The original Full Auto was released last February on the Xbox 360, and despite its great concept it unfortunately didn't live up to the expectations. Blending fast-paced arcade racing with some serious explosives seems like a recipe for success, but the 360 version suffered from poor frame rates and a clunky control scheme. Even though the first game wasn't as big as we had hoped, Sega has proven that they haven't given up on the series with their release of Full Auto 2: Battlelines on the PlayStation 3. Aside from switching to a different console, this release sees tons of new improvements, both gameplay-wise and technically, and it's clear to see how this title was designed to fix the wrongs that hurt the original so dearly.
For starters, one of the biggest downers about Full Auto on the 360 was that the frame rates were downright horrid. Whenever the action would begin to pick up, the system would bog down enough to make firing machine guns and speeding through crowded cities boring, and such a nuisance was a major turnoff. Although there are still a few rare instances when frame rate drops are noticeable, the improvements in this respect are obviously more than welcome. Now you can crash through buildings, fire your guns at anything in sight, and obliterate the other racers without having to worry about any slowdowns. Managing to sustain such playability while also delivering spectacular explosion effects and fully destructible environments is not an easy task, yet somehow this game prevails where its predecessor failed. Sure some of the level designs seem a little repetitive and the texture detail is nothing to brag about, but considering the fact that most of the game is played at hundreds of miles per hour, there's no point in getting worried over every last detail.
Battlelines was clearly designed with the action junkie in mind, and it just wouldn't be right to have a thrilling title with poor sound effects. Luckily for us, the sound effects here pack a real punch. Scraping metal and squealing tires are always a nice touch, but this game really shines when everything around you begins to explode. From the machine gun shells falling over the pavement to brick buildings collapsing inches away from you, it's hard not to be drawn into the experience by the immersive sound effects. The audio department undoubtedly did a nice job at building upon the commotion factor, but it would've been nice to have a more memorable soundtrack. Instead we're stuck with some drab tunes that are repeated all too often, but fortunately these tracks are usually drowned out by in-game noises.
If you aren't familiar with Full Auto, basically it's a more realistic version of Mario Kart. Gamers take control of a variety of cars ranging from SUVs to sports cars and even police enforcers, but in this game you can equip your ride with tons of unlockable weaponry. In addition to the typical circuit races that were found previously, this time there is a new arena mode that bears striking resemblances to Twisted Metal. With a few other gameplay modes, an in-depth online experience and an overall more polished feel, it's easy to see how much Full Auto has improved in the last year.
The heart of the game lies in the Career Mode, and although the story is half-baked and not important whatsoever, this doesn't detract from the fun at all. Starting with a simple sedan and a few meager weapons, you need to complete primary and secondary objectives throughout locations all over the city in order to unlock new rides and parts. For the most part, completing the primary objectives isn't overly difficult and can be completed if you keep your focus. But if you manage to fulfill the secondary tasks you can earn even more weapons and rides. You don't need to complete all the secondary objectives in one run for them to count, and in fact sometimes this is even impossible. Still, it can be a pain to repeatedly play the same level only to earn a new outfit for a car.
Although there are only a handful of primary objectives throughout the entire career, there's usually enough going on to keep you from getting bored. A fresh set of new rides are unlocked every step of the way, so you'll always have the option of trying out different setups. Cars are ranked on a few characteristics such as durability and weapon capacity, and it helps to try out tons of combinations to see which best fits your racing style. For example, it won't really help you to pick a heap of a truck for most of the races, but riding around on a Roughneck 4x4 with a cowcatcher installed can be your best friend in the arena. Your primary weapon can be aimed using the right analog stick, so this is where you'll equip machine guns, shotguns, and other weapons of that nature. The secondary weapons can't be aimed, so add-ons like mortars, rear grenades, and even smokescreens work best here. While the customization options are somewhat limited compared to other titles, there are still plenty to choose from.
As far as the actual racing goes, the physics engine gives the cars a weightless feeling that takes some getting used to, but after a little bit of practice you'll be screeching through corners flying off jumps with ease. You won't have any need to brake through some of the wider turns even if you're using boost, but the real trouble comes with those sharp 90 degree angles. Even if you apply full brakes and turn all the way in your intended direction, your car won't always respond exactly when you tell it to. Furthermore, as you over-steer to compensate for the delay, it's not unlikely to spin out altogether. The "unwreck" feature does allow you to go back in time and prevent yourself from making the same mistake twice, but more often than not, this meter won't be charged up enough for it to make a significant impact. As a result of all this, it's not uncommon to feel compelled to take your turns less aggressively, but this doesn't fit with the fast paced nature of this game.
While it does take some time to account for the seemingly unstable physics, once you get a feel for how everything works, there's plenty of fun to be had. As mentioned, races are run at blistering speeds so you'll always be on the edge of your seat. Alternate paths through tight corridors can save you time, but you always run the risk of accidentally slamming right into a wall. Using the destructibility of your environments can sometimes be crucial to victory, so you should never hesitate to shoot down a sign or aim for a propane truck if one of your opponents is nearby. Almost anything you can come across can be broken down, whether by shooting at it or just plowing right through, and knowing that the whole world is at your disposal is a great feeling.
Head-to-head races, arena duels, and team arena matches can all be played locally, but the real fun lies within the online mode. The online portion contains two exclusive game modes, Base Assault and Cat & Mouse. Base Assault offers a strategic challenge in which teams must acquire a bomb power-up, disable an enemy's force fields, and then suicide bomb the enemy's fortress. Balancing offense and defense is critical here, but unfortunately there are no means for communicating with a headset or even a USB keyboard, so organizing your team isn't all that easy. In Cat & Mouse, each team has a designated mouse that just wants to cross the finish line. The rest of his teammates must protect their own mouse while doing whatever they can to stop their enemy's efforts, and you can be sure to see plenty of explosions and dirty tactics here. An online mode for up to eight players seems ideal, but we experienced long waiting times before having enough players to get an event started. Once we finally got things kicked off, our races were lag-free for the most part, but be prepared to wait at least a few minutes before filling up a room.
Overall, Full Auto 2: Battlelines is a commendable improvement to last year's release. The driving physics are still a little more awkward than one would hope for, but if you can see past this flaw, then there's plenty of adrenaline pumping, gut wrenching racing waiting for you. This is undoubtedly one of the better titles currently available for the PS3, and driving fans searching for a change of pace won't be disappointed with a purchase here.