Full Auto Review
Full Auto is one of those games that looks like a wonderful idea but just isn't nearly as fun as you expected. Sure, you're racing around in mean-looking vehicles blowing each other up with massive weapons and taking out whole buildings every time you miss your enemy. Sure, the graphics are great and online play works smoothly. But a number of technical issues and a certain intangible shallowness to the gameplay mean this one will stay in your 360 for maybe a week before you'll be trading it in at your local GameStop.
The game starts you out with a career mode and trains you in one thing at a time - first, it's just racing around alone without guns. You'll quickly realize that this game's racing is so arcadey and unrealistic, it's actually a little too over the top in that respect. The cars handle way too tightly compared to most racing games and you'll need to really get used to it. To help this, Full Auto includes an interesting-sounding "Unwreck" feature. As you blow stuff up, your Unwreck meter fills up, and you can use this meter to rewind time and undo your mistakes. Since this isn't (and really, can't be) used in the multiplayer modes, though, it's really not something you want to get used to relying on. That makes Unwreck one of those things that's cool to see once or twice, but otherwise it's just a bullet point on the back of the box.
What the back of the box can't really show you, though, is the fact that almost everything in this game is destructible. Pieces of buildings can be ripped out, all the stuff on the sidewalk can be taken out, and just about any piece of glass in this game (even the glass in third-floor windows) can be smashed if you get the right angle. That's really about the biggest semi-unique feature in Full Auto, as the gunplay and racing will probably bore you long before the visuals do.
The cars you will drive in Full Auto are fully destructible, so that means - you guessed it - there are no real life car manufacturers here. Still, you'll find that each car has a unique blend of three stats: speed, handling, and durability. Race modes are fairly plentiful here, although they pretty much all follow the same formula where you can hardly see sometimes due to all the explosions going on. And the number and variety of tracks you get here doesn't add up to much, as it pretty much all takes place on mostly-clean urban streets with no pedestrians.
As you go through career mode, you'll unlock twenty cars that show plenty of damage as they get hit. Firing various configurations of huge guns both in front of and behind you is one of the best parts of this game, and while your car has a certain amount of armor (and a nice visual indicator on the HUD to show you just where you're getting blasted), your poor car will eventually turn into a burning hunk of junk. The game waits a couple of seconds and places you back where you were - this doesn't necessarily mean you've lost, because plenty of people get shot in this game and everything is very chaotic anyway. What is lacking is the ability to take down the guy in first place from anywhere on the track (yes, I'm thinking of a certain Mario Kart powerup), so once someone gets into first place and out of sight from the rest of the pack, he's almost guaranteed to win.
There is a downside to the game's incredible visuals: the frame rate. Full Auto is a very volatile game when it comes to the smoothness of the action, and you can expect its frame rate to dip under ten frames per second pretty often. It also manages to get up to 60fps in some rare cases, and it usually does manage at least 20 to 30fps, but it's just about the least consistent frame rate I've seen on the Xbox 360 so far. Sure, the game goes almost overboard with texture quality, reflections, and huge explosions and special effects, but the guys at Pseudo Interactive really should have spent more time making sure the frame rate stays stable.
In multiplayer, however, Full Auto is pretty solid. There's a decent two-player split screen competitive mode, and Xbox Live can support up to eight players at once. There are plenty of multiplayer options to fiddle with so most Live veterans will be satisfied, but they may not wind up being too happy with the actual gameplay. And this probably will come from Full Auto being just as much an action game as it is a racing game, and crossing genre gaps like that can often mean alienating fans of both. The unique sense of style seen in the Twisted Metal or Burnout series (or Interstate '76 for that matter) brought those games to a new level, along with their own brands of action-based racing. This game has great visuals, but it just lacks a certain amount of style that many of its rivals have.
The sound in Full Auto is pretty damn good, and the guns, explosions, and engines all but drown out the game's disappointing music. The sad part is that using custom soundtracks through the Xbox 360's main interface is totally broken, as the game will turn off your custom music whenever you come across a load screen. That's just plain unacceptable and it's clear to me that Microsoft really needs to test these publishers' games a little harder before certifying them for release.
Despite the soundtrack bug, I think Full Auto would have made for a great budget-priced game. If it was $30 or $35, one could more readily overlook the shallow gameplay and frame rate issues, and fully enjoy the overall impressive graphics and slightly-controlled chaos that many races turn into. But at the $60 price point where the game's currently sitting, I find it hard to recommend this over other Xbox 360 racing games, like Need for Speed: Most Wanted or Project Gotham Racing 3, or even Burnout Revenge on the original Xbox. Sure, the graphics in Full Auto are great and lots of stuff goes boom, but so many other games just plain play better. It's rare that I wish for a game to go right into the bargain bin, but that's where Full Auto truly belongs - it's really only a question of how long it'll take.