Full Auto

Here comes undone.

I have two main problems in life-at-6am. 1) Bad posture and poor circulation in my hands contributing to the phalangeal equivalent of skipping barelegged through a stretch of frosty thistles every time I make a downward stroke on, ow, a, ow, key, ow. 2) A kind of neurological solar eclipse that occurs at the apex of the ante meridiem, restricting my movements to those of a drunkard negotiating the slippery deck of a seabound dinghy in a gale under attack from a biblical leviathan.

This morning, as I sat down to work, they combined forces rather impressively, allowing me - in one spellbinding gesture of punchdrunk arthritic dementia - to direct the Worcester sauce intended for my cheese-covered toasty treat downward into the pores of my keyboard with enough resultant neurological confusion that I swept the entire keyboard and breakfast tray onto the ground before moving to solve the problem by standing on a freshly hewn blade of Worcester-sloshed china. Now my foot is bleeding, I'm using my backup keyboard (a sturdier beast that I long ago discarded because thistles had evolved into barbed wire), and I'm really bloody hungry. The only thing sadder than that is that you probably think I make these intros up. I don't! I really am this cack-handed!

So, there's a cautionary tale for all you early morning people. Things may sound better the more tasty fun you try and soak into their cheese while typing, but if you try and do too many things at once the balance will not necessarily follow.

Now, what do we have here then? Ah, time-rewind in an arcade racing game with turbo boost, guns and destructible environments - wonderful idea!

Man, a time machine would make my breakfast mishap much more palatable.

Full Auto is a brave attempt to strike a new balance. The idea is that you're in an eerily uninhabited city that's overburdened with traffic (cars, buses and fire engines, tankers, trucks and lorries) and street furniture (boxes, crates and plastic chairs, parasols, pipes and lamp-posts), racing around like a bull that's just been kicked in the testicles, in a china shop, while a collection of similarly testicularly inflamed fellow-bulls rampage around on your tail. And you all have guns. The idea is to slide and blast your way from start to finish, with slide success channelled into a nitrous boost bar and carnage wrought into a "wreck point" total that helps fulfil race objectives and simultaneously stocks a time-rewind function, which lets you undo a collision or badly taken corner up to a certain point.

1

Blowing a raspberry! Mmm, raspberries.

The combat is a straightforward case of hitting A to use a primary weapon like a missile launcher or - probably best - shotgun, and B to deploy grenades, mines or smokescreens in your wake, depending on your setup. You can use the right analogue stick to direct your bonnet-mounted primary weapon sights a little if you're dextrous enough. Destruction, meanwhile, is technically impressive - the whole game is like one enormous china plate impacting on my floorboards, but swept past you like fluff and splinters into a dustpan - but decidedly logical. You're always clipping or smashing something - and when you're not you're firing randomly at the scenery to bank a few more wreck points - but it's always obvious what's going to break and what's going to make you go "splat!", Burnout-style, forcing a reset-to-track.

Structurally, Full Auto arguably takes its cues from the likes of PGR3 (or, given its strict car-for-task mandates, probably PGR2), with objective-based races that cut a variety of paths through the city-and-outlying-hills environment that Pseudo Interactive's constructed, asking you to finish somewhere between first and third minimum, and perform some secondary trick to achieve a higher medal ranking - take down a certain number of rival cars (distinguished from general AI by little double-arrows), destroy civilian cars, complete things within a time limit, achieve a certain wreck-point total, and so on. With shortcuts to be found and your pick of weapon arrangements pre-race, there's scope to improve if you should fail first time.

But, often as not, success is guaranteed by your burgeoning skill with the "unwreck" rewind button. The 360 does a great job rendering it, immediately reversing the action for the duration of your button-press and running the graphics through the developer-favourite sepia filter, allowing you to correct mistimed corners and, more frequently, adjust your path to avoid someone's shotgun blast or dropped mine to survive a few crucial seconds longer. Given that it soothes the usual pain of shotguns-in-a-racing-game, and given the range of career goals and the general atmosphere of arcade fun, it's perfectly feasible to sit down and smash your way through Full Auto in a day or two that you'll quite enjoy.

