Reviewed: March 18, 2006
Released: February 15, 2006
The Xbox 360 has been out for less than 90 days and Full Auto already has three titles to compete with (soon to be four). But Sega is counting on gamers’ lust for fiery crashes and explosive racing action mixed with military-spec weaponry in their second 360 release where horsepower meets firepower. The results…explosive!
Mixing in a health dose of Burnout and even greater portions of Twisted Metal Full Auto is a total rush, but unlike most controlled substances, that “high” is short-lived and not terribly addicting, but it sure is fun while it lasts.
On paper, Full Auto would appear to have it all starting with the ability to totally decimate cars and property, and get rewarded for doing so. Borrowing from the Prince of Persia’s library of tricks, you can rewind time to “unwreck” yourself and hopefully make that jump or dodge that missile the second or third time around.
There is a garage full of 21 vehicles ranging from roadsters to muscle cars all the way up to tow trucks and special bonus cars built just for combat. There are 8 powerful weapons that can be attached to the front and rear of your car for al sorts of destructive possibilities, and 18 tracks are host to more than 80 events in the single player career.
Full Auto delivers the traditional racing experience offering numerous game modes and five race variations. As always, the Career mode is the heart of the game and the key to unlocked all of the cars and tracks for the rest of the game. There are 16 stages of increasing difficulty that will allows you to explore all the cars, weapons, tracks, and various race modes.
Head-to-Head offers split-screen racing action for you and a friend on any unlocked track using any unlocked cars and weapons. You can even add up to six more computer-controlled racers to make things more interesting. The only downside is that the Unwreck feature is disabled, admittedly, one of the game’s most impressive features but I can see why they had to do it.
Arcade Races gives you instant access to everything you have already unlocked in the career mode at a variety of skill levels. Mastery of the Arcade mode is also a significant part of unlocking several of the game’s achievements.
Finally, you can head online for races with up to seven other drivers competing in any type of race on any track with any weapons. It’s all unlocked for online play regardless of your progress in the career mode, so this is a great way to sample what you haven’t unlocked on your own.
There are five types of races that are fairly self-explanatory. Down-and-Back is basically a sprint to the far end of the map and back to the start. This mode can be a bit interesting in that any unexploded mines that were dropped on the first half of the race will have to be avoided on the return trip.
Rampage basically assigns you an arbitrary dollar amount of damage you must do and a time limit in which to do it. Everything counts including civilian traffic, signs, windows, statues, or anything else that can be destroyed.
Circuit Races are simply multi-lap races around a section of the city where you are required to come in first, and Lap Knockout are even longer multi-lap races where the person to cross the finish line last on each lap is removed from the race until only one remains.
The racing action is really intense with a built-in reward system for driving skillfully and dangerously. By performing jumps and power slides you can slowly fill your nitro meter then unleash it during key moments in the race. The trick here is that you can only use it when the meter is full but you don’t have to use it all at once.
Your disregard for public safety or property is rewarded each time you blow up a car or building or smash through destructible objects like chairs, signs, or blow up fuel tanks. The bigger the destruction the more Unwreck time you earn for your meter. Use this to back yourself out of a bad turn or a premature death. The more time in your meter, the further back you can rewind. Just make sure you don’t end up in a worse place than where you started.
Racing is only half of Full Auto. Weapons and destruction are just as much a part of the action and knowing how to equip your car is crucial to winning races and meeting the objectives. Weapons are divided into forward and rear firing weapons. You have machine guns, grenades, rockets, missiles, a manual-targeted machine gun for the front and smoke and mines to drop from the rear.
Ammo is unlimited but your weapons do overheat during the race so there is a bit of skill in their use. It also helps to match the weapons to the type of race. If you are doing a Rampage then you want as much forward-firing destruction on your car as possible. If you are good about taking the lead early and holding it then you don’t want to waste your weapon layout on the hood of your car if nobody is ahead of you.
Some races force you into certain cars and weapon configs, but when you are free to choose there are often several setups and you can modify those further by changing the power level of individual weapons. So if you have Lv2 missiles and machine guns on the front you can opt to upgrade your machine guns to Lv3 and downgrade your missiles to Lv1.
Personally, I found the machine guns almost put the game out of balance. Strange as it may seem, I did the most damage and won the game much faster using Lv3 machine guns whenever allowed. Grenades are too imprecise, rockets are inaccurate, and missiles take too long to reload. Machine guns overheat quickly but at Lv3 you can destroy an opponent’s car before they do.
The shotgun is one of the more interesting weapons in that you can actually aim it with the right stick firing at enemies that are beside you. This is a great tactic when you don’t want to be tailgating a car that is dropping mines. Just pull alongside and blast away.
