The multiple-player open-world hub idea is rendered even more moot by the content of the races themselves. With a couple of exceptions, for example, the first 8-10 hours of gameplay is a procession of fairly slow, precarious and unhappy checkpoint races, in which the AI surges arbitrarily ahead of your bike, buggy, monster truck or what-have-you from the start, and you spend the next 5-10 minutes trying to reign it in without having to hit the reset-to-track button too often. Take it online and it's more about human skill - but also crippling lag, with other players popping in and out at random, getting stuck on the start line, or sitting in lobbies staring at the message that deadpans, "Put up with the delay here."
One option to get the jump on the opposition is to go off-road, but in practice this is dangerous business. Practical obstacles like streams and height variation are difficult to gauge from the zoomable map, so you're often better off siding with GPS arrows flowing above your car indicating the logical route, where you'll be imperilled enough as it is by unhelpfully positioned wreckage, sharp turns and terrain changes, which are bound to savage your top-speed at some stage no matter how well-informed your choice of conveyance.
The roaming weather anomalies raise the tension, reducing visibility behind a blur of flying debris, twisters uprooting houses, and electricity pylons draped across the track, but they're too lazy to turn up most of the time, for the most part leaving you to race around enormously detailed but otherwise static courses on a bedrock of handling that's closer to the frictionless toil of MX vs. ATV Untamed than the frantic, concentrating onslaught of MotorStorm.
It's also worth dwelling upon the memory of Evolution Studios' game - the first one anyway - because its track design clarifies a lot of FUEL's mistakes. MotorStorm may have been lap-based, but each of its few courses was carefully threaded with intertwining routes that rewarded experimentation and canny vehicle selection; FUEL's tracks are meandering sprawls that seldom reward either, whether you play the 70-plus pre-recorded options or mark out your own in the creator. The early promise of balancing the risk of filling your damage bar against the need for speed through a difficult corner also proves a red herring; even if you don't find yourself having to reset often (and thanks to a lot of deadly unmarked obstacles, you will), the AI is sufficiently inconsistent, gifting you race after "Expert" race for long periods and then savaging you for fun, to dilute its significance.
There's certainly a lot of content, at least - and with that much playground, devoted online off-roaders may be confident to write their own routes out of the mire. But all the same it seems unlikely. Of FUEL's many promises, too many are either broken or undermined by its handling, layouts, logic or interface shortcuts. There's no denying Asobo's achievement in building such a daring, beautiful landscape on such a vast scale, but the core of any good racing game is falling in love with its vehicles, the things you can do with them, and the places you can take them, and by that measure FUEL is distinctly average.