2

That totally wasn't me. A gun? This? This is where I hang my towels. And my bullets. But mainly my towels.

But ultimately Pseudo's bravery hasn't paid off, because bravery isn't the attribute you need when you're trying to spin fourteen different plates at once. The retrograde arcade racing model is the main issue. It's one of those nail-driven-through-the-centre-of-the-car OutRun-style swivel affairs that immediately cuts loose the sense of traction until you drop into bonnet or bumper-cam view, which is about the only way I could play the game, but it's not about that. It's not even the sense that FA's ongoing destruction is more firecrackers than fireworks. It's a lack of subtlety, and, worse, a setup that pushes you in the opposite direction.

Consider my relationship with PGR3. By the time I finished it, I had a solid idea of how to gun a car through a bend under pressure, how to correct over- and under-steer, how to maximise the loss of traction to gather kudos points, and where my limits were and what pushed me closest to them (cough Nurburgring in a Mclaren cough). My knowledge and love of these things meant that I wanted to go after platinum medals, time trial scores, online records, because the thrill of correctly judging the braking point on a fast right-hander for minimal loss of speed and traction was always enough to justify the pain in the aching claw that gripped the shoulder button. Always satisfying.

By the time I finished Full Auto, I was starting to understand what kind of left-stick steering movement governed the best powerslide, but I didn't need to, because I could use unwreck to undo any mistake that costs me a place. Throwing the car into a fast right-hander gave me nothing; the margin for error is vast and unwreck's a handy store of in-game Tipex anyway. The other cars rarely prevented me getting at least bronze on the first attempt; the percentage split between gold, silver and bronze medals was something like 30/40/30, and I was in a hurry. There are only a couple of championships where it said "do this with one life" or "do this without unwreck" to the extent that I failed more than once or twice. Played online, where unwreck doesn't feature, it's certainly a bit more exacting, but without the elasticised AI you're just left to drive around a city popping off rounds at windows, rarely having to do more than brake on a couple of corners. Overall, there's little incentive to actually learn how to drive the car, and little satisfaction to be had from doing so.

3

YOU CAN THROW ALL THE POPCORN YOU LIKE I'M NOT STOPPING.

Without that driving hook, FA has to rely on combat and destruction, and it only does these passably well. Combat is just bang-bang-bang-BOOM. The problem is the bang-bang-bang part. The reason Burnout's crash balance is so good is that you're ridiculously fragile, and without being able to destroy AI by nudging their cars into traffic or kicking stuff up in your wake, without being able to level a shotgun at high speed, pull the trigger and score an unlikely explosive hit, here it feels like there's a constant buffer between you and reward. Meanwhile the carnage rarely benefits you beyond wreck points, and slows you down - it's decorative without being desirable, which is a pity since it also knocks the frame rate down into the 30-per-second range. Occasionally a smoother game peeks through, but then it disappears again.

That's fairly representative of the whole. It's never bad (my tolerance for my own shortcomings notwithstanding, I can't endure those of a game for nine successive hours without a break if said game is the wrong side of good), but it's never good enough. Pseudo hasn't necessarily hit upon the wrong features, but the wrong balance; the racing model is too simplistic, combat and carnage too laboured or detrimental, and unwreck's a perpetual mulligan, a get-out-of-jail-free subscription.

It needed to kick your arse more, and give you something mechanical to lure you back, not just canned explosions. You'll enjoy playing it, but you're not actually being entertained, just mollified if ever you put a foot wrong, and I'm a big enough boy to want to learn from mistakes rather than have my plate reform on the desk in front of me with a fresh toasty or have the snack glued into my hand. If my foot wasn't bleeding and I wasn't still hungry, I wouldn't know to be more careful with my 6am feeding; Full Auto doesn't seem to understand that, and therein lies the problem.

6 / 10

Read the Eurogamer.net review policy Full Auto Tom Bramwell Here comes undone. 2006-02-10T08:55:50+00:00 6 10

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