The racing action of Gas Guzzlers takes place in a setting that’s very close to emulating the real world. All the tracks look like places from our world and some even have real world names. The cars look realistic, taking influence from rather than being copies of real world cars. But the last time I checked there isn’t a racing league where machine guns are strapped to the roof of cars and drivers are encouraged to ram other racers off the road. This semi-real world stops Gas Guzzlers from going too crazy and limits its personality. Gas Guzzlers doesn’t sit firmly in either fantasy or reality and this carries over to the gameplay which can’t decide if it’s an action kart racer or a realistic driving game.
This is my biggest problem with Gas Guzzlers. It’s in a hazy limbo between two sub-genres of racing; Action-arcade kart games and serious driving simulator. It’s like Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo had an unholy bastard child. I guess on paper that sounds like a pretty good idea, replacing turtle shells with land mines and toning down the ultra realism a little but Gas Guzzlers doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot between the two. The arcadey power ups and weapons are at odds with the realistic driving. These two disparate game elements will often hamper each other rather than making the game more enjoyable.
Going back to what I was saying about the setting, Gas Guzzlers would benefit from being a bit loopier. There are hints that the people racing in this league are lunatics but that’s all it is, hints. A little fluff would have gone a long way. For example, maybe the Gas Guzzler league IS set in the real world and as such is illegal and underground. This would have at least led to a few levels battling police cars. Better yet, scrapping the real world entirely would have worked. This is one game where I wouldn’t groan if the word “Post apocalyptic” was used to describe it. Then again Powerslide and Carmageddon are my favorite racing games so that could just be me.
After all this doom and gloom, You might think I was ready to call the wreckers and write Gas Guzzlers off. But then there was a special moment when I “got” it. As the sun hazily shone through the smoke clouds that covered the track I drifted artfully around a corner and filled the car in front of me with lead. Said car exploded and I exited the drift perfectly, speeding clear of the black smoke behind me. It was a beautiful scene and this is when Gas Guzzlers works, when you’re driving tight and the other drivers are blowing up.
There are three different ways you can race in Gas Guzzlers. Classic race, battle race, or knockout. Classic race is basically the same as the other two, sans guns. In a classic race the annoyance of the action arcade elements encroaching on the realistic driving is most evident. Switch to battle race, add in the guns, and things start to work much better. Where classic races become tedious, battle races are hectic and exhilarating. Call me crazy but the game would have been better doing away with any races without guns and making it all about the battles. Playing through a classic race and had me bemoaning the amount of laps I had to complete, the race feeling like a grueling endurance. Strap the guns on and the same amount of laps are over before you know it and are filled with destructive glee.
The unlocks, which include new cars, car upgrades, and pure cosmetics, are rather arcane. I couldn’t find a reference to how the system works in-game (and I’m too much of a prat to actually look at a readme). So after each race you sometimes get upgrades and sometimes don’t, how or why I’m not quite sure. The upgrades are necessary to build your racing prowess and also required to unlock the battle races so the fact that there isn’t instructions on this is a bit of let down.
Gas Guzzlers looks stellar, wherever the tracks are set. The fact that it’s an independent game doesn’t slow down Gas Guzzlers, pumping out visuals that a big studio would be proud of. Stand outs are the desert levels that slowly get covered in oil and smoke as the race progresses, the dusty scenes of carnage looking much better in the bright, sun bleached surrounds. The smoky deserts scene REALLY makes me wish Gas Guzzlers had taken the plunge and plopped the game into a post apocalyptic setting. The greener tracks look fantastic too, but the pretty landscapes don’t suit Gas Guzzlers rough and dirty combat.
As a fan of puns, I have to mention that the AI racers have names that really tickle my funny bone. Eat my dust Som Dum Guy, Jack Kass, and Perry Noid. The music is also kind of funny, in a ridiculous over the top “cool in 2004″ way, which also matches up with much of the aesthetics of the whole game.
If Gas Guzzlers had an open world approach, and if that open world was post apocalyptic, where you drove around the wastelands battling and scrounging for upgrades it would have been brilliant. As it stands now, the traditional racing game format doesn’t do Gas Guzzlers any favours and races where the guns are taken off you are at times a downright chore. When you’re speeding around smoke filled tracks, shooting at half destroyed cars the game is a maniac’s delight, the realistic driving physics adding to the fun rather than detracting from it like in a classic race. With a bit more focus on the parts of the game that are awesome and beefing up the personality, Gas Guzzlers could have been something really special. I would definitely recommend it to racing fans looking for something a little different, but its fence sitting between arcade action and realistic driving will throw off less determined speed racers. That being the case Gas Guzzlers is getting 3 out of 5 stars.