Xbox 360: the GamesShane Bettenhausen
Expectations can be a real bitch. In your mind, you possess an ideal of what “next-gen” games should look like, but whether or not the first Xbox 360 games live up to that theoretical concept...well, that’s kind of subjective. But since we’re never ones to back down from a chance to voice our opinions, we’re going to tell it to you straight: Do these games (most of them slated to ship around the launch of the hardware) live up to the hype? Are we blown away? Read on to find out....
Release Date: Fall 2005
The Basics: “First and foremost, this is a racing game,” admits Full Auto Lead Designer William Ho. “But we figured out how to take racing games to the next level—by letting players destroy everything.” And after blowing up several city blocks worth of prime real estate in his new racer, we see precisely what he means. Although the core gameplay features eight cars careening their way through roped-off urban circuits, a sizable and deadly arsenal makes that dash for the finish line a lot more apocalyptic.
All of the game’s 20-plus cars come with factory-installed standard-issue machine guns, and you’re able to further customize your ride with missiles, grenade launchers, oil slicks, and various other implements of destruction. An enforced cease-fire keeps the first 10 seconds of each race pure, but once the lead starts flying, the true nature of Full Auto erupts—cars barrel through coffee shops, sending shattered glass, broken furniture, and flaming rubble into the way of oncoming traffic. Then, two seconds later, someone shoots a propane tank...that explodes and launches itself at an oil tanker...which smashes into a gas station, causing a hellishly huge explosion that takes out half of the competition, not to mention the commuter train passing nearby.
Or alternately, maybe none of this craziness occurs. Rather than filling the game with pre-scripted events, the developers at Pseudo instead peppered the game with set pieces—some obvious, others very vague—that can trigger obscenely destructive consequences. It’s purely up to chance (and the game’s incredibly realistic physics engine) whether or not these pyrotechnic events take place. “You will never see the same thing twice,” says Ho. “This game will never be boring: You’ll always find something new and destroy things in a new way, every time you play.”
The developers promise at least 30 tracks, all set in different sections of the same massive, fictional city. “We don’t want to restrict gameplay to a city grid,” Ho explains. “You’ll get dirt, sand, water, mud, switchbacks, and off-road sections: You can drive your car between trees in forested city-park sections, kind of like the speeder-bike scene in Return of the Jedi.” And all that scenery provides more than just a lovely backdrop—everything can be shot, and destruction is contagious: Destroy a building and watch as the power lines warp and sway, sending electrical poles crashing on your foes.
The 360 Factor: The visuals clearly sport a level of detail beyond that of current-gen games, but Full Auto’s most arresting aspects focus on gameplay and physics. “I think it’s impossible for this game to exist on current-gen systems,” says Ho. “In fact, we’re already pushing up against the limits of the new hardware with our realistic physics and destruction...our replays are bigger than the entire PlayStation 2 memory.” And all this destruction isn’t just pretty, it’s fun, too—watching buildings and cars explode, crumble, and warp provides a gleefully sadistic rush. “It’s the physics that drives everything: That’s what makes something that’s falling, exploding, rolling, or breaking apart really convincing,” says Ho. “Previously, all of that would have to be canned, scripted, or done by an artist, but now, we can just say apply these physical properties to this object and it does it.”
Full Auto will also offer all the new-fangled Xbox Live features that Microsoft is currently trumpeting: organized tournaments (both races and arena combat), player-versus-player wagering, and microtransactions (you’ll be able to buy new tracks, weapons, and cars).
Is It Next-Gen Enough?: Overall, we’re impressed with the full package. Full Auto feels remarkably new and fresh, and it’s not just a glossy graphical sheen that sets it apart from the racing-game pack. “We’re not so cocky as to say we’re better than Burnout or Twisted Metal, but we’re different,” explains Producer Cord Smith. “It’s a unique driving fantasy, different than anything on the market.”
Diving directly into the world of Full Auto feels slightly overwhelming at first—steering, boosting, aiming, shooting, braking, and unwrecking (turn the page for the scoop on this neat feature) threatens to overload your senses with chaotic complexity. Once you acclimate to the intensity, though, it’s awfully addictive. So much of the world can be obliterated, whether to reveal shortcuts or impede your foes’ progress, that it feels almost like a first-person shooter and a racer at the same time. Who would have thought to mix Burnout and Halo?
If you’re on the receiving end of Full Auto’s cataclysmic accidents, you can “Un-Wreck” to reverse time. This Prince of Persia–inspired effect happens at the touch of a button, and your meter fills up based on performance. “We wanted to prevent the cycle of getting frustrated with a racer, hitting pause, and starting over,” says Lead Designer William Ho.
Canadian developer Pseudo started developing Full Auto as a PC game eight years ago but scrapped it in favor of Cel Damage (a cartoony vehicular combat game published by EA for Xbox and GameCube). Its following project, a PS2 reinterpretation of the Genesis classic Vectorman, was quietly canceled last year. Luckily, all that hard work wasn’t lost. “We ripped off Vectorman’s missile launcher and strapped it onto a car,” laughs Full Auto producer Cord Smith.
Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.