The blurb would have you believe that Fuel Overdose is a combat-racing game; you pick one of a series of characters and one of a fleet of cars, and then you drive around a track shooting at the other racers and trying to get the finish line first, all in a top-down perspective. Fuel Overdose actually alternates between being boring and being an inducement to self-harm, but we'll get to that.
It's a combat racing game that's taken some inspiration from fighting games. Each character has a unique trait ("faster acceleration," for instance) as well as a bevy of special moves and an ultra move, all of which can be unleashed by twiddling the right thumbstick once the appropriate gauge has filled up. It's also taken inspiration from fighting games in that each of the characters is an anime caricature of some sort, ranging from "girl with improbable boobs" to "man with improbable pecs." There's also a bit of improbable hair, improbable clothing, and one truly phenomenal mustache.
The cars wouldn't seem out of place in a "James Bond" film. In addition to the expected weapons (land mines, machine guns, rockets), the cars have a number of nifty gadgets; there's a remote detonator that can be used to set off bombs that litter the track in a clear violation of health and safety regulations, a defensive shield, and grappling hooks that can be attached to other cars or track corners to give yourself a boost or deliver a nasty electric shock that shorts out the other vehicle's systems. There's even a nod to persistence, with cash being used in each race to purchase ammunition for these weapons and abilities, plus a "stage danger" that only the highest bidder can use.
If that sounds good, then you're right. It does sound good. There are some really nice ideas at work in Fuel Overdose. Unfortunately, execution is everything, and Fuel Overdose isn't very good at execution.
Let's start with the camera, the one thing with which no top-down racing game should actually have a problem because the type of camera is in the genre name. Rather than stay in a fixed perspective and give you a view of what's coming up and an idea of what's close behind you, this camera swoops, rotates and pans. It tries to be cinematic and, in so doing, makes it very, very difficult to do things like seeing certain corners because there's now a building in the way or judging if you're turning hard enough to make it around a corner. Both of those examples mentioned corners because — ha ha — the game loves doing this at corners. This is its favorite thing to do. It gets up in the morning specifically to infuriate people by doing this. The camera is a bigger threat than the muscle-bound hairdos firing rockets at you.
This isn't taking into account the particular sections of track where there are no rails, so precision is required. In one of these sections, you're underneath another bit of track, so you can't actually see the edges of the course and may go flying off. In another, the camera tends to pan off-screen, meaning that you can't see your car at all and may go flying off. Thanks, game!
The other big problem the camera has is in combination with the (otherwise attractive) art style: it's pretty impossible to tell where hills and slopes are. Many older games in this genre used heavy shadows or big arrows and markers to indicate these things. Fuel Overdose scoffs at these conventions — despite using arrows to indicate corners — so until you've learned through rote memorization where they are, you're probably going to wonder why your car isn't turning until you realize that you're flying through the air because you just came off a nearly invisible ramp.
With that said, turning your car is hard enough anyway, even when you're not in the air or at the mercy of the sadistic cameraman. Cars have no real weight and feel bizarrely floaty, and it's difficult to tell whether you're going to turn a corner successfully or spin out. It's like controlling a heavily armed Matchbox car.
Speaking of spinning out, this is what happens every time you get shot. Take a couple of bullets to the back or the side, and your car will flip once or twice, spin 900 degrees, and land on its bonnet while the rest of the racers pass you by (while also firing at you, just to ensure you stay spinning for a few seconds longer). The AI doesn't seem so encumbered with this problem in that repeated machine gun fire and a few rockets don't cause them as much trouble as the same arsenal would to you.
Fortunately, the AI does a good enough job of crashing by itself. While not as hilariously terrible as they were pre-patch, there are still certain corners that the other racers fly off almost every single time. More problematic is that they seem incapable of using some vehicle abilities; while they're happy to employ their Super and Ultra moves and gun you down if given the opportunity, they'll never detonate bombs, use grappling hooks, or employ the stage danger. I don't think I've seen them try to use shields.
The AI being incapable of using half of the abilities would imply that the game is multiplayer-focused. Unfortunately, I can't comment on how well the game works in multiplayer because any attempts I've made to find an online match have failed, and there's no local multiplayer at all — probably due to the required screen real estate by the camera.
There are, however, a good amount of single-player modes. Besides Free Race (race on any unlocked course), there are Challenge levels, a very silly Story mode for each character, and the Championship Mode, which you use to unlock new courses. Championship Mode is also the primary way of getting game credits, which let you purchase and upgrade cars.
Championship Mode also possesses one of the most mind-bogglingly stupid design decisions I've ever seen in a racing game. I will quote, verbatim, what the game's Help screen says about this mode:
"Championships are series of five pre-determined races. Same as in free race mode, you earn points after each race. After the five races, the racer ranked first wins the championship reward."
It sounds like every other racing game ever, right? You do five races, gets points based on your position, and at the end of the five races, whoever has the most points wins. There's just one problem: In Fuel Overdose, if you come any lower than fourth place, you instantly fail and have to redo the entire championship — even if you're on the final race and even if you came first in the other four races and are guaranteed to win on points no matter how badly you do.
This is so unbelievably awful that I suspect I must be doing something wrong, but I can't find any way to select a later race or continue after "failing" a race. As far as I can tell, you have to restart — in a game where getting shot a few times can make you spin out and come in dead last. Remember the "inducement to self-harm" I mentioned earlier? Failing one championship a few times in a row on the fourth race isn't much fun.
That's kind of the thing about Fuel Overdose: It's a game with a lot of good ideas and an equal amount of boneheaded execution that gets in the way of what enjoyment there is. Once you get past the (incredibly frustrating) first hour or two, earn some cash, and buy or upgrade a few cars, it's an OK combat-racing game that's hamstrung by its appalling camera and handicapped AI, and both of those sabotage any satisfaction you might actually get from the game.
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