Best known today, perhaps, as the developer behind Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020, Asobo Studio have actually been around since 2002. They have developed a number of third-person character games featuring Disney characters, Re-Core for Microsoft and the Plague Tale titles, and notably appear to have an expertise in high quality open-world environments that has been recognized by major publishers.
When it comes to racing titles Asobo most recently worked on the open-world racing titles The Crew and The Crew 2 for Ubisoft, but before that developed another open-world Mad Max-style apocalyptic racer named FUEL (2009) for Codemasters. FUEL set a “largest playable area” Guinness World Record for the size of it’s 5,560 square mile open-world map; The map featured varying environments, weather and lighting, and took hours to drive from one end to the other.
Some screenshots of FUEL:
FUEL wasn’t particularly successful; After mixed reