Part 1 – The Zone is Alive
In the ‘Virtual Crossroads’ series of articles, we present to you what we consider to be the most captivating video game worlds of the past few years. We select worlds based on their own merits; the game it is featured in does not necessarily have to be good, although it helps when proper game design adds to the vividness of said world. Furthermore, the choices have been limited to one per series, as to prevent monotony. A final condition is that the world has to be, in one way or another, explorable. This does not dictate that the game in question has to be a full-blown open world title, but it has to have at least light exploration elements that allow us to actually go out and experience the world, rather than it simply being the backdrop to a roller-coaster thrill-ride. In the sophomore instalment of this series, we will take you to the biggest game world ever to be featured in a console game, namely that of the racing game FUEL.
The world of FUEL evokes a peaceful, yet slightly unsettling sense of solitude.
Due to its mediocre critical reception and lack of real popularity with the mainstream gaming audience, the 2009 multiplatform title FUEL was destined to be forgotten like so many other games with sales figures as lacklustre as their Metacritic scores. However, Asobo Studio’s off-road arcade racer escaped this fate due to one defining feature: the unbelievable size of its game world. With a territory that covers over 14,000 square kilometres (or 5,500 square miles), FUEL’s post-apocalyptic open world is roughly the size of Connecticut, making it arguably the biggest map in a console game to date.
Still, it is not necessarily the size that motivated me to include FUEL in this list, but much rather its overall vibe. Because you might say that FUEL’s unnamed world is relatively empty and not as varied as it could have been – and you would be right on the money – yet it still carries a certain charm that keeps pulling many open world buffs – yours truly included – right back into this game. Although the setting is post-apocalyptic, the beauty of FUEL’s world is not marred by clear signs of death and destruction roaming the land. Instead, the artistic directors focuses on presenting a world with decaying remnants of human presence that are slowly being taken back by nature. As a result, many of FUEL’s landscapes consist of scarcely impenetrable pine forests, towering mountains, abandoned farmlands and endless plains covered with grass and sand. This, in combination with an ubiquitous, melancholy sun, evokes a sense of peaceful, yet slightly unsettling sense of solitude not wholly incomparable to STALKER’s rendition of Chernobyl.
The choice to include FUEL in this list perfectly underlines the purpose of this series, which is not necessarily about the best games, but the most compelling game worlds. Because, while I did like the actual game myself, I can also understand the many complaints expressed by critics who were less enthusiastic about Asobo’s effort. The racing could have been done better, the side-quests could have been more interesting, and with some more cities, terrain types and other distinguishable features, the world could have been more captivating than it turned out. But, as it stands, FUEL’s world has enough merits of its own to deserve a mention in this series of articles. Travelling across the huge map with some good music in the background can have a strangely therapeutic effect, and I would honestly still play this game from time to time if there were nothing to do other than roam about the endless plains on an antiquated dirt bike.