While the demise of the Dreamcast still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, it's nice to see that Sega has not been abated in the least with regards to its software output. In arcades and on consoles alike, Sega has continued with its always-recognizable brand of games. While some may claim these are more shallow and less complex than the majority of content out there, Sega makes no bones about providing a quick-fix arcade thrill to those in need. Full Auto complements that mind-set perfectly and fulfills exactly what it sets out to do.
The manual's introduction welcomes us "to the most destructive racing game ever created". That claim is not far from the mark. While a mixture of the Twisted Metal and the Burnout series will immediately come to mind, Full Auto is like neither. At its core, this is a racing game with weapons. And unlike Burnout, Full Auto relies on its arcade feel and quick race gameplay, instead of long play sessions, that actually make it feel more like the brilliant Crash 'n Burn than anything else.
The racing itself comes in many varieties of game types from pure races without guns to all-out rampage series where the objective is to wipe out rivals completely. Through the arcade mode, multiplayer and the career mode these various types of races will always give you ample races to attempt and while there is no story to be found, career offers up enough of a challenge to be entertaining in fits and stops. Career is also the place where you'll unlock most of the games cars, paint schemes and weapon packages. Full Auto also brilliantly keeps track of many statistics (all comparable on Live against others and friends) and dishes out plenty of achievement points in the doing.
While the exponentially tough A.I., primary and secondary weapons use and special moves (boost and unwreck - where you can actually rewind time) are all well implemented, Full Auto's car handling is what will make or brake this title for many. The cars do not feel very heavy (they "float" on the road) and like most arcade racers, they take corners based on the center of the car and not the front wheel movement. In short, they "spin" as opposed to "turn" into corners. While not an issue if you know what to expect, many fans of other, more realistic series, will balk at the handling.
While racing is definitely the key in this game, doing so honorably will get you nowhere. Weapons play a center role in Full Auto and the game allows you various packages to choose from based on gameplay style. While forward mounted weapons may seem fine and dandy when you're trailing the pack, once you're in the lead, you'll soon wish you'd had the forethought of packing some rear mounted weapons like mines or smoke screens. While the game forces you to pick weapons based on pre-determined packages, there is always an option to please everyone. The weapons themselves are fun to use (and abuse) and aiming them is a snap after a few races.
Full Auto has two claims to fame. The first is its unwreck technology which literally lets you rewind time and take back any mistake (or dumb move) you could've made, which would've probably cost you the race. Much like boost, you build up your unwreck meter and can use it to rewind as much time as you have banked. While nothing new in the videogame industry, the shear amount of detail that pauses and rewinds on the screen is always a sight to behold. The second highly touted feature is Full Auto's use of its environments as weapons. Everything in the game is destructible and while this is also nothing new, Full Auto remembers what has been destroyed and forces other racers (or yourself on consecutive laps) to adapt to the destruction you've caused. A fallen overpass, an exploded garage, cars and debris littering the streets, these are all considerations and tools that will separate the winner from anyone else sometime.
With unwreck and destructible environments on hand, it's obvious that Full Auto could never have existed on previous generation consoles. But that is not to say that Full Auto matches the likes of PGR3 or even Burnout Revenge in the visual department. For the most part, the levels are well populated and the amount of detail and destructible parts is high, but the cars are not as fully fleshed out as in other games. Still, Full Auto still looks good and certain lighting effects are quite impressive. The game does feature a few long loading moments from time to time however, like exiting from a race back to the menus, which seem inexplicable.
In the audio department, Full Auto has a few licensed songs and a slew of in-game music which server their purpose admirably. The songs are fast, loud and booming and generally set the tone of destruction quite well. Others in the room will, however, get annoyed with them quickly since they all feature the same heavy drumbeats and screeching guitar licks.
After all the career races have been passed and times have been bested on arcade mode, what will undoubtedly set Full Auto apart from other racers on the market is its online multiplayer mode. Much like the previously mentioned Crash 'n Burn, there is something infinitely more fun about playing Full Auto against live opponents than A.I. cars. The games on Live are always plentiful, lag-free for the most part and generally full of mayhem. While the single player experience is adequate, it really is just a long tutorial leading to the Live play and this is where Full Auto will live on. And while not all race types are available for multiplayer play, the name of the game is still the same: finish first and take out as many people as you can.
When comparing Full Auto to other racers out there it's important to keep in mind that this is, at heart, an arcade racer and as such, it fulfills what it sets out to do quite well and can be enjoyed in short bursts of play in single player mode or longer multiplayer sessions. While in no way a substitute for more traditional racers, it does keep Sega's legacy of quick-fix gaming alive and well and even fills a nostalgic void in us older gamers.