Ah, Racing games. Of course, everyone has different tastes. Away from gaming, I have to drive about 1000 miles per week in a Ford Focus, so when it comes to my digital motoring, I’m very appreciative of the ‘game’ part of ‘Racing games’. I’m more of a Carmageddon guy than Gran Turismo. Don’t tell my insurers.
Gas Guzzlers, from the little known Gampires, on the face of it appears to be a typical arcade-weight racer with shiny graphics and plenty of particle effects. The Eastern-European Gamepires is an unknown quantity to most and they have chosen to enter well-trodden ground by aiming at the casual racing market. Not only that, but the game is PC-only and unavailable through gamer’s favourite digital distributor, Steam. This is currently the epitome of a niche title – how can it possibly shine?
Let’s give it a fair chance. After all, Nadeo’s TrackMania series is a longstanding favourite of mine. It’s also a supposedly casual-racer from an unknown studio and only available, initially at least, on PC. Happily, Gas Guzzlers features a fairly solid foundation which it confidently builds upon with some exciting gameplay features and polish.
On the surface, Guzzlers is a decent enough racer with arcade handling (a polite way of stating ‘very unrealistic’) and a great sense of speed thanks to an adept game engine. The visuals are excellent given that it is essentially an Indie title. Vehicles and track details are rich and colourful, with more than a little familiarity to the FlatOut games. The engine is almost too over the top in places however, the immense amount of dust, debris and particle effects is heavily taxing on system performance. Toning down some of this excess through the settings not only smoothed out proceedings, but actually increased enjoyment as the action became more visceral and visible. As any Z-list TV Interior Designer will tell you, “sometimes less is more.”
The campaign begins predictably with a starter vehicle, some generic little hatchback thing, which, let’s be honest, isn’t the vehicle you buy a game to drive is it? Why spend cash to drive a virtual car which is likely less impressive than one you have in real life? Quite. So, as is standard procedure, the player has to set about placing in the top three in a first race in a car that no one wants to be driving. Once that is achieved, which on Medium difficulty and above may take several attempts due to a mixture of speed-halting scenery collisions and painfully slow acceleration, you earn some cash to make purchases. It just so happens that I love shopping. Especially when it’s like this.
So the usual suspects are present, engine and performance upgrades such as uprated brakes and tyres as well as some basic but effective vehicle customisation options. Next on the shopping list isn’t quite so common.
The freshly unlocked option to purchase some huge pump action shotgun turrets for the roof of the vehicle suddenly transforms the game. Add some weaponry and the next time you head to the track, the option of ‘Classic Race’ is given, alongside the far more interesting ‘Battle Race’. Gas Guzzlers seemingly evolves immediately from a nice-enough but run-of-the-mill arcade racer in to something quite, well, explosive. Think the frantic close races of FlatOut with vehicular combat system that feels like a cross between Mario Kart and the criminally underrated Interstate ’76. It’s fast arcade racing with the ability to collect powerups to drop, such as Oil Slicks and Landmines, as well as firing massive guns (front and rear in some cases) with the satisfying impact of projectiles making the race feeling like Quake 3 on wheels. Cars merrily explode and roll constantly over the course of a race in a desperate battle to finish in the top three to earn more cash and unlock more vehicles and upgrades. The AI does tend to have a tendency to rush away from the player at the start of a race then several laps in the player magically catches up with the pack, but this is quickly forgotten as once players reach the action, all hell breaks loose.
Vehicular combat as a concept is nothing new, but this is several atomic steps above Mario and company throwing banana skins. The action finds a delicious balance between being incredibly satisfying as shotgun rounds thud into the vehicles in front causing them to flip, and incredibly frustrating as you lose a leading position to a competitor’s rockets blasting your otherwise perfect manoeuvres off course. This is where Gas Guzzlers can shine. That buzz of not only racing to pole position, but fighting hard to get there and surviving as long as you can to burst through the finishing line is what sets Guzzlers apart from mainstream racers and actually makes them feel mundane. The last title to achieve something like that was Split/Second, which still feels weaker in comparison.
As well as the campaign, there are of course the expected online modes which whilst currently quiet, are likely to gain a cult following thanks to the intense action heightening the desire to win.
The game does make some attempts at humour, having restarted a race I was suddenly aware of the presence of a blow-up sex doll looking out of the back of my car, for example. Whilst humour is always welcome, these touches aren’t really necessary and add little to the core gameplay.
It’s almost criminal that this isn’t available on more formats where it could undoubtedly gain more momentum. If however, you are looking for a change from the usual PC titles, something that offers more than the usual racers and gets adrenaline pumping, then you could do worse than to track down Gas Guzzlers and hopefully save it from relative obscurity.
How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!