With a lack of any real successor to the 90’s classics Interstate 76 or Death Rally (unless you include the recent iOS remake) Gas Guzzlers finds itself occupying a niche in the racing genre that few others have seemed too keen on exploiting. This fast paced arcade racing game sacrifices the need for finesse and grace for the more immediate and satisfying method of just blasting everyone else off the track. Here violence is as sure a way to winning as control and speed, and in spite of it never quite pushing past obvious and unavoidable comparisons to those games from which it borrows much of it’s inspiration from, it’s surprising just how much fun it can be.
Born from humble low budget beginnings, Gas Guzzlers hides it’s origins behind some pretty fancy visuals. It may falter in matching the top tier games of the genre, but it certainly never comes across as cheap or lacking in the finer details. Even as the screen becomes a chaotic mess of broken scenery and barrel-rolling cars, it’s very rare to spot any problems with how it all looks, maintaining a consistent frame rate despite the unfolding carnage going on. Getting a game to maintain a convincing sense of speed can sometimes be beyond even high profile releases, yet here no such problems persist.
And it’s certainly needed here, where every race can descend into madness as each racer tries their hardest to derail the others attempt to achieve pole position. While generic lap races are still very much available, Gas Guzzlers comes into it’s own when it has each vehicle armed to the teeth with an assortment of weapons, suddenly turning it into a combat racing game where a shot from a mounted gun can ruin the other guys attempts to win a race. The addition of power-ups in the form of temporary offensive (such as mines or oil slicks) or defensive (temporary shielding and so on) abilities further adds to the aggressive nature of these battle like races.
With some vindictive AI also at play, constantly pushing back for every bump or scrape they are subjected to, each lap, every turn of a sharp corner becomes a tense, often exciting moment, where the unpredictability of just how other racers will react can throw in an assortment of unknowns. Sometimes this can lead to frustration. Having victory snatched away in sight of the finishing line after five laps at the front can be irritating, yet there’s a compulsion to shake off the feeling of defeat, man up and try again.
Disappointingly however, there’s not much to try via the single player. There are only three game modes on offer. Classic Race discards power-ups and weapons for ordinary lap races, Battle Race does the complete opposite and Knock-out is similar to Battle Race only with the last car being bumped off after each lap. Some effort has gone into keeping things diverse thanks to a nice range of different tracks featuring a variety of terrain, yet even though snow, ice and rain all factor in somewhere, these weather effects don’t seem to alter how cars control on the track.
There are upgrades to buy, albeit in fairly limited form, and a simplistic customisation option to paint up cars in an assortment of colours and styles, different for each of the cars available. Although every one of these needs to be unlocked beforehand via the game’s central single-player campaign mode. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to climb those first few steps, with basic upgrades and cars being granted at a slow pace. Defeats are hard to avoid in the beginning as the required money needed to purchase the necessary upgrades and new vehicles comes at a slow, agonising pace. The campaign isn’t an easy thing to begin with, but once the cash starts to flow and the weapons become affordable, it does begin to improve significantly.
Beyond that, there’s nothing much worth of note. Quick races can be accessed but require tracks and cars to be unlocked from the campaign mode, and while the prospect of mulitplayer races are appealing, there doesn’t appear to be many people actively engaged in them at this time. The lack of content is Gas Guzzlers greatest flaw, a scant few game modes and racing tracks and cars fed at glacial pace means progression is slow and arduous, and may be enough to taint that first impression.
Noticeable influences from numerous other racing giants of the genre are difficult to ignore. The destructible scenery is something torn right out of of the Flatout series. The sense of speed and multiple track shortcuts is something not too dissimilar from the likes of Burnout or Need for Speed, while the power-up system is a clear nod to the shamefully overlooked Blur. The problem with this scatter shot of influential design isn’t that the game picks liberally from other well known titles of the genre, the problem is that doesn’t quite do enough to create a distinctive personality of it’s own.
If Gas Guzzlers fails anywhere critical, it’s in it’s own lack of ambition. What it does here it does exceptionally well, it just doesn’t do enough of it or on it’s own volition. The content on offer is too threadbare, more game modes and an easier to grasp central campaign mode could have propelled it closer to those games from which it owes more than a passing acknowledgement to.
It’s a real shame too, because this is a good game, balancing effortlessly some faultless arcade-style handling with some pretty graphics and addictive game-play at it’s core. Had more been offered up front it might have gained more noteworthy attention, as it stands it remains a highly accomplished budget racer that could have been so much more.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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