Full Auto is the first Xbox 360 title of 2006. It signals the second wave of Xbox 360 titles, a group many experts feel will be the first to truly showcase the power of Microsoft’s next-generation console. From a technical standpoint Sega’s combat racing game lives up to those expectations with its wonderfully destructible environments, but it loses traction by failing to provide lasting appeal, ultimately forcing me to wave the cautionary yellow flag. Strap on your seatbelt and join me as we take Full Auto for a spin.
Best described as Burnout with weapons, Full Auto is as much about outlasting your opponents to the finish line as it is outracing them. Vehicles are equipped with an arsenal of deadly weapons, ranging from forward mounted twin machine guns and missiles to rear mounted mines and tear gas canisters. While most of the weapons are designed to literally blow away the competition, some are more defensive in nature, ideal for faster cars aiming to take the lead and protect it.
You’ll be taking aim at more than just your rival racers however. Everything in the environment is fully destructible, and I mean everything. Gas stations explode in a fantastic display of fireworks, storefronts shatter into glass fragments, and bus shelters, newspaper stands and lampposts don’t stand a chance in head-on collisions. Destroying both the surroundings and rival racers helps fill your Unwreck meter, one of the key features of Full Auto, alongside the destructible environments. By pressing the right shoulder button, players can use their Unwreck meter to rewind time a few seconds, affording them a second chance to eliminate an opponent, avoid a disastrous collision or hit that ramp just right. Speaking of which, you’ll want to mix some daredevil stunts in with your destructive behaviour. Nailing jumps and powersliding around corners will help fill your Boost meter. You can only use your Boost meter when it’s completely full, but a well-timed boost can put you ahead of the competition for good.
There are a total of 21 vehicles in Full Auto; a nice selection of muscle cars, exotics, SUVs, tuners and classic cars. Each vehicle is rated for durability, handling and speed, and each car is customizable in terms of color. There are 8 weapons to equip your vehicles with and each weapon class has three levels, with third level weapons causing the most damage. In order to unlock the different vehicles and skins, you’ll have to compete in the singleplayer Career Mode.
The Career Mode is where the meat of the singleplayer game lies. You’ll work your way through a series of chapters unlocking new vehicles, tracks and skins as you go. You’ll begin with a basic tutorial series before moving on to other racing chapters. Each chapter presents unique objectives. For example, the Time Trial chapter tasks players to complete each race as fast as they can, the Hunter chapter features pursuit-based mission objectives in which you’ll have to hunt down and eliminate enemy vehicles, and the Underdogs chapter challenges racers to prevail against superior class vehicles. There are seventeen chapters in total, lending to a diverse and robust campaign.
The Career Mode does have some bumps in the road. Like Burnout’s World Tour Mode, it features a three-tiered medal system: Full Auto, Semi Auto and Survival. As long as you achieve at least a Survival medal, you’ll get to move on to the next race. The only incentive to medal higher, other than for achievements sake, is to unlock the Warlord, the monster on Full Auto’s vehicle roster. As a result, it’s really not all that challenging to unlock most of the content in the Career Mode. To make matters worse, there aren’t that many tracks in the game. Before long, you’ll have found all the secret paths and mastered all the turns and jumps of each of the tracks. This is where the lasting appeal starts to wear thin. Full Auto is also lacking that X factor, that extra special quality that when it comes to quitting time, makes players say “just one more race, one more challenge, then I’ll call it quits.”
The other singleplayer mode is Arcade Races, your typical pick-up-and-play mode where you have access to all the tracks, cars, weapons and skins that you’ve unlocked in Career Mode. There are five game types ranging from Circuit to Elimination matches and you can customize each race to your liking in terms of the number of opponents, each of their car classes and the AI difficulty.
When you’re ready for some multiplayer action, Full Auto offers head-to-head via split-screen and Xbox Live support. Understandably absent from multiplayer races is the Unwreck feature. Obviously you can’t have one human-controlled racer rewind time without all the other racers having the same effect, but it’s disappointing none the less to have one of the game’s key features taken away. With that said, multiplayer does add a little more life to Full Auto, even if the game types are limited. Some team-based modes would have spiced things up considerably.
Visually, Full Auto isn’t on par with the likes of Project Gotham Racing 3. There’s a trade-off here: less photo-realism, more destruction. In a combat racing game, I’ll take that deal any day of the week. The destructible environment is arguably the MVP feature of Full Auto, so much so that you’ll often find yourself cruising the streets simply to see what kind of damage you can cause to the locales; it’s a guilty pleasure. As I stated earlier, everything in the environment is destructible to some extent. A well-timed rocket can even bring an aboveground subway to the street or bring a smoke stack crumbling down. If you’re worried about framerate, don’t be, Full Auto never drops even during the most explosive races.
Where Full Auto does falter technically is loading times. It’s not necessarily how long loads take, but how often they take place. Before you start a race, there’s a loading screen and when you finish a race, there’s a loading screen to take you back to the menu. If you wish to move on to the next race within the same game type (Arcade Races) or chapter (Career Mode), you have to first go back to the menu and then choose the next race. In other words, you have to wait two loading times when you should only have to wait one. Considering some of the races can take less than a minute to finish, that’s simply too much waiting.
Don’t get me wrong, Full Auto is a blast to play…at first, but it doesn’t have a lot of staying power. Before long you’ll have raced around every track, fired off every weapon and seen most of the car classes. Jump on Xbox Live and you’ll even get the chance to race around in the exotic Warlord without having to unlock it. All that can be done in a couple of days. Whether you continue to play beyond that depends entirely on your affinity for combat racing. Unless you’re a big fan of the genre, Full Auto definitely falls into the category of try before you buy. There’s a playable demo on Xbox Live Marketplace and I suggest you download that first before shelling out the $59.99 USD price tag attached to this new Xbox 360 title.