Since the days of banana peels and red shells, car combat games have been a huge subgenre of the racing flag. Easily the best part of any racing game is the push and shove of eight cars jockeying for first place, and strapping guns, explosives and power-ups to your car only serves to make the cut-throat fight for first all the more challenging and fun. However, the genre hasn’t been all that well represented on PC lately. Aside from the late and great Blur, most of the major car combat racers like Twisted Metal, Split Second and even lighter fare like Mario Kart are console exclusives.
But not Gas Guzzlers. This is a PC-only release designed to be just like the arcade racers that usually pass by the system. The game pits you and seven other racers, each with all kinds of weaponry strapped to the top of your car, against each other and lets you duke it out on the road with land mines, shotgun shells and lots of nitro. The good thing is that when Gas Guzzlers is flying on all cylinders, it’s a fantastic title. The bad news is that there are a few moments of bad cornering that can drag the overall experience down.
The basic engine of the game is a solid base for a racer. The physics all feel right, the cars all have the proper weight and gravitas, and crashing or smashing up your ride gives it the proper look and feel. The weapons, on the other hand, feel viciously overpowered in a good way, sending enemies flying through the air and off the road. It’s also a very fast game, running along at a breakneck pace due to plenty of straight-aways and shortcuts. Graphically, the game looks astounding. It definitely requires a very powerful PC, but there are plenty of tweaks and options to make the game look positively incredible.
While you can go online and play custom races, the main method of unlocking new cars, tracks and upgrades is the campaign mode. This involves racing in event after event, letting you pick between three different modes. Each win gets you more points, and the objective is to have the most points overall. It’s important that we explain the modes to you, because this is where the game both succeeds and flips off the rails. The first mode is classic racing, which bans the use of your guns and restricts power-ups to boosts, land mines and oil slicks. It’s probably the worst of the three, for very deep reasons we’ll get into in a second. The next mode is weapons, which is our favourite. This one gives you about twenty seconds of racing before entering the fire zone, after which you need to collect ammo to show those jerks ahead of you who the boss is. The weapons, particularly the dual shotguns, are immensely satisfying to use and the power-ups come up in larger and more dangerous clumps. The last mode is knock-out, which is identical to battle in every way except that at the end of each lap, the player in last is knocked out of the race. The thrill and suspense of trying to keep in the race is quite entertaining, but with eight racers and seven laps, the lengthy races somewhat overstay their welcome.
Why is classic racing the worst of the three? It’s due to two specific problems. The first is the AI, which is very hardcore. The AI players never, ever mess up without outside influence, and they can recover from any attack with dexterity that a mere human like yourself could never match. They’re experts at knocking you off the road in such a way that you’ll never even remotely catch up, and they manage to snag nearly every power-up they pass by, leaving just a few scraps for you. All in all, you need to race absolutely perfectly to have a hope of competing, especially when weapons are out of the equation. The second problem is the power-up design, as everything only attacks the rear of your car. In the weapons and knock-out modes, you have guns for things ahead of you, but no such luck in classic. Once you’re in the lead by a solid ten seconds, you can be nearly untouchable. It’s dull to be in that position, and frustrating when the AI is there instead.
Luckily you can play whatever mode you want while racing through campaign. This is great later in the game, but rough in the beginning. You see, your car doesn’t come equipped with anything at first, which means you can only play classic until you get a weapon. The only way to get a weapon unlocked is to come in first, which is no easy feat. We had to restart the first level twenty-six times before winning by a fluke, which only served to irritate. Once that was over and done and we picked up our trusty weaponry, the rest of the races were simple enough to win after two or three tries. It was just the first that was unbelievably difficult.
This is partially due to the upgrade system, which is both awesome and weirdly designed. You earn money from races and use it to upgrade your parts and buy new cars. Racing games and upgrades tend to go hand in hand most of the time, and it’s always satisfying to see the difference a new set of tires makes to your hairpin turns. But upgrades are also locked until you finish enough races, with no indication of how many or which ones. Requiring players to both unlock a part and then buy it for each and every car seems to be an unnecessary complication and almost gives the game a bit of a grinding aspect. But aside from that annoying quirk, the many cars, upgrades and customization options are appreciated.
One other point I should mention is the meaty requirements for the game. Gas Guzzlers stretched our modest gaming PC to its absolute limit, so make sure you meet the proper requirements or your racing experience might chug a bit. The graphics do make good use of the high requirements, however, and it’s definitely a sharp looking title.
Verdict: Gas Guzzlers is a great throwback to the classic arcade racers, being generally quite fun but often held back due to poor gating of content and an unforgivable and unadjustable AI. If you’re looking for a challenging game with old-school sensibilities but modern graphics, Gas Guzzlers is a solid choice.
This review is based off of a review copy of the PC version of Gas Guzzlers provided by Gamepires.