Genre: Combat Racing
Publisher: Sega of America
Developer: Pseudo Interactive
Release Date: December 7, 2006
We’ve been down this road before. Well, that’s an assumption, but I have most certainly been down this road already. Full Auto for the Xbox 360 launched in February of last year with immaculate timing – it came out six weeks after Dead or Alive 4 and one week before Fight Night Round 3. And though it was essentially a desperation purchase, Full Auto proved to be surprisingly enjoyable for that one week in February. Granted, the early March release of Burnout Revenge essentially doomed it to second-tier status on the system, but I got what I wanted out of the game.
Full Auto 2: Battlelines for the PlayStation 3 follows its Xbox 360 predecessor by just ten months, and as expected, the limited development time for the “sequel” has resulted in much of the same content being recycled. Yet, despite my cynicism, Full Auto 2 does actually feel like a full-fledged sequel in most ways. With several gameplay modifications, an all-new presentation style, and an absurd storyline, Full Auto 2 really does feel like an all-new game. However, by ditching the arcade-style simplicity of the original, Battlelines ultimately loses much of what made it a solid title in the first place.
The core gameplay of the Full Auto franchise revolves around a hybrid of high-speed racing and hardcore vehicular combat. Essentially, it serves as a combination of the things that made Burnout Revenge and Twisted Metal Black so undeniably awesome: blistering speed and ridiculous firepower. Full Auto 2: Battlelines ups the ante in both regards, with a more intense feeling of speed than its predecessor, as well as a handful of new weapon choices. In fact, the mantra of Full Auto 2 seems to be “more, more, more,” but such additions only serve to further disrupt the uneven balance found in the original.
True, Full Auto 2 is faster than its predecessor, but speed is largely wasted on a game with such inane physics. It can be hard to describe Full Auto as a driving game; I opt to refer to the action as “floating.” As you float along these tightly packed racetracks, you will eat near-endless amounts of concrete in your pursuit of the finish line. Turning never feels precise, even with the best cars. But that’s how it was in the original game, and it appears that nothing was done to improve this particular aspect of the gameplay.
That’s why we have the “unwreck” feature. Did you smash head-first into the side of a building? Were you blasted by a barrage of miniature rockets? No worries – simply press a button and watch as the game rewinds time for a few seconds, giving you another chance at surviving the next turn. Smartly, the once-separate boost and unwreck meters have been merged into one, which means you’ll have to figure out which is more important and conserve wisely. With the wonky physics at play, you will quickly find that the unwreck feature is significantly more vital than the boost, which will probably just lead you to a quicker death.
The weaponry in Full Auto 2 has also been enhanced, but the Career mode is incredibly stingy with the goods. Your best rear weapon option for much of the storyline will be a Smoke Screen, while your competitors will have Rear Shotguns and Flamethrowers. Listen, if you are going to give me something useless, at least make it amusing – give me a rear marshmallow launcher or something equally ridiculous. Once you get deep enough into the game, you’ll be able to choose from a wide variety of missiles, firearms, and the like. Winning an event is often determined by your choice of weaponry, so be sure to plan wisely.
Full Auto 2 sports an all-new Career mode, complete with a totally unnecessary storyline – something the original (thankfully) lacked. In Full Auto 2, you play a driver (floater) recruited by a police computer named SAGE. Meridian City has been taken over by a group of racers called the Ascendents, so it is up to you to defeat them and save the city. SAGE is ever-present, often giving you directions or telling you how disappointing you are, and her robotic tales are arduous, at best. It really is one of the silliest storylines I have ever seen in a game, and as with any bad narrative, you can see the big twist coming from a mile away.
The roughly ten-hour Career mode packs a bit more variety than its predecessor, especially with the addition of the Arena mode. By ditching the Burnout part of the formula, the Arena mode is all Twisted Metal: rack up kills (or points) by taking down as many competitors as possible in an open area. Provided you have the right weapons combination (shotgun and rockets for me, please), these events can actually be pretty fun, not to mention shockingly easy. One of the things that made Twisted Metal Black a success was its unique style and settings, neither of which Battlelines attempts to replicate. Customizable weapon schemes don’t make these cars any less generic.
Several modifications have been made to the racing side of things, as well. Each event now has primary and secondary objectives, and you must complete the primary objectives to unlock the next race. Fulfilling the secondary objectives tends to unlock alternate skins and additional weapons for your vehicles. Also new is the addition of attack drones in many of the races, whose only goal is to take you down. Any race that claims to be a “one-on-one battle” may contain up to a dozen additional vehicles, all gunning for your bumper. It doesn’t really make the game harder – just more frustrating.
Oddly missing from Full Auto 2 are motion controls, which felt pretty comfortable in other racing games (like Ridge Racer 7). I’m not sure that I would have used motion steering instead of the analog stick, but it would have been nice to have the option. Full Auto 2 does feature two control schemes, but neither felt especially comfortable. Between acceleration, the two types of brakes, the two weapons buttons, and the unwreck and boost buttons, it can be easy to get mixed up in the heat of a race. Also, as with other racing games on the system, you will occasionally smash into a wall or cease to accelerate because of a random Bluetooth disconnection. Luckily, the unwreck feature serves an additional purpose in this regard.
Full Auto 2 has received a noticeable visual upgrade, with the environments looking much more detailed than in the original. However, the cars all look about the same (extremely shiny), so they end up looking a bit out of place among the detailed surroundings. The frame rate has definitely been patched up a bit, though there were a couple occasions in which it brought the game to a halt – especially when an environmental change is triggered. As with the original, the greatest visual thrill comes from the unwreck sequence, in which your vehicle is slowly pieced back together from the flying scrap and debris.
Though upgraded in the visual department, the audio takes a huge hit in Full Auto 2. The audio track stutters regularly in every event, and some very strange choices were made in regards to the newly licensed tracks. In most races, the generic techno from the first game returns, but a licensed track (from the likes of The Used and Megadeth) will be “mapped” to a particular vehicle. Whenever you are within a particular distance of that vehicle, you will hear a short segment of the song, but then the techno will come back. Why bother to license songs if you are going to waste them? The Arena events actually play the entire tracks, but will play only one song per event. As much as I like “Callbacks” by We Are Scientists, I really do not need to hear it three times in a row.
The online multiplayer serves as an entertaining respite from the frustration of the single-player experience. Aside from the standard Arena and Race events, you can also play Cat & Mouse and Base Assault. Well, in theory. Even five weeks after release, it is tough to find enough people to play against. Only once did I find more than three people online, and most seem to gravitate towards the unranked matches – likely because only two participants are required (as opposed to four in ranked matches). I enjoyed what I played, but a team battle really isn’t meant to be played with just one person on each team.
Full Auto 2: Battlelines appears to be much more polished than its predecessor, but the improvements are only skin deep. Many of the issues found in the original Full Auto have not been addressed, and the changes made to the single-player experience render it both ridiculous and frustrating. It may have enough new (or revised) content to be considered a full sequel, but it feels more like a step back for the series. It may be one of the only (somewhat) unique games available for the PlayStation 3, but I cannot even recommend this for a desperation purchase. Hold tight for a bit longer, my fellow early adopters.
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