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Review: Fueled Up

13 Oct 2022

The last few years have seen an explosion of a certain kind of game, a genre we have yet to really have a solid name for – or if we do, it’s one I haven’t seen floating around. Even if you don’t know the name, though, you know the type. It’s a whole lot of antics being undertaken with a group, either a shared objective for multiple players or a competition that has loose standards and lots of catch-up mechanics. Jackbox games, Fall Guys, Among Us, you know the sort of game I’m talking about.

Of course, these games also require a slightly different style of evaluation from a lot of other games. These are not, first and foremost, single-player driven experiences, but neither are they the sort of things you play with random people online. They’re games meant to be shared with others, ideally your friends, so that you can all struggle together, laugh at the game as it swings or fails to do so, and walk away with the happiness of a good time shared with friends. Thus, when you step past the technical side of the game and are done asking if it works, the question becomes whether or not it… well, generates fun stories, for lack of a better terminology.

With that in mind? We can start talking about Fueled Up, which launches on October 13th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam. The PC version was played for this review. (And that’s important, because there is no cross-play at this time. Pity the friends who are on opposite sides of the Xbox/PS4 divide.)

Put the Thing in the Thing

There is, to be fair, a story in Fueled Up. But it is very much an excuse plot – there is an evil space octopus that has invaded, thus there are a lot of space derelicts you have to rescue and salvage and escape from the aforementioned evil space octopus. It is a silly plot with little to no real weight given, and that is clearly exactly what the developers want from it. As such, it bears only a passing mention.

What’s important in this game is the actual gameplay. You and your crew (two characters under your control if you’re playing solo) are dropped onto a derelict spaceship. Your job is to get the engines working and get it moving fast enough to escape the encroaching bar of doom which represents the aforementioned space octopus. That means grabbing fuel crystals, refining them, and then tossing the refined fuel into the engine to keep them fueled up.

Of course, that’s not all that’s going to happen. Debris strikes the ship and you have to patch up the hull damage. Airlocks have batteries and when those batteries run out, the airlocks open, so you need to keep them powered up to avoid being sucked into space. There are vents that obscure the room, buttons to be pushed, hazards to be avoided, and generally a whole bunch of various things going wrong that you and your crew are trying to keep barely together long enough to cross the finish line.

It is, of course, here that we have to deal with the fact that the game requires a different approach than a lot of other games. While playing the game alone does have some frenetic uniqueness to it (controlling two characters by swapping between them always does lend itself to some interesting gameplay moments), at the end of the day the actual gameplay is fairly simple. Walk to a place, press a button, watch the bar fill up. It is – and I say this with love and an understanding that it’s really not supposed to be anything else – kind of just acceptable.

But does it do what it’s supposed to do? Well… yes. To a point. You can definitely see where this is going to cause some fun, frantic moments if you have the group on chat and you’re all laughing and shouting to get to the fuel and someone get back on the button, stop fixing the hull for a second! The biggest problem is that it’s clearly structured for longer-term and more sustained play; this is not the sort of game where you drop in and drop out for totally brief sessions, especially not with the list of special things to unlock along the way.

Is this a bad thing? Is the game bad because of this? Not at all! But it does mean that if you don’t have that crew, the game is going to be of somewhat limited use for you. Either you have that group eager to go through everything with you, or you kind of run out of things to do in short order.

Don’t Let the Thing Get Out of the Thing

Graphically, the game looks good but is a bit… overly cramped. The idea seems to be that to facilitate people playing on a couch with friends, everything will be constrained to just one screen that your little characters meander about as you try to fix the ship and find out what in the heck needs to be done. Unfortunately, this also means that everything is zoomed out far enough that it’s often hard to get a clear picture of what is going on. This is exacerbated by the fact that the ships do a pretty bad job of highlighting the most important parts of the ship, which things are important, and which interactions will lead to what happening.

Obviously, some of this is intentionally so that you can all laugh as your friends get sucked out the airlock and say “oh, that’s where the battery is!” before going back to it. But… you know, the line between a funny moment of “ha ha, where is that” and a frustrating moment of not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing is a fine one. Your mileage and roadmap may vary.

I do like the various head customizations you can unlock for your intrepid salvagers, all of which are weird and tongue-in-cheek, all of which are taking this exactly as seriously as it deserves. I’m not as fond of how hard it is to see most of them in normal gameplay, but I’ve already brought that up and there’s no real help to be had harping on it further.

There was music, but it was utterly forgettable to the point that I can’t honestly remember any of it now aside from the map screen. It’s got that nice pseudo-60s bop feel, so it’s amusing enough, but it doesn’t really stick in your mind after it’s over. Tonally appropriate, though! (I seem to find an awful lot of games with very forgettable soundtracks.)

Click on the Thing

At the end of the day, it’s necessary to evaluate Fueled Up on two levels. The first is very strictly speaking as a solo game experience, in which case it’s… lacking. The second is as a group experience, and if you have the right group of friends who will enjoy going through this weirdness on a regular basis? It’s a good enough time for the price.

Unfortunately, I feel like that is still kind of lacking as a game. One of the things that I feel really highlights a good game – and the reason I am not totally sold on this particular subgenre – is that these are games you can play when you don’t have a bunch of other people around. As someone who loves board games and tabletop roleplaying, it feels like taking the main draw of a video game away by slaving it to group play, like being given a high-end sports car and only using it to drive 25 MPH to the grocery store.

But that’s just me. While it’s not much of a game for solo play, if you have the right kind of group who wants to play something frantic on the couch together, Fueled Up is the kind of game you can really enjoy for a good long while. It’s not perfect, but it offers all the frantic patch jobs you could ask for.

~ Final Score: 6/10 ~

Review code provided by Fireline Games for PC. All screenshots courtesy of Fireline Games.