Gas Guzzlers Extreme. Going into this, I half expected to see Hummers and SUVs battling it out in an extreme sports competition. Imagine my surprise, and eventual relief, that it wasn't H3s doing 900s off a half-pipe, or Rav-4s grinding through a street course, but a car combat/racing game. Armed with a wide variety of heavy artillery and just about every make of fast car you could imagine, this is a solid game that's burdened by some really odd design choices.
Starting with the bargain basement name, it feels like every style choice this game makes is at odds with something else it's trying to accomplish. A car combat game at its core, GGE tries to straddle the line between simulation and arcade action, but it doesn't go far enough in either direction to leave a lasting impression. Its presentation is realistic in its representations of car models and environments, but it takes some hard swings into the absurd with it's tongue-firmly-in-cheek pun racer names, or its less then impressive driver voices.
This lack of clarity leaves the compelling concepts of the actual death races a little dry, as you are given the tools, but no real reason to compete aside from an arbitrary leaderboard and a random sponsor that throws extra cash at you at the end of every successful race. I would have loved to have seen even a rudimentary explanation for why drivers were competing in this hellish bloodsport, or why companies like “Mighty Cock” or “Happy Smoke” thought it was in their best interest to slap their ads on the side of what were soon to be smoking husks. Something as arbitrary as “in the FUTURE, everything runs on solar energy and rainbows. But these few, these GAS GUZZLERS, are out to make their own way through this brutally clean and caring world!” would have gone a long way to simply setting the mood.
Thankfully, the races themselves do a fine job of self-representation. The basic Battle Race is a whirlwind of bullets and metal, as various makes and models, from starting models that were ripped straight from an episode of Mr. Bean to an ultra-slick Viper knock off, strap weapons, ranging from shotguns to rocket launchers, to their sides. Not active at the start of the race, it's never long before the, quite literal, firing line is passed and everything is free game.
Elimination races build on the concept of the Battle Race, but add in the stipulation that if you are last, you are eliminated from the race by virtue of your car exploding. Also on tap, depending on how many of the three single player tournaments you've won, are an all out death match (cars + guns + no racing = carnage) and an elimination style death match with no respawns. Both work single player wise, but in the end, they are easily skipped and left to the multiplayer side of GGE's equation. There is also a straight up, no weapons race, but, if you are in to that kind of thing, why are you even playing this?
While the rest of the races are entertaining, the end of my time with GGE was spent in the Battle Race. None of the other races offered as great a risk/reward ratio, and having played everything up until that point, none of them offered up the same kind of thrilling simplicity.
For everything outside of those no weapon shindigs, shooting other cars is as easy as pushing a button. Most weapons tend to lock on to the closest thing to you, so keeping another car either directly in front of you, or even behind you, is the surest way to confirm a hit. Rockets and grenades are the exception, with the latter firing and spreading out at a fixed difference, and the former blasting off all willie-nillie on really wild trajectories. In fact, even with the minor damage upgrade over the standard mini-gun, I found most of the explosive weapons to be lacking, as it was just easier dumping bullets then praying for a good rocket hit.
Outside of weapons, which is more go with what you like, the cars on offer by GGE are all steady improvements over each other, especially once fully upgraded with whatever parts and tires are available. All are customizable as far as paint and rims go, but I spent most of my time looking at the same paint job, the red, white and green of sponsor “Happy Smoke.” As far as sponsorship goes, I have to assume that they were fine, as they continually upped my deal based on my wins, and even offered special sponsored events, like death matches or single car-type races, that awarded larges swathes of cash to the winning team. At one point, I was doing so well that another sponsor tried to scoop me up with the offer of slightly more money, but as the “Happy Smoke” guys had never done me wrong, I stayed. That and I didn't feel like riding around with “Cock” scrawled on the side of my car.
Not that it would have mattered, as you are surrounded by those types of juvenile jokes the moment you enter a race. Every AI racer is gifted with a fantastically, eye-rolling pun for a name and depending on what voice you chose out of the starting gate for your racing avatar, you could spend each and every lap listening to the gentle tones of Duke Nukem, or the harsh, almost Austrian impersonator trying to do his best Arnold Schwarzenegger. Should that not be enough, notice also that some races have you sporting a rubber blow-up doll as a co-pilot, and depending on the car and your driving ability, it's not hard to get her bouncing around in the trunk as you take turns, hit obstacles, and with any luck, shoot things.
I have no issue with the proverbial dick joke, and I also enjoy a good pun, but when used with such reckless abandon, and without any comic timing whatsoever, most of the jokes register as a solid “oh-heh” and are quickly done with, leaving me groaning for the other 8 hours and 50 minutes it took to get make my way up the three single player tournaments. It seemed more pointless then anything else, and I can only hope that the developers found them so wickedly hilarious that their wild laughter would make up for my lack there of.
With that being said, the game makes up for the overall groaning humor through its gameplay, which is at its best when you are engaged against other humans. Multiplayer matches offer up a random event, and up to 8 players can compete for... well, fun. All the cars and weapons start unlocked, and while you do rank up, my time spent didn't really yield anything but a ton of achievements. It's not a bad system, and I while I had unlocked everything in the single player by the time I sat down for a true multiplayer session, early experiments did confirm that I would not have needed that progress to adequately compete. It's a nice change from the level to unlock structure of most games since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but it does leave a little wanting as far as long term commitment. I didn't spend a whole ton of time leveling, so maybe I missed something, but if there are no pop-ups during those crucial beginning levels, I can only assume that later levels wouldn't be hiding anything behind their higher numbered allure.
With the tournaments behind me, and my curiosity for its multiplayer offerings at an end, I'm not upset at the time I spent racing around, over, and through the mangled metal bodies of my competition. There was fun to be had, and I had it, but its not a return trip I will be making any time soon. It's not the fault of any one thing, but the combination of opposing style decisions as a whole that left this feeling more mess then machine. If you absolutely must have a new combat car racing game, go for it. Otherwise, maybe hold off until the mood strikes you... or it's on sale.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!