When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360 at last year's E3, one of the first games demoed to generate huge amounts of buzz was Pseudo Interactive's Full Auto. A next-gen car combat game, Full Auto wowed show attendees—and left me feeling pretty bored. Sure, it looked nice—fast cars, loads of buildings and things to blow up, a Prince of Persia-esque reverse time feature…but I couldn't shake the "meh" feeling every time someone on G4 started gushing about the game. I mean, c'mon…it's Twisted Metal with normal cars. Not exactly a gaming revolution.
That being said, Xbox 360 pickings were pretty slim in early 2006. After DoA 4, the release date list looked a lot like a desert with one shiny mirage glittering off in the distance. That mirage was none other than Full Auto. Figuring I'd hate myself for taking it but desperate for a 360 game to play, I stepped up to do the review. I'm glad I did—because Full Auto is actually a fairly decent way to kill a few hours here and there.
While my initial feeling that the game is really just Twisted Metal spliced on to Burnout with a touch of Prince of Persia thrown into the mix is entirely accurate, that doesn't take into consideration whether or not the game is fun. Full Auto may not have one single, solitary original idea in its head, but like the hot exotic dancer you picked up at the club on Friday night (she's just paying her way through college…), it's good for a few hours of entertainment before you move on to the next conquest. It appeals to the lowest common denominator of gamers—the guy who loves to blow stuff up and the guy who loves to go really fast. Mix those two elements together and you've got a game that all but screams: BUY ME, CASUAL GAMER!!!!
And truthfully, that's cool. Unlike a lot of my gaming journalism brethren (i.e. dorks), I don't have anything against casual gamers or casual games. Sometimes, you just wanna plop your ass on the couch and shoot rockets at buildings for twenty minutes without having to think about it. Full Auto allows players to do this, then get back to the things that matter (like writing that Star Trek fan-fic where Spock finally scores with Uhura or working on that investigative report that proves Naruto would totally bitch-slap Inuyasha in a fight to the death). It's the very definition of "pick-up-and-play", as long as the caveat "and-put-down-again" is tacked on to the end. In a world where 20 games come out a week and each of them wants 50 hours of my time, it's nice to have something I can play for fifteen minutes, quit, and not feel guilty.
Visually, the game looks pretty spiffy. Getting back to our exotic dancer, the game has a lovely veneer that works to distract the intended target from realizing there's not much happening beneath the surface. However, like the girl who winds up in Hustler instead of Playboy, there are a few blemishes that keep Full Auto from breaking into the big leagues. The first of these is a lack of textures on many of the environments. I suppose this is understandable, given that pretty much everything in Full Auto can be obliterated by rockets, machine guns, or the front end of an SUV, but for a next-gen game, the textures in this title look like they could have been done on the PlayStation 2. Because of this issue, many of the buildings just look flat—sort of like cardboard cubes placed alongside the road (admit it…you thought another boob joke was coming there, didn't you?).
The second, and far more serious, problem is the ugly slowdown that rears its head from time to time. Even when running at full speed, Full Auto is not a particularly fast game (one never gets the "oh crap" feeling of blasting down a straightaway that comes so often in a title like Burnout), but when the player manages to obliterate an enemy, the game jumps to a cutscene of the carnage—except calling it a cutscene is sort of a misnomer since it plays more like a slide show. Granted, players can turn this feature off in the menus, but slowdown will still turn up at other points from time to time.
As far as the gameplay goes, Full Auto is essentially an arcade racer with guns. Players can choose the arcade mode, or the more interesting career mode to play offline. After that, the gamer will drive through one series of races after another. At first, it's all broken down by car class (first up are the tank-like cars, then the intermediate, then the light, fast, and easily annihilated ones), then by different objectives. Most of the races involve driving fast while shooting enemies. Some drop half of this for just driving fast or just shooting enemies. Unfortunately, this is when the game falters a bit, particularly in the drive fast races. Full Auto is not a particularly good driving simulation and it shows in every race wherein the objective is just to drive—not to drive and shoot. The cars handle okay and the physics aren't bad (although they seem floaty), but the rubber-band A.I. kills any enjoyment one might get from these races. No matter how well the player drives, the A.I. will stay right on his bumper like that guy in the Porsche on the freeway who just has to get to Starbucks before they sell the last blueberry scone. Because of the A.1., a lot of races come down to simply being lucky enough to be in the lead at the end.
Keeping with my belief that this title was designed with the more casual gamer in mind is Full Auto's difficulty level, which is pretty much non-existent. Each race has three objectives—the lowest (bronze) is the bare minimum the player must do to advance. The second (semi-auto) is a little more involved, but still easy. The third (full auto) is the hardest—but still easily achievable in 90% of the races on the first try. Basically, the difference between survival and full auto is fifteen seconds and three kills in any given race. What that means is that players who can shave fifteen seconds off the worst finish time and kill three more enemies in the process will garner the full auto medal. In other races, players have to get a certain amount of destruction points for each medal. None of these feats are particularly difficult. At the 90% completion mark, I had something like 65 full auto medals, 13 semis, and none of the boring bronze. I am not a gaming god…the game is just easy for the most part.
Of course, it seems that changes dramatically once you reach that 90% mark. The last few strings of races are drastically more difficult than anything that's come before. In these races, players only have one life (run out of rewind and die…) or one life and no rewind at all. Since the game has absolutely no way to regenerate vehicle health or repair damage, trying to survive laps with the overly aggressive A.I. can inspire some lengthy bouts of creative cursing. The difficulty spike probably seems more extreme than it really is since the game is so easy early on—despite that, expect to invest some serious time to get the achievements for all semi auto or full auto medals. Those last races really make the player work for the rewards.
In the end, Full Auto is a lot more fun than I expected it to be. The idea of driving and shooting is nothing new, but it's implemented well enough in this title to keep it interesting for the ten-twelve hours required to unlock everything. Add in an online mode (which was pretty laggy the one time I ventured on) and this is a game that might not be worth the full $60 price tag but would be well worth picking up when the retail price drops a bit. This game won't change your life or the way you think about gaming, but for those nights when you just wanna turn off your brain and shoot things, you could do far worse.