I can't remember the last time I had such a love/hate relationship with a racing game. When everything is working as it should be, Fuel is a blast, with its massive explorable terrain, variety of vehicles, and option to race or wander whenever you like. When things go wrong though — cheating AI, being forced to use a ride in a challenge that clearly isn't up to the task, occasional game freezes — and it's almost enough to make you want to quit. Fortunately, the option to take a break and trek off into the wilderness to collect liveries, new vehicles, vista points, and unlockable challenges is just the ticket to alleviate any grief that the beaten path make give you.
It must be noted that Fuel gives new meaning to the scope of "open world" games. It holds the Guinness world record for playable area size in a console game — 5,560 square miles — and every inch of that is available to you from the minute you start. You have to drive there manually in the beginning, but once you open up new areas by winning stars in races and other events, you can warp from place to place.
The first half of the game offers reasonable challenge in the multitude of race types (helicopter chases, waypoint elimination, tag, timed waypoint blitzes, short dirt track sprints, and incredibly long endurance challenges that can span a few in-game areas), but the last half ramps up to the point that Hard races from the early areas are a cakewalk compared to Easy ones later on. Vehicle restrictions for certain events especially make things frustrating, though there is a minor exploit to get around this (hit Select right when the race starts, go to Garage; once per race you can swap vehicles this way). This "cheat" (if you must call names) evens out difficulty in rougher areas and gives players an option I feel they should have had to begin with. The AI cheats enough in spots, so rubber band AI will keep it competitive no matter what you use.
The story behind the goings on is that environmental and ecological disasters in the wake of global warming have destroyed fictionalized areas modeled after northern California stretching up to Seattle (the in-game Crater Lake mock-up is just a little too similar to ignore). With no people around to complain, off-road racers with a few screws loose have flocked to the area to compete for "fuel," the currency of the game, which is offered both as a reward for winning races and can be found in free roam littering the environment in clearly marked barrels here and there. Don't worry, though; you don't have to spend it to refill your tank. It's mainly used for purchasing new vehicles. This explains the relative absence of other people in the world, aside from other racers. Some areas flooded, some burned, some were blanketed in snow, and it's all a marvel to look at and explore. The visuals impress for the most part, and elevation changes are extreme in places, making terrain both challenging to navigate and breathtaking to take in, peering off a mountaintop to the sunset on the horizon, still visible several miles away.