down means quick perforation if you're in a pack of seven other equally matched players. The armor gauge takes on greater significance in Live play, too, as you can't Unwreck to avoid an enemy round that nails an exposed section of your car.
Full Auto's courses are in large part effectively designed for excitement. Mountain tracks offer off-roading shortcuts if you have the reflexes to take the turns. Marketcrash and the other urban tracks, though, are the highlights, with a complete-feeling mix of jumps, narrow alleys, boost-ready straight-aways and plenty of storefront glass to shatter. The shipyard tracks, on the other hand, are the most lacking. They try to challenge you with tight turns and stacks of indistinct shipping containers that complicate your pathfinding, but the uniformity of their scenery and relative dearth of destructive possibilities just make the city streets that much more appealing, even after a few repeat runs.
The mechanics are arcadey in both the good and bad ways, meaning the physics are entertainingly ridiculous, but the controls are sometimes frustratingly slippery. The Kodiak truck, for example, feels entirely detached from the road. No matter what you're driving - limo, tow truck, or Mustang-alike - street light poles fall before your grill as easily as flowers in a freeway median, and the dead frames of exploded cars bounce joyfully across the streets.
It would be nice to declare Full Auto's soundtrack the best thing ever in racing game pump-and-grind, but the overall impression is one of toothless Prodigy-itis. Weapons sound weak compared to their physical impact on the environment and visual flair. The hiss of your rear smoke screen doesn't sound too threatening, but the cloudy countermeasure looks menacing in your rearview mirror. Sparks from downed electric lines, fires and street-spanning potholes adorn the tracks and add to the challenge of precision cornering. Getting caught in chaotic pileups would inch close to spectacular if a disappointing amount of slowdown didn't crash the otherwise-impressive crash fest.
If you don't approach it expecting any clever gameplay angles on the combat or the mass destruction, you can squeeze a respectable amount of enjoyable racing out of Full Auto. It's not a defining, early Xbox 360 experience, but it manages a few competitive thrills, especially for Xbox Live players. It requires you to forgive some technical sputtering, but it's worth a look if your patience is at least equal to your desire to destroy.
More articles about Full Auto