October 2nd, 2012
Futurlab, the makers of Velocity, bring us Fuel Tiracas as a launch title for PlayStation Mobile. As a part of the new suite of games for the Vita and other mobile devices, Fuel Tiracas is designed to bring high energy frantic action right to your finger tips. Priced at a mere 49 cents, the future of mobile gaming seems pretty sweet indeed.
When you think of space, and colonizing space, it's hard not to imagine that an incredibly small number of planets are even habitable. Terraforming is a popular science fiction solution to adapting a planet to our needs, and this is your mission in Fuel Tiracas. The uninhabitable planet before you will change before your eyes as you power up the sites releasing that oh-so-specific cocktail of various elements into the air, growing an atmosphere. Aside from this basic premise there isn't much else to Fuel Tiracas except the addicting gameplay. Knowing that it was inspired in part by a certain android from Aliens really does begin to explain some of the design though. That scene, you know the one. Yeah, that one. It's like the guys at Futurlab said "Hey, this is awesome. Let's make a game like this!" and the rest is history. When people inject things they love into a game, it's easy to see that love in the final product. That's the real story behind Fuel Tiracas.
Smooth as usual, Futurlab throws some very sleek design into Fuel Tiracas. Embodying a very Sci-Fi theme, the menus feature reactors and voltages of different colors as you select a few of the various options in the main menu. Once you are able to select a level you can see the planet you are trying to terraform and the various reactors you must power up to do this. Simply tapping one then hitting play will take you into the game. As you complete the stages you get to see the planet's changes begin to take shape. By the end you are treated to the image of a rather lush paradise fit for life.
When it comes to the game's UI itself, space age is definitely an apt description. Carbon inspired black backgrounds house the fuel gauges that are displayed in the middle. Either side of the screen is home to three buttons and the top of the screen displays the time elapsed on the level along with the current power level for the reactor. Itís all very simple, but it doesn't need any more. The UI is smooth and unobtrusive which is more of a benefit then you would think when it comes to a game that requires you to really track the movement of buttons you need to hit.
If dubstep, or rather borderline dubstep, is the music of the future then Fuel Tiracas is set. The main menu theme is just under my threshold for what would cause me to rip my ears off in a "wub" fueled tizzy. Donít let my general distaste fool you; the theme is actually rather catchy.
Each of the 12 levels has its own track as well. Many of these are reminiscent of Futurlab's other smash hit Velocity, though this game has a different artist at work. Indeed the musical selection may be overlooked which is a shame because it is music to the ears. The rather large "clunk" as you hit the buttons to fuel up the gauges can be overpowering to the flow of the music but thankfully you can adjust the music volume in the options menu to compensate.
Aside from the clunk, other sound effects will alert you when a reactor is in the prime spot, when you are close to fully depleting a gauge or if you have over filled one as well. Even the power up sound as you complete the level is of good quality, but more importantly totally and completely satisfying. Whenever that sound of a job well done hits my ears I can't help but smile.
At first glance Fuel Tiracas is pretty simple and straight forward. Six buttons grace the screen, three on each side, with some fuel gauges in the center. Select a fuel gauge and hit the buttons as they light up to collect fuel for that gauge. Once you hit the sweet spot for that particular gauge you select the next and repeat. Once all gauges are in their respective target zones the reactor will start powering up. Once it's at 100% the level is complete and you can upload your time to the game's online leader boards.
It does get a little tricky as you move on though. Later levels have different icons that might light up with the buttons you press. The skull is actually a button you shouldn't press as it will instantly dump some fuel. There are also matching symbols you must hit simultaneously on either side to activate. Others you have to hit multiple times before it disappears. There are also some that will temporarily freeze the gauge from gaining or losing fuel, handy to use in certain situations, but can just as easily work against you if you aren't paying attention. Basically the farther you get, the harder it becomes to blindly mash buttons like some crazy whack-a-mole game.
The levels have set patterns. At first I was surprised to hear this because random levels sound more intense. Learning this fact led me to feel strangely empowered. Finding the patterns and memorizing them in whole or part can really help your score. I was immediately reminded of my days practicing Dance Dance Revolution patterns even when I was away from the arcade in order to do better. Once that hit me, I recognized the beauty of pre-programmed levels. The game still retains some of the frantic twitch gaming that lives and breathes in mobile games so well, but with the prospect of potential mastery. I wouldn't doubt one day we will see people recording themselves playing these levels blindfolded and putting them on YouTube, yet another aspect of the bragging rights you can achieve with a mere 49 cent purchase.
Really and truly this game is the kind that appeals to my own desires to be the best. The whole point here is to test yourself, and see how many people you are better than. With the leader boards there is always little question of where you rank compared to others. While PlayStation Mobile games do not actually connect with the PlayStation Network at all, you can still manually input your desired name. This is my only gripe with the game. While hosting the leader boards on a Sony server or not is not the issue, the ability to filter out those on your PSN friends list is sorely missed. As this game gains popularity (and that 49 cent price tag makes it a mighty attractive target for impulse buys) it will become increasingly harder to manually scan for your buddies. It's hard to blame Futurlab for this as Sony would have to pony up the keys to the awesome PlayStation Network kingdom, but it is something I would love to see Sony work with PSM developers for in the future.
Being PlayStation Mobile it is very much worth noting that your purchases to carry over to any PSM certified device. In a way these games are like the new Minis, buy them and you can play them on a variety of devices. Much like these games also do not support Trophies, due also to the aforementioned lack of PSN connectivity. This is most likely a much harder sell to Sony, who seems to prioritize Trophy support to retail games and higher cost PSN titles. That being said it is doubtful these reduced price games will be getting Trophies any time soon, but that's ok, because Fuel Tiracas does have 12 in-game trophies for you to earn by completing certain feats. Ok, so they don't upload with Trophy sync, but you can always take a screen shot and post it to various social media, right?
Let's be realistic, gamers are a very competitive by nature. When you boil down what makes a great gaming experience, a major part is always that feeling of accomplishment you get from being able to prove how good you are to someone else. To some, this may take place in the form of fighting or racing games. To others the kill/death ratios are more precious than one's social security number. Others brag about their Gamerscore or Trophy level. Turn the clock back even just 15 years and you wouldn't have much of any of that outside arcades. Of course any arcade game worth its salt had a leader board. Leader boards were the crowning achievement of social gaming, one that continues to find its way into games on consoles as well. That is the power of Fuel Tiracas. For the ridiculous price of 49 cents you get a game that has been distilled into the purest sense of why games appeal to us. We challenge ourselves constantly for that better score and then beam when we put our name up on that board. The feeling of moving up in the ranks is electric, and that can serve to fuel you on to beat your own best yet again. Futurlab has given us a game that feels much greater than the sum of its parts. Sure it doesn't have detailed 3D environments, a strong protagonist, or lengthy operatic plots, but it does give us the spirit of gaming in a sleek, well programmed package. To say this game is worth the money is quite possibly the understatement of the year. Unparalleled value is a far more appropriate term considering the wonderful experience you get. Fuel Tiracas is a very strong foot forward in PlayStation Mobile's launch, easily showing us the kind of quality and value the platform can cook up for us. If you own a PlayStation Mobile certified device there are a handful of titles you must own, and Fuel Tiracas is one of them.