Codemasters are already at the helm of some of the world’s finest racing titles. GRID’s got track racing down to a tee, while DiRT’s replicated mud-based rallying to a staggering degree of accuracy. So what’s left? How about both? How about tarmac and dirt with grass and mountains? How about 5,000 square miles of the stuff to be exact, an unbound chunk of west America, procedurally generated using satellite imagery and laced with 11,000 miles of road. That’ll do, won’t it?

We’ve had promises of open-world racing before. Some – like Burnout Paradise and Test Drive Unlimited – amount to a carefully interwoven series of tracks – not truly open, but bloated with routes. Others, such as (wouldn’t you know it?) Codemasters’ old-time racer 1nsane, gave you a chunk of 3D landscape and made you work out the best means of navigating it.

Fuel belongs in the latter camp, stretching the tiny arenas to a single, monumental stage. It’s so huge, claim the developers at Asobo, that they’ve yet to see it all themselves. The setting is an alternate-present, and some narrative excuse has been conjured up to explain away the absence of major urban locations (the closest you’ll come to a city is a view of some sunken skyscrapers breaking the surface of a lake). Gasoline has become the currency of thrill-seekers, as combustion engined vehicles become the transport of choice for stunt-faced biker types. All the uptight normal people presumably pootle about on hydrogen cell powered mopeds waiting for the lights to change.

The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and the Salt Lake area will all feature, though urban settings will be scarce. Fuel’s environments are ravaged by global warming. Dynamic weather effects turn the playing field into a meteorological hoe-down of sorts, with tornadoes frequently tearing shit up left, right, and center and rainstorms beating the dusty ground into a muddy submission.

Massive draw distances allow you to peer right across the map and Asobo is quite proud of not ever having to “fake a horizon”. What you see, where the land meets the sky, is a piece of earth you’ll be able to drive to. This is the Far Cry 2 of racers; the only problem with which is a possible lack of tightness in procedurally generated courses. Fuel might lack that human touch. Whether it’ll be a tonic for lap-based monotony or an overly ambitious sandbox project remains to be seen, but with Codies at the steering wheel, Fuel could be special.

Dec 19, 2008