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Joystiq Review: Full Auto


Dev #1:
Guys, I've got a great idea... let's do a Burnout game with guns!
Dev #2: Yeah, totally! Guns and big explosions! And let's throw in "one-touch" instant replay so we can watch the carnage over and over again!
Dev #3: Woah, now you're talkin'! But c'mon, let's not stop there. How about Burnout with guns, destructible environments, instant replays, and... the ability to rewind time!
Dev #1: Rewind time?
Dev #3: Yeah, rewind time.
Dev #1: ...
Dev #2: ...
Dev #3: Guys?

The conversation should've ended there, but it didn't. Last Tuesday, Sega released Full Auto, billed as Burnout meets Twisted Metal—with a dash of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time tossed in the mix. In many regards, Full Auto feels like this, a big clump of dough that never made it to the oven. The ingredients are there, but the final product is raw and never rises to the level achieved by great racing titles.

Full AutoGuns, explosions, and time control aside—don't worry, we'll get to these—at its heart, Full Auto is an arcade racer. And if the game was measured on this element alone, it would crash and burn... out of existence. At first glance, Full Auto's most unforgivable flaw is its wonky frame rate, which dips below acceptable any time a huge explosion rocks the screen, which, given the game's other elements, happens at least once a race. In fact, whenever the on-screen action begins to pile up, the frame rate gets choppy, reminding players with a real need for speed that the fun is elsewhere.

Despite these frame rate issues, it's the weightlessness of the cars, the sense that they're detached from the road that will likely sour your experience in the long run. Sure, physics are tossed to the roadside in any true arcade racer, but here, the effect is so pronounced that there are no discernable differences between the various driving terrains, be they concrete, gravel, dirt, or even air—traction doesn't exist. You float, until your clunky hunk of metal happens upon a sharp turn, at which point you hit the brakes and swivel, undoubtedly crashing head-on into oncoming traffic or veering off into a wall. Frustrating? Not really. Remember, you have the power to control time.

It's almost as if the "unwreck" feature (the ability to rewind time) was an afterthought, built to compensate for the flawed racing mechanics. So you've taken a sharp turn and smashed into an oncoming car? Just rewind it back. Now you've taken it too wide and smacked into the wall? Rewind it again. Heck, if you can't get it right this third time, there's still enough juice left in the unwreck meter to give it another shot. It's a rare feature that erases the frustrating elements of a game, but at the same time, is never actually fun.

Full Auto

Visually, there's little to ogle, which leaves the one-touch replay function feeling like one of those options that the car dealer sells you on, but is never put to use. The glossy coats of paint can't hide the fact that the car models are generic and unappealing, as are the environments, which, despite changes of scenery, lack the range of lighting effects we've come to expect on the Xbox 360. The developers have filled the sky with light, but forgot to create a source.

Full Auto features a variety of event types built from these five basic formulas:

  • Down-and-Back - Race to a point, turn around, and race back to the start
  • Rampage - Destroy a specified number of cars and finish the course before time runs out
  • Point-to-Point - Linear track race
  • Circuit Racing - Multiple lap race
  • Lap Knockout - Multiple lap race; last place car at the end of each lap is disqualified

Each of the career mode challenges is based on one of these formulas, spruced up with additional variables. Despite the variety, the event types are limited to finishing first or beating out the clock. It would have been nice to see, for example, a destruction derby mode. Upon winning an event, you're awarded with a medal—Full Auto, Semi-Auto, or Survived. Gamer point addicts might be interested in pursuing all of the Full Auto medals, but there's little sense that you're actually becoming more skilled at the game when reaching the top goal of an event. Many times, you just get lucky.

So it's down to the guns. Does the ability to blow up (almost) anything and everything ensure there's fun to be had? The short answer: no. Perhaps it's because the explosions never cease, and ultimately you start to ignore them in order to focus on winning the race. But even your first taste of igniting a gas station into flames or blasting apart a towering monument never draws an involuntary "wow." It's firecrackers not fireworks, folks, and we would have gladly traded the abundance of the former, for just a few glimpses of the latter.

Full AutoThe real difference between firecrackers and fireworks is the BOOM. Unfortunately, Full Auto's sound falls flat. Car engines sound like lawnmowers. When you hit the self-destruct button, it sounds like a balloon pop. Trust us, when Burnout: Revenge hits the 360, you'll understand what a glorified self-destruct explosion ought to sound like.

As for the music, the second-rate licensed audio tracks, an amalgamation of techno and hard rock, didn't suit our tastes, so we fired up some custom tunes. Unfortunately, whenever the game hits a load screen (upon restarting a race or choosing a new race event) the game switches back to its default music. Oh, and about those load screens... try 15 seconds to restart an event or 10 seconds to exit it in order to select (not start) a new event.

We've struggled to find a redeeming quality about this misbegotten racer. We will say that we admire the risk that Pseudo Interactive, the developers, have taken by attempting to pull off Burnout with guns and time control. That takes cojones. And we're certain that less critical gamers will forgive Full Auto's shortcomings and enjoy it, at least during the current drought of new Xbox 360 content. However, we hesitate to envision this game enjoying a long-standing cult following.

There was no shortage of ideas when Full Auto was in its development stage. Unfortunately, when it comes to video games, it's not the thought that counts.

Overall Rating: 5.5 / 10

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