After the apocalypse, combat racing will become the sport of choice. I can tell because no other machine gun-spewing, rocket-launching racing game feels right unless it’s set in some tragic version of paradise. Fuel Overdose is a pretty solid car combat game that has the unfortunate attribute of being poorly presented in nearly every facet.
Mad Max, But Brighter
If you’ve played other top-down racers before (think: Micro Machines), then you’ll have no issue grasping what’s going on in Fuel Overdose. You’re equipped with a load of machine gun ammo, rockets, and mines to blast, snip, or grapple your way through the game’s content, which consists of a variety of free races, tournaments and, uh… the story mode. I’ll get to that. Your controls are locked, meaning that you’ll use the right trigger to accelerate (sorry, L2) and the stick to steer independent of the camera, which ends up being the game’s biggest liability. The environments are generally impressive, taking place over of international locales like Las Vegas, Kyoto, or Cairo, that have been ruined by various environmental disasters. Unfortunately, to show many of these off (and to not get you lost in the process), the game will often whip-pan the camera to make sure you’re still looking in the right direction. This lead to a lot of crashes and frequent bouts of disorientation, even after playing the courses repeatedly. The game attempts to compensate for this by featuring a grappling mechanic that allows you to pull off ‘perfect turns’ around conveniently-placed anchors in the track, but I never got used to it. Still, the handling feels great, weapons feel effective, if not really generic, and each character has their own special combat moves that can be ingeniously activated with gestures performed with the right stick.
There’s plenty of races to plow through, but you’ll find the game’s paltry number of courses get old pretty quick. The game also, curiously, prompts you with a tutorial every single time you enter any of the modes. Every single time. And that Story mode? A train wreck. Each of the game’s characters – including overly-toned men and ridiculously bosomed women – has a unique series of missions stitched together by sliding-panel cutscenes that are simply the worst. The worst. There must have been some priority to show you these dreadful morsels of plot development – and I use the term ‘plot’ loosely – because merely placing in any of the mode’s races allows you to move on to the next segment. I suppose if you’re okay with the the dreadful standards of anime storytelling, or have been huffing a ton of glue, this might be acceptable entertainment. For the rest of us, this is the game’s most formal single-player mode and ultimately the most awkward thing that has ever been put in a video game in recent memory. Apparently, there’s also a pretty fun multiplayer mode, but the game’s pre-release status and lack of available reviewers to play with meant I didn’t clock any time mashing human opponents into dust.
Not A Pretty Pony
Fuel Overdose’s art direction is awful. From painfully bland menus and terrible typeface choices to the game’s artistic centerpiece – ever-present and tarty anime portraits – everything was a wrong decision here. The in-race interface is a clusterfuck of poorly-presented information that I wish I could have turned off. Little of it makes sense at a glance and all of it takes too much space. Not helping things is when special moves are performed and a giant character portrait slides on screen. The look of the racing itself seems to be ripped from a page of Borderlands with cel-shaded vehicles that don’t appear to be removed much from their contemporary, pre-apocalypse versions set against a lot of dusty terrain. On a technical basis, the game is decent, but the presentation got frame-y when more than two cars are on screen and in the case of the New York track, transitions between pools of water and merely moist concrete are marked by animated splotches because of the water plane clipping into the course, a clearly overlooked blemish.
If you can get over the fact that Fuel Overdose fumbles at presenting itself at every possible moment, it’s easy to fall in love with the game’s car combat core. There’s a lot of content in here if you can stomach the stale crust. But between some wonky or standard racing mechanics, a puzzling art direction and even more puzzling Story mode – the real meat of the game – Fuel Overdose falls way short of post-apocalyptic greatness.