Fuel is a racing game, so it doesn’t have a story. Nor does it particularly need one either and no doubt any attempt that might have been made to wrap some sort of narrative over racing dirt bikes over a massive open world would have only resulted in us laughing at the game anyway.
It’s weird then that, despite not having a plot of any kind, Fuel leads you to somewhat expect one. You think that there should be a narrative, despite the genre, because the world that Fuel is set in is a strangely unique and (initially) compelling one for the racing genre. The post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the backdrop for all of Fuel is littered with debris, burned out houses, ruined ocean liners and vast open deserts that are slowly advancing on dying forests. It seems like there should be a reason for all this and we were quietly hoping we might be able to get to the bottom of it.
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As it is though, we couldn’t. There’s no reason why Fuel’s world is so catastrophically shattered, not really. The blurb on the press release and the brief entry in Wikipedia might briefly and flimsily suggest a world wracked by the ravages of global warming and a shift in weather patterns, but that’s not something we ever saw being vocalised in the game itself and it definitely wasn’t explored in any real sense. The reason it’s there is simply that the developers thought it would be cool, probably.
In a way they’re right; it is cool to race alongside tornadoes and through lightning storms, knowing that the weather could shift and change the race conditions at any moment... but it also makes the game a bit confusing too. The open world, the interesting world-concept, graphical style and selection of vehicles all hint that Fuel had a strong idea that it got halfway toward reaching before someone else took over and slapped the usual bunch of arcade racer gimmicks on it.
The idea of hunting for barrels of fuel in a broken and battered world quickly gives way to messages in a pseudo-cool, punky font that literally says “Congratulations, you came first! You’ve unlocked some Coarse Fabric Trousers!”. Coarse Fabric Trousers? When we put them on would we also unlock Crotch Chafing?
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It’s a shame that something more couldn’t have been built out of the game world, in many ways. We’re not saying that Fuel desperately needs a story necessarily, but it just feels a shame that so much effort was clearly put into creating what is apparently the biggest virtual world yet assembled for a computer game, filling it up with a bunch of cool weather effects and locations, but then not really do anything with them. Yes, there’s some extreme weather and unique locations – but the worst that can ever happen to you in a game is that you have to press triangle to reset your position back on the road.
Unfortunately though, the fact that the game world perhaps wasn’t utilised to its fullest potential isn’t anywhere near the most damning thing about Fuel. Instead, it’s the shallow gameplay, frustrating ‘help’ system, dodgy graphics and samey missions that are more worrying. It’s just that the disparity between what we think Fuel might have been trying to with the environment and what the gameplay actually is make for a more interesting observation than us just saying that the game left us more bored than a kid in a carpet store.
And trust us – it takes a lot of mediocrity and flaws to make racing down mountains on a quadbike a yawn-worthy exercise.