Being able to rewind in games is ace. Prince of Persia would be roughly ten million times as frustrating if you couldn't undo that swan dive you just did onto some spikes. Using rewind to dislodge shrapnel from your head looks ace in TimeShift. Then there's... Well there's... You know. Er. No? What? WHERE THE HELL ARE ALL THE REWIND GAMES? Seriously! Prince of Persia happened ages ago; why aren't people stealing this yet? Why doesn't EA have fourteen games that do this by now?
I don't know, but there is of course one more: Full Auto. That's one thing you remember about it: it's got rewind. The other things, I'm guessing, are that it's "like Burnout" and "has guns in it". And for "like Burnout", you're thinking lots of destructible scenery and dodging cars and cutting the camera away to do slow motion replays. Fair? Now we've got it in our Xbox 360, we can look into it.
It certainly has lots of destructible scenery, but surprisingly it's otherwise quite unlike Burnout. Burnout is about near misses, dodging cars, holding your breath, and then releasing a mixture of pent up co2 and laughter when you crash into something like a ninny, as your enemies simply laugh and laugh and laugh like the cocks they are. Burnout: Revenge may have diluted the dodging a bit with its traffic-checking and high-speed knock-'em-out-the-way antics, but that's generally the deal. You're trying to avoid destruction, but everyone laughs when you don't. Full Auto's the other way around: you're trying to cause destruction, and nobody laughs when you do. They're too busy trying to dodge it.
It's more like it's been nudged in the right direction by Burnout than just ripped it off and whacked in a rewind. Sometimes it comes a bit close, mind. Chrissakes, you've even got "rivals" and you have to do "takedowns" on them. But again, there's a difference: Burnout's about smashing into mostly static scenery and traffic and going "whoops"; Full Auto's about SHOOTING the mostly static scenery and traffic and going "yay" when it collapses or flips or explodes and destroys whatever's following you. Burnout's about vehicular destruction, Full Auto's about everythingular destruction. I'll stop that now.
And of course there's rewind (developer Pseudo calls it "unwreck", which is almost not hateful as these terms go). It's activated by sliding your trigger-finger off the accelerator and up onto the RB shoulder button. This is useful in obvious ways of course: say you miss-time a corner and end up careening into an opposing wall, losing valuable seconds. If you've got rewind you can undo that, assuming you've got enough in reserve, and then brake or turn a bit more considerately next time. But it's most handy when you're nearly dead, or you're up against a rival with some mines to drop. You're constantly being peppered by machinegun bullets and having to dodge mines, and since you sometimes have objectives that involve taking people out, you can't afford to simply give the mine-droppers room to manoeuvre; you need to get in there with a shotgun or a rocket launcher, and if you're on their tail inevitably you're going to take the odd hit. Bzzt, rewind, dodge. Tactically it's useful, then. And since this is on the Xbox 360, it happens instantly and looks fancy.
Rewind isn't always available though. Like the boost meter, which is on the left shoulder button, it's tied into what you're doing on the track. Basically, blowing up traffic, blowing up buildings, smashing through lobbies, smashing through fences, blowing up rivals; all this stuff contributes to rewind. Sliding round corners, doing jumps and driving like a maniac contributes to boost. Near misses mean nothing here; people are meant to explode and you're not getting any help if you don't see to it.
The actual driving model has elements of Burnout to it, but it's actually more like OutRun in a way - your car's centred on the screen and rotates when you corner, but without much need for braking. If you brake, you just slow down; it doesn't throw you into a power-slide or anything. There's a handbrake which twizzles you round dramatically, but in general it's about simply turning into the corners at the right time, easing off the accelerator a bit, and then correcting the fishtail by pulling the left stick back over to compensate. Fortunately, given the complexity of the level architecture, most turns are sign-posted by our friends The Big Green Arrows.
Actually, the level's aren't that complex architecturally, they're just incredibly cluttered; cluttered with traffic, lamp-posts, telegraph poles, tables and chairs, statues, roadwork signs, crates, parked trucks and tankers, potholes and ramps. Buildings generally have some element of destructibility, whether it's a glass-fronted lobby on one corner that you can smash through for a shortcut, or holes to be blown in the walls. There's obviously solidity to the core of buildings so you can't just blast your way from end to end in a straight line (for that matter, weapons can be fired lots but then pause for a few seconds to auto-reload), but this is a game designed to blow up and fall down around you, and there's lots that goes toward that.
Game modes are various, but there's nothing like Crash mode, for those still clinging onto the Burnout comparison. There's a suite of arcade modes - point-to-point and circuit races, lap knockouts (last place at the end of each lap gets dropped), back and forth races (a bit like relays; go to one end, turn round, drive back) and rampages (where the idea is to complete the track within a time limit, building up a big "Wreck points" total as you go). Career mode is more structured - with a tutorial that introduces you to everything bit by bit, then splits things into car styles, mission types and so on for quite some time. These bits often have sub-objectives, so you might need to get a suitable wreck-points total as well as finishing a minimum of second, and there's a decent range, skipping from against-the-clock to point-to-point to rampage-style and so on. There's some story to tie it altogether, but thankfully our preview build doesn't make much of a deal of it. Who cares, honestly?
Obviously Xbox Live features too - there are ranked and unranked races and leaderboards - but since we're still some way from launch and trying to prod away at it on our debug machines there's little competition. Playing against the AI is perfectly good fun though, as they make reasonable use of weapons and don't seem elasticised - something we'll examine in more detail when the time comes for a review. Pseudo's sensibly split the pack between rival cars (tough nuts) and suitably red-shirted also-rans, too, so there's cannon fodder to go with the real candidates for the win.
But is it For The Win, or just all right? I haven't decided. What it really needs at this point is a smooth frame-rate, which it should get - the build I've got isn't exactly up to the minute, even though most of the game is in place, and things do turn into a bit of a crawl from time to time. Then again it has bugs that prevent me from even finishing a few of the races, so I wouldn't worry too much. We've also yet to get a solid idea of the reward structure. In short, there's a lot still to know. I certainly want to play the finished article though, and that's always a good sign.
And yes, I do realise I forgot about Blinx in the intro. But frankly I rather enjoy the times when I don't remember Blinx, so shut up.
Full Auto's due out on February 14th in the States and pretty soon after in Europe. Check out the trailer on Eurogamer TV.