So Codemasters makes some pretty good racing games. Dirt, Grid, and so on. But there was one game they had in development that was going through hell. It had apparently been teased forever but was always being delayed.
FUEL was sort of a precursor to the kind of game The Crew became. FUEL is a post-apocalyptic racing game where society is on the verge of collapse because of climate change and the energy crisis. It’s a little bit Mad Max, but not much. There’s still plenty of forests, open plains, and green grass, it’s just extremely desolate. The ruined husks of dead vehicles and planes that fell out of the sky dot maps.
When I say FUEL was the precursor to The Crew, that’s because FUEL used to (and may still?) hold the Guinness world record for the largest contiguous open world. The map is meant to represent a scaled down version of the United States, from the bay of San Francisco all the way to what’s supposed to be New York. Despite being scaled down, it’s still big enough that driving from coast to coast will take several hours. And I want to stress that even though I just mentioned two cities by name, there really is literally nothing in this world; there is only one city they actually let you drive around in.
We’ll get back to that.
FUEL sucks. Straight up. The game buckled under its own scope and as such, the handling model, sound design, menu system, and even the race events themselves suffered. It’s a game that’s missing about three layers of polish and only really has maybe half as much content as it needs. Still, a cult of fans have developed around the game, and some modders have taken to trying to fix FUEL. Enter REFUELED.
REFUELED is kind of the only way I’ve experienced FUEL. I played the original demo for FUEL, knew it kind of felt like garbage, but ended up picking the full game up in a Humble Bundle or something anyway, knowing the modded version existed and being curious. REFUELED does not turn FUEL in to a good game, but it does turn it in to a better game. I’ve put probably an embarrassing amount of time in to REFUELED even though all in all it’s still boring, empty, and same-y.
One of the improvements made by REFUELED is the addition of a hovercraft. Now, as far as I know, this was probably in the original FUEL, but I have a feeling that if it was, it was an unlockable. Your car doesn’t mix so well with water in FUEL, something very intentionally used to block you from going certain places. Like, for example, what I assume is the aforementioned San Francisco:
The city is just out of reach, half sunken on the shore of the ocean. It would appear you were meant to go there at one point, as there’s a road leading straight in to the city that abruptly just ends on a vertical cliff, almost like a developer came in with a terrain tool and chopped off the road, leaving a jagged, almost pixelated edge.
Ah, but REFUELED gives you that hovercraft. Where we’re going, we don’t need “roads!”
As I sail closer to buildings, it becomes extremely apparent that I’m not actually supposed to be here. My navigation system is struggling to orient me. Big, boxy, barely-textured skyscrapers awkwardly jut out of the water. It all contributes to this growing, unmistakable creepy feeling. The ruins of a city nobody was ever supposed to see are haunting me. I am out of bounds.
And it feels like, at any moment, something’s going to happen. It’s like when you get the feeling you’re being watched, or like there’s a killer coming up behind you with a knife drawn. It’s pure, unfiltered anxiety. What if my vehicle explodes? What if I fall through the floor? What if I drive so far out that I never make it back? Thoughts of the Battlefield Megalodon dance in my head. I’ve driven in to the heart of this city and now I desperately want out.
Nothing happened. Because… well, of course it didn’t. It’s a video game, and even though I was panicking, I was still fully in control at all times, even if it was starting to feel like I wasn’t. At worst, the game might’ve crashed. But there’s definitely a feeling to being out of bounds sometimes, about being trapped in this world you don’t understand, and one that was never planned for by the developers. That can be, and was, pretty scary.