Few things in life are less enjoyable than a bad game, but of these less enjoyable things (bee stings, broken ankles, Downton Abbey), perhaps the worst is a bad game that you want to love. All of the parts are there, but they’re either far too underdeveloped to be enjoyed or there is one glaring flaw that holds back the entire experience. For an example of the former, look no further than Fuel Overdose, a top-down battle racer developed by I-Friqiya.
Despite the issues that plague this PSN exclusive, there are surprisingly quite a few facets that work perfectly. The history of the world that this racer inhabits is quite fascinating, detailing the rise of a disease called Lilith which wipes out much of the Earth’s population. A vaccine is developed and distributed, and although it saves the lives of many, it comes at the price of crippling addiction. While nations deal with this, an apocalypse of sorts brought about by global warming leaves much of the world in ruins and populations split into various factions. The supply of vaccines is controlled by one powerful group, who host a “Death Race“-esque event between the other groups, giving the winners their share of the vaccine.
There are five different modes to race through, spanning the usual categories of Championship, Story Mode, Free Race, Multiplayer and Challenges. The first three are quite similar, all spanning the same locales and only finding variation in minor details. Story Mode follows one of the eight racers you choose, each of which has their own special abilities and clan. Sadly, none of the characters quite stand out as interesting, and the cutscenes are disappointing in their lacking dialogue and animation.
Many of the challenges are similar to other racers, and while they can hold your interest for a little while, they’re nothing to write home about. The locales mentioned above are striking to race through, however, and lend an air of replayability just to see what each landscape has to offer. New York is entirely flooded, with only the tip of Lady Liberty poking out, while Cairo offers claustrophobic twists and turns as lava courses through the track. While the artwork is disappointing in most other aspects, the tracks on display are the gorgeous exceptions.
The gameplay is similar to other battle racers, pitting different varieties of drivers and autos together in a race filled with guns, bombs and environmental dangers. Each car comes with a machine gun, a missile launcher and mines to drop behind them, while bombs are set up around the track and detonated at will to throw off your adversaries. Fuel Overdose has a nice little innovation working in its favor with the addition of a grappling hook. This handy little tool can be used to either grapple onto sharp turns for a speed advantage or to latch onto the back of a car ahead of you. It’s a small yet effective addition to an adequate arsenal.
Sadly, there are a few factors working against the game, and they dampen almost all of the enjoyment that can be derived from Fuel Overdose. The camera, as stated above, is set above the track, looking straight down. Not content to simply follow cars, the camera swings around as it pleases, causing you to quickly either lose track of your car or run straight into a wall. If you’ve ever played a racing game, then you know that even the smallest mistake can ruin your chances at a win when catch-up AI is included.
There was one race where I led the final lap with no contest. I was wrestling the horrid controls into submission for once, just barely managing to not completely spin out with each turn. The other racers were busy blowing each other up behind me, and I was finding my way through the track somehow (I don’t know how I did it either). Without even glancing against a wall or slowing for an instant, I lost the race by less than a second by a car that came from behind. And I mean really far behind. Unless you’re playing against other humans, then the races are an exercise in luck rather than skill.
The absolute worst aspect of Fuel Overdose that is unforgivable in every way is the control I described above. It is indescribably difficult to maneuver your touchy auto through the maps because any touch of the control stick causes the car to do a full turn, usually into a wall or competitor. There is basically no control, and winning a race using the control stick is hardly an option. More control is given using the d-pad, but it’s still nearly unbearable. Now throw in that pesky camera refusing to stay still, impossibly tight turns and combatants that make miraculous comebacks and you’ve got a recipe for a terrible experience.
If that’s not bad enough, the game tends to be a glitchy mess, making an already frustrating experience even more so. For a game that was in development for so long, issues such as these should have been ironed out by release. In fact, almost everything in Fuel Overdose needed an overhaul before release. The sexist character design, dated gameplay mechanics and laborious loading times are almost unacceptable in today’s gaming market.
But with all of that being said, there was a tiny part of me that wanted so badly to like this game. All of the elements were there to create an addictive little racer with tons of replay value. There were multiple cars available, all of which are upgradeable through a system that actually works pretty well. Even though I tried my hardest to embrace Fuel Overdose for what it was, the horrid controls, glitchy performance and terrible AI ruined whatever fun could be found in the game.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.