Crash Test Dummy.
Which has killed more people: guns or cars? Before you jump on the deadly bandwagon, remember that the gun was invented long before the first pedestrian walked out in front of the Model T.
Give up? A quick check of the facts tells us that the most dangerous thing to do would be to smoke a cigarette while driving under the influence, both windows down through a thick cloud of micro toxins, all while being shot at during unprotected sex. Now that would make a great video game.
[image1]Full Auto, however, doesn’t. Though it brings shooting and driving together in a new way, the game only proves that combining two equally fun ways to kill things doesn’t make it twice as good.
The premise of the game is simple enough: race your armed car against other armed cars, blowing each other up on the way to the finish line. Each car can equip two weapons, one in the front and one in the rear. You accelerate and brake with the triggers while firing your weapons with the face buttons or with the right analog stick. It doesn’t take too long to get the controls down, and for a game that boasts a decent driving mechanic and a shooting component, racing and shooting is surprisingly easy. It’s like Mario Kart, except with mines instead of banana peels.
Career is the main single-player mode, consisting of a series of races that get progressively harder and feature different individual goals. Sometimes you will be required to blow up a rival car before the race is over; other times you will have to choose a car a class lower than your competitors. But no matter the goal or difficulty, every task is in the context of a race.
Ultimately, there is little depth to Career mode as your car is usually pre-selected for you and your choice of guns is severely limited. You are also the picture of anonymity, because you have no name, face, agenda, or personality. At least Wario growled.
This race-’til-you’re-blue-in-the-face formula might still have worked if the races didn’t seem so haphazard. Arcade racers like Burnout (obviously the model for Full Auto) focus on precision driving and making perfect turns while teetering on the edge of losing control. In Full Auto, the focus is on losing control early and often.
And out of control is what Full Auto does best. Short of my old college apartment, the destructibility of the environments is as good as it gets. Machine-gun fire disintegrates walls, windows, scaffolding, billboards, statues and anything else you see as you drive. Rockets do even more damage, taking down whole building facades and littering the road with debris. You will shoot quite a bit, not just at other cars, but at the environment itself just to see what happens. The game even rewards you for breaking things, giving you “wreck points” that help earn medals and fill up the interesting Unwreck meter.
[image2]The Unwreck meter is one of the more technically impressive features of Full Auto. If you get into a tight spot, you can rewind a few seconds of the race, giving yourself two or three shots at a difficult jump or a problematic turn. Even though this very cool Tivo feature shows off the power of the 360, it really de-emphasizes driving. Take a wrong turn? No problem, just Unwreck it. It’s forgiving in all the wrong ways, kind of like my high-school Spanish teacher who let us get away with anything except learning Spanish. Esto es por tuyo, Senora DeOlivera. Grazie.
However, I did learn that Spain was a place in the world, and that it had landmarks, like that building that leans to one side. Missing from the tracks of Full Auto, however, is such essential context. Instead of anything unique or recognizable, the game’s environments include the nameless city, the freeway, the warehouse, and the strange mountain region that might be Utah but could be Mars.
That’s because gravity, as well as most physics, is liberally interpreted. Hit a ramp or even a small bump in the road and your car goes flying like it just hit a trampoline. Hit an oncoming car and it explodes and disintegrates, barely affecting your speed, but hit a fire truck and your car halts immediately, impossibly.
The vehicles are a nicely varied bunch of hot rods, muscle cars, SUVs and sedans. The guns, however, are only available in certain packages and are not that exciting an arsenal. Machine-guns and rockets are exactly as they sound; an aimable shotgun is possibly the most innovative weapon. Rear-mounted weapons include the ubiquitous mines, grenades, and a hardly effective smoke-screen. You can customize your gun packages by making your front weapons stronger at the expense of the rear, but there really doesn’t feel like much strategic difference between any of the weapon options. They are balanced to the point of being obsolete.
Instituting some kind of gun pick-up might have spiced things up, but you’re cursed to the same weapons for the whole race. Limiting ammunition would have made the fighting a bit more tactical, but as it is, the only curb to your destructive enthusiasm is an overheat meter on your guns. After a while, you just don’t care about aiming or placing mines strategically – you just shoot and drop with less discretion than a heroin addict.
Sadly, the shooting and racing elements just don’t connect well. To earn medals, you have to accomplish goals that don’t quite make sense together. For example, many races ask you to finish first (good), kill a rival (well, okay), and accumulate 150,000 “wreck points” (uh, why?), all in the same go. This means that you’ll start a race by shooting at your rival until he dies, and then frantically drive full speed while trying to shoot the buildings beside you to score points. Talk about a driving contradiction.
[image3]Unsurprisingly, the visuals are a mixed-bag. The explosions and flying debris are incredible, but the framerate slows down considerably when it get crazy, which is to say, often. Due to a combination of graphics that do not blur and zig-zagging tracks that do not allow long stretches of full throttle, the game doesn’t relay a good sense of speed. The cars are very shiny and show damage, but they aren’t detailed and look as generic as the cityscapes they drive down.
However, watching those generic cars flip and explode over and over again is easy with the one-touch instant replay feature. Some of the more absurd stunts just have to be replayed from every angle; it’s a shame the replays can’t be saved to the hard drive.
Full Auto‘s soundtrack is anything but full. The songs are all curiously inoffensive, electronic instrumentals. They don’t add anything, but mercifully aren’t as annoying as some “real” rock soundtracks. The audio effects are all passable, though the sound palate sometimes seems as thin as the weapon options.
Both the online and offline races suffer from becoming too spaced out on tracks that zig-zag every few yards. Because Unwrecking is disabled in multiplayer races, the all-out mayhem that is this game’s signature is missing. Also, without any non-race variants (I could imagine some kind of Twisted Metal battle mode, for instance ), the multiplayer is actually pretty boring.
And despite its impressive engine, so is Full Auto. It might supply tons of carnage, but without a solid game surrounding it, this is little more than a frantic, gorgeous wreck.