Take Burnout 3: Takedown, Demolition Racer: No Exit, Twisted Metal, and Blinx, put them in a cocktail shaker and what do you have? Well, three awesome racers and one mediocre platformer with a cool rewind feature. Or Sega's new car racer/battler Full Auto for the Xbox 360.
First things first: the next-generation graphics won't completely blow you away, but what the game does with them should. Going off the beaten track in Full Auto is so visually rewarding that trying to make your own shortcuts is irresistable, as long as you don't take too much damage along the way. The power of the Xbox 360 is evident in that virtually everything, I mean everything is destructable. Glass flies, mortar crumbles, and streetlights might as well be made of plywood. I appreciated charming details like the customers who ran screaming for cover as I took a "drive thru" a fast-food restaurant. The resulting car damage is also well modeled, though it didn't seem to noticeably affect driving performance.
Underneath all that wrecking ball sizzle factor, the game has solid, tried-and-true gameplay. The racing action is fast, and the weapons are simple but effective. The basic strategy is to drive a tight race while chipping away at your opponents with limitless machine gun ammo, then cutting loose with a missile when they're lined up in the crosshairs. And to that end, there's plenty of nitro boost so that you can keep them in range.
Do enough damage to a competitor and they'll crash n' burn, moving you up a spot in the race as well as netting a nice damage bonus. Knocking more than one out of commission in a row will rack up even more points for double and triple kills, and catching major air or screeching epic powerslides will also bump up the score. The opponents are a little more courteous than I was; they riddled me with bullets when I nudged ahead, but didn't try too often to tag me with a deadly missile. The final version's later courses will probably feature more ruthless AI.
Two tracks were available to play in the demo: Sunset Showdown and Dead by Dawn. (Something tells me that showcasing the Xbox 360's lighting abilities had something to do with the time of day). Of the two, Sunset Showdown was easier, but both of the tracks were narrow runs through dense cityscapes, sporting numerous hairpin turns, high-flying hills, and meddlesome traffic that veered in front of the race drivers at the most inopportune times. On my first try, the going proved so tough that I wasn't even able to finish in the top 3, which is required to advance. The controls are easy to grasp (and the 360 pad is just heavenly), but getting down the handbrake timing for those brutal turns is no mean task.