Full Auto

Burnout meets Sands of Time meets next-gen. And no one has to reschedule.

Being stupidly young (or young and stupid; depends who you talk to), this is only my third E3, so I've never in all honesty arrived at the show and made a beeline for SEGA's booth before. But this year I did, because I had a hunch about Full Auto. And having driven through walls, corkscrewed off a ramp into a bridge whilst upending the competition with missiles, and then ripped my car almost in half only to rewind time and retake the offending corner without my nitrous firing - all within the first three minutes - I'm glad I did. Full Auto has more hooks than a Peter Pan convention.

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Made by Pseudo Interactive, the chaps (you get the feeling that men made this) responsible for that rather sexy Car Crash XNA demo Microsoft showed off at the Game Developers Conference last year, Full Auto combines the fast-is-best arcade racing style of Burnout (complete with big green arrows alerting you to corners) with an endless supply of Twisted Metal-style rockets that take a few seconds to reload, and Prince of Persia's rather wonderful rewind idea. SEGA calls the latter "unwreck" or something equally Electronic Artsy. I call it genius.

Coupled with the leap forward in visual quality guaranteed by the underlying Xbox 360 platform, which gives the explosions depth and intensity and gives you license to drive through virtually anything, the rewind feature allows you to revel in the Burnout-style car-nage wrought by your stumbling thumbs, without the hangover of having to make up for lost time once your car's been magically sewn back together. As long as you have some juice in the bar on the right side of the screen, you can just hold one of the digital buttons on the nearside of your analogue accelerator trigger (the new and much more convenient home of our friends the White and Black buttons; think of them as L1/R1 on a Dual Shock) and undo your mistake. Then race on through without overdoing the gas or driving smackbang into a petrol tanker.

The two demo tracks on show at E3 are full of ramps, traffic and destructible elements, and the experience is intense. Full on, if you will. Cutting corners often involves smashing your way through diners, petrol stations and other bits of the environment, and the level of destructibility is quite surprising. After years of associating the unavoidable clobbering of a wall with stopping dead and groaning in frustration, it's pretty refreshing to watch your car take the edge off a small building instead, or flatten a wire mesh fence, and there's a real "this is the future" buzz to walloping a line of cars with a rocket from fifty feet and then roaring blindly through the fireball that envelopes them.

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The computer-controlled cars are pretty sharp too, often nipping back in front of you. They might be a bit elasticised (it's difficult to tell when you're sweating your way through an E3 pod demo), but it's actually more fun that they get back in front, because you can wear them down with your stock of boomspears and then, when they're down to their last sliver of car-health, hit them on a turn and watch them roly-poly through the air and smash into a car transporter. And go BOOM.

For all its graphical complexity, Full Auto really feels like a simple game founded on a few extremely well matched core principles, and then just layered and layered and layered until you feel like your bullbars are blitzing their way through a long line of China shops. It's my favourite Xbox 360 game at the show, and assuming it carries on in the same vein with imaginative track design and environments, and engaging multiplayer options, it could be SEGA's answer to Burnout. Or at the very least give EA something to challenge.

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