Fuel - Xbox 360
Once racing titles were populated by finely crafted courses, designed with such a degree of brilliance that they stick firm in the mind of gamers decades later. Fuel, however, has meandered down the recently well trodden route of giving us a huge world to explore, with racing and challenges only one facet of the entire package.
Set in an expansive area of America ravaged by freak weather conditions, Fuel is a mix of sandbox and traditional racing. For those of you lacking the wealth of time all gamers truly desire, you can simply play through the career mode which concentrates on straight racing against multiple competitors.
Yet in every event you take part in, you'll "see" various challenges that are scattered across the landscape. These vary on the standard racing formula quite considerably. Some task you with following a helicopter and arriving at its designated landing zone before it can touch down. Others will drop you in a speedy vehicle which needs to touch its target before the timer ticks down to zero.
That's not to say that those of you sticking a little more closely to the traditional career path will miss all the fun. A large portion of the time the courses themselves are fairly open. Though you will be required to hit checkpoints along the way, you're free to choose your own path. What appears to be the shortest route isn't always necessarily the quickest when you take into consideration the surface and sharp drops that can cause your chosen vehicle to drop in speed quite considerably.
There's even a choice in how you choose each event you wish to take part in. For the driving lovers, and ones who pack the urge to explore, you can hop in one of your vehicles and traverse the world to the exact starting spot. Yet if its immediate action you want, you can simply choose the options via a menu screen.
Completing each event attains fuel, the currency in this particular racer. This, unsurprisingly, is utilised in purchasing brand new items for your ample garage. Both two and four wheeled options are plentiful, from tiny bikes to hefty trucks. And each of which can be painted and tweaked physically however you see fit. You can even pick up the liveries of downed vehicles in the game world by smashing into them which unlocks yet more options.
The racing itself feels quite close to the much-loved Colin McRae's Dirt, also from Codemasters. Each vehicle handles truly uniquely, and drifting around bends has been crafted to a high degree of fun and accuracy. The included route finder, which uses huge glowing arrows to help you pick a decent route between checkpoints can sometimes get a little confused, but it wont take long before you're much more eager to pick and choose your own direction as you see fit.
The ability to pick and choose your difficulty settings for each career-based race - each step up attains double to total fuel - is an obvious, yet brilliantly tuned inclusion. While you can leave your fellow drivers far behind during the early races at the lowest difficulty, take things up a notch and two and it'll be tight the whole way. Making for a much fun and thrilling time.
You can even, if the mood takes you, use this expansive landscape to create your own races. You can easily craft a tricky route, test it, and tweak it until you can sit back and feel truly proud that you've created something as impressive as the professional design team.
What can't be competed with are the fantastic technical levels on show. In terms of sheer gorgeousness, Fuel truly hits some mystifying peaks. Particularly during a morning race through a forest, you'll be astounded by just what the game has to offer in which to treat your aching eyes.
It's not all peaches and cream however. Loading screens make ample appearances which only breaks the feel of the huge expansive world to explore. And your fellow racers aren't the best and brightest, with little in the way of unique personality and reluctance to leave the preferred racing line.