Review: Gas Guzzlers Extreme

GasGuzzlersExtreme

At some point in all of our lives we are likely to drive a car of some sort. Driving a Honda Civic or a Ford Focus is most likely the extent most gamers will ever experience behind the wheel. But that’s no fun, which is why we turn to video games to live out our road rage fantasies of driving cars armed with machine guns, shotguns, and rocket launchers. Gamepires makes such dreams a reality with Gas Guzzlers Extreme on Steam, an arcade racer that combines gearhead driving with car combat and RPG-like progression.

Gas Guzzlers Extreme tantalizes the player with a first race that offers a high end car, fully loaded with weapons and modified components, in a chaotic sponsored race. Pitting gamers in a race without any foreknowledge of the map, speed of the cars, temperament of the AI, and the overall mechanics of the game can be a bit frustrating.  Being thrown to the wolves with a typical gamer expectation of needing to win every race is almost a slap in the face when it is abundantly clear that there is no chance in hell you are going to win. Once this initial race is over, the game drops back to a menu saying the sponsors have dropped their funding, but offer a paltry severance, saying thanks for trying. The money is enough to buy the Gas Guzzlers Extreme equivalent of a micro car like a Fiesta or Yugo and get your career started at the bottom of the rankings. 

At the lowest rank, there are three races to choose from and they are a mix of pure racing, combat racing, and elimination racing. Winning a race will net a small profit, but income can be earned without necessarily finishing in one of the top three slots. Combat matches (or a variation of the combat race) awards bonus points for each time an opponent hits an oil slick, drives through a smoke field, or runs over a land mine. So even if you suck during the first few matches, the game offers other means to earn money to save up for a better car. Additionally, each race offers secondary objectives that award more bonus points, such as eliminating 3 opponents before the race is over, forcing other cars to drive through oil slicks, or keeping specific AI drivers from finishing in the top three. These secondary objectives offer a nice alternative to simply trying to finish a race at the top. They also allow for inexperienced drivers to focus on how the car handles on a given track, while providing a means to earn much-needed income.

Outracing the AI allows players to unlock new tracks, cars, and modifications, as well as level up their overall ranking. One thing I noticed as I leveled up my car (and in turn my driver), there wasn’t an immediate jump in AI driver aggressiveness. Rubber banding isn’t too noticeable if you maintain a lead during a race either, but this can also be an issue if you get too far behind. There is no easy way to catch up to the rest of the pack and try to at least not finish last. Of course pretty much all of the races are only two or three laps so having to redo a race isn’t the end of the world. Load times are pretty quick as well so it never feels like the game is penalizing you if you want to restart a race.

If three consecutive races are won a sponsor will offer to pay in exchange for putting decals on the car, which of course means higher payouts for winning races. Continuing to win while being sponsored also provides invitations to fully sponsored events with better cars as well as expectations to work as a team.

There is a slightly dark sense of humor running throughout the game. In many ways the game reminds me of a mix between Death Rally and Twisted Metal. Part of the humor comes from the fictional companies that are advertised on the cars–Monster Cock (I’m assuming some sort of energy beverage), or a grisly Grim Reaper decorated funeral service. You’ll also be racing up against some rather silly AI drivers with names like Bjorn Toulouse, Jack Kass, Jacque Strap, and Sam Urai.  The game also taunts drivers while their zipping around the track with various sound bites from famous games and movies, similar to the random audio blips that play constantly through Big Sky Infinity.

My feelings are a bit mixed when it comes to how the game balances racing and combat. On one hand I really enjoy the driving mechanics and the unique handling that each car provides (and how much better each car performs as new upgrade are unlocked). The tracks are well designed and offer branching pathways, similar to the Motorstorm series on PlayStation 3. Courses are also raced at different times of the day and under various weather conditions which adds nice variety to change up running the same tracks. Visually the game is pretty stunning and maintains a steady frame rate even racing along at high speeds. The cars as well as the damage model are detailed and believable.

Compared to the racing model, the more arcade-style combat element doesn’t always mesh with the realistic handling. Don’t get me wrong, the combat is fun, but it also doesn’t feel as responsive and tight as it could be. In a game like Twisted Metal, cars have an almost uncanny ability to turn on a dime, reverse, and then zoom in a different direction, all the while firing rockets or machine guns with good accuracy. Gas Guzzlers Extreme handles like a real driving simulation. Shooting two massive machine guns from a car while speeding down a mountain road is a blast, but accurately hitting a target while also avoiding other cars or obstacles can prove problematic. This is mainly an issue in the arena matches. To illustrate what I’m talking about, Gas Guzzlers Extreme offers a few maps that are more akin to large, complex deathmatch events from a first-person shooter. The problem with these matches is that the cars don’t spin or turn quickly enough to be able to shoot an enemy driver as the car zooms directly in front of your car. Trying to lock on and aim at a particular car is also much harder to do.

In addition to the robust single player campaign, Gas Guzzlers Extreme also offers deep multiplayer. Several different dedicated servers are available to play on and each server has a rotating list of races providing a nice mix of maps and race types. One thing I appreciate with the dedicated servers is the fact that the game will fill in drivers as AI standbys so that you can race without feeling like you have to wait for someone else to join. The servers I played on had several races queued up for a tournament and new racers could join the server, but if a race was active, they would have to wait for the match to finish. This pales in comparison to many console based online racing games where there is no good indication of when a round will be finishing up. One nice thing with Steam is that you typically have a keyboard right by you, so it is not an issue to chat a few quick words to say hello while waiting for a race to finish.

Gas Guzzlers Extreme is a fast paced, great handling racing game, mixing car combat carnage with a wide variety of car types (each with appropriate handling), a nice range of maps, a remarkably high detailed environment, robust online multiplayer, and just the right amount of dark humor. The vehicular combat mechanics don’t hold up as well in the deathmatch events, but all things considered Gas Guzzlers Extreme offers a deep racing experience and many hours of drive-and-shoot enjoyment.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Great car handling
+ Progression system offers a rewarding challenge
+ Nice mix of full on combat through straight racing events
+ Richly detailed environments

Cons:
– AI can be frustratingly aggressive at times
– Deathmatch events don’t feel as well controlled as race events

Game Info:
Platform: PC via Steam
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Developer: Gamepires
Release Date: 10/8/2013
Genre: Racing/Car Combat
Players: 1-8
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.