With all this racing and fighting the control scheme works surprisingly well. The physics for the cars is admittedly arcade but at least its predictable, so once you learn Full Auto’s rules for physics you know where you stand. The face buttons handle independent firing of primary and secondary weapons and the bumpers handle nitro and unwreck while the triggers are gas and brake.
There is a scoring and reward system for each race usually rooted in the amount of damage and the time you took or which place you finished. Bronze, silver, and gold medals are available but only the gold will get you the achievement points.
My biggest complaint about Full Auto is the total lack of tracks. The game claims 18 tracks but those are spread across only a few environments, so about 2-3 hours into the game you have seen just about everything there is to see. And where is my destruction derby or combat arenas for multiplayer? Perhaps that would be “too much” like Twisted Metal.
The load times are also excessively long and rather than give you valuable tips or cool splash screens you get to stare at the Full Auto logo for what I am estimating to be about a full 60 minutes over the course of completing this entire game.
While there isn’t a lot of variety in the Full Auto scenery, what does exist is amazingly detailed and totally destructible to levels that have yet to be seen on any other racing game. This is Total Destruction. You can blast the front out of every building you drive by, blow up civilian traffic, propane tanks, you can smash through buildings driving through a casino or taking a shortcut through a car dealership’s salesroom floor after smashing through the plate glass windows. You can ramp through billboards and signs and use your grenades and rockets to bring down bridges and derail trains.
The level of special effects is blinding, and also apparently too intense, even for the Xbox 360 as slowdown becomes a common occurrence as the screen becomes littered with debris, fire, and smoke. It’s not terrible slowdown and it could even be confused with slow motion. Oddly enough, you can fix a lot of the framerate issues by forcing your 360 in 480p mode.
Other filters and camera effects are in full use like blurring and screen distortion when you kick in nitro. You can even watch your car stretch out then snap back into original form. There are multiple race cameras including behind the car and the hood view. As always, I preferred the hood view for most of my races except when I was forced to use the shotgun. Then you almost have to use the chase view to target cars alongside you.
While there is no end-of-race replay feature there is a one-touch replay that is pretty cool if you are quick enough to tap down on the D-pad. Over the course of the entire game I only did it maybe three or four times and then you forget about it. There are “action cams” for most of the bigger jumps and matrix-like zoom effects when you blow up a rival car, but these flashy replays can also trigger framerate issues. Thankfully, you can turn off special cameras in the options and race uninterrupted.
You’ll either love or hate the music. The credits list only four licensed songs along with some adaptive in-game music that starts to get repetitive and annoying, even if you do like it. You’ll either want to turn it down or off to enjoy what is otherwise a mind-blowing sound experience that will rock your world, or at least your game room.
The sound effects in this game are phenomenal with low-frequency effects that tempted me to turn down my sub-woofer a notch. Explosions (and there are many) result in concussions waves that seem to leap from the screen into your room and knock stuff off the shelves and walls. Your mind will go into a trance for the 20 seconds of machine gun fire only to snap out of it during the “click…click…click” as your guns cool down. Then you have the whoosh or rockets and missiles or the hollow mortal-like “thunk” as grenades are lobbed toward the horizon.
If you keep your ears tuned you might just be able to hear the occasional engine noise or tires squealing on pavement. And all of this comes at you in a totally immersive Dolby Digital surround package that puts you in the heat of road rage.
The single player career mode can take upwards of a week of casual gaming. While I can’t recall ever losing a race there were several times when I only got a silver or bronze medal and that just won’t do. The split-screen racing is fun for awhile but once you have enjoyed the luxury of “unwreck” you’ll probably just want to take turns playing the career races.
The Arcade races are also enjoyable, almost like mini-game challenges, but you’ll have to defeat them all at the hardest skill level to unlock those last few achievements. And finally, the online play is not that different from the solo play, but you’ll need to rise through ten online rankings to unlock the final ten achievements in the game.
There are 1000 Gamer Points divided amongst 50 achievements and those are spread across career, arcade, and online modes. You can net about 800 of those points just by finishing the game and getting gold on all the career races. The rest of them will take some extra effort and a lot more time.
There is easily 15-20 hours of insane racing combat to be had with Full Auto, and you can tack on another 8-10 hours to perfect the game if you are truly dedicated.
I knew I was going to like Full Auto when I saw an early demo for it at E3 last year, and while the game is indeed fun and delivers everything it promised, I can’t help but want more…more tracks, more modes (like arena combat), and more weapons.
Full Auto is fun while it lasts but probably best played in short doses. About 80% through the game I had seen and done just about everything there is to do and I was merely going through the motions to complete the career and inflate my online profile with some more achievement points.
There is a lot of potential with Full Auto and hopefully we’ll see a more developed concept with better online play in the near future. For now, it’s probably best as a rental unless you really plan to spend the weeks required to unlock every last bonus.