Full Auto Preview

The speed limit has left the building.

Is there anything more aggravating than a bad traffic jam? Stop-and-go driving can turn even the sweetest old lady into a bird-flipping monster. And every year, I’m treated to a double-shot of the worst traffic in the country trying to get in and out of Downtown L.A. for three days of E3.

But this was no ordinary year at the drive-in. E3 2005 saw the announcement of three new console systems, sparking an avalanche of hype in the form of outrageous screenshots and thrilling trailers. We much prefer actual gameplay, you know, so it’s fitting that we got some quality hands-on time with Sega and Pseudo Interactive’s Xbox 360 therapeutic traffic buster, Full Auto.

[image1]The game is one part racing to two parts mayhem. While the goal of most racing games is to finish first, the object of this one is to not only finish in the top position, but to cause an insane amount of damage in the process, combining massive destruction with straight up speed. Burnout meets Vigilante 8.

The backdrop of the game involves a mysterious gang known as The Shepherds, who have taken the city of Staunton hostage. You play the role of a mysterious, retired driver unwillingly forced to participate in lethal blacktop contests that put your life on the line. Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s all we have to go on so far.

Unlike other race games, the car selection process doesn’t handicap you from the start by forcing you to choose from a bunch of low-end, underpowered beater cars. Instead, you’ll have your pick from a variety of beasts right out of the gate. All cars have a customizable twist to them. Though you won’t be shopping for suspension kits and dubs, Full Auto will supply a range of offensive and defensive tools to help keep you from becoming roadkill. The basic machine-guns and rocket launchers will hold down the fort, but you can get much more creative by adding a combination of weapons to produce additional damage effects. For example, you can drop an oil slick, watch as the competition skids out, then use your flamethrower to set the whole mess aflame. All that’s missing are the S’Mores.

The racing itself is fast and intense, due in no small part to the obvious power of the new system. The sense of speed is shocking, at times downright scary as you whip past intricately detailed scenery in a blaze of color. But where things really get hairy is when your bullet of a ride turns into a fireball of doom.

Initially shown a few years back at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Jose, the game’s proprietary engine churns out some absolutely awesome crash physics. Cars measure armor on each of four sides and are destroyed when crashes and enemy weapons eat their way through to the core.

Wrecking parts of the environment can profoundly affect race conditions, too, thanks to the game’s Domino Theory of environmental carnage. Blow up a gas station and some debris might take out a rival’s tires, or perhaps ignite a big rig parked nearby, which could explode and tear up the wall of a building, dumping lethal bricks on yet another competing ride. Frames twist and buckle under the strain of, say, a recently rocketed overpass. Sweet. It’s infrastructure destruction at its finest.

In case you get in a tight spot, a cool new feature called “Unwreck” lets you rewind time in limited amounts in order to avoid nasty crashes or unfortunate accidents. To fill the Unwreck meter, players will need to perform stunts such as big jumps and powerslides. After an unfortunate demise, just press a button and rewind time. It’s a bit reminiscent of a play mechanic that was used in Blinx: The Time Sweeper a few years back, but here it functions more as a do-over than a puzzle-solver. There’s a bit of strategy involved as well, since sometimes you’re better off just taking a time penalty and getting back in the race the “normal” way. Unwrecking with a low meter might just mean you’ll slam into that same wall again and again.

Questions linger about the balance between racing and combat. According to Pseudo, the team didn’t want players to be rewarded for just racing to the finish line first – the point of the game is to be extremely fast and extremely destructive at the same time. To make sure that the destruction requirement is fulfilled, players will actually need to obtain a certain amount of destruction points and finish in one of the top three positions to earn the top “Full Auto” rating for each race.

Even at this early stage in the game, Full Auto looks like it’s headed down the right road and blowing it to smithereens. Ludicrous speeds, big crashes and an interesting mix of weapons are reasons enough to keep your sights locked on to this one, due with the release of the Xbox 360 this Winter.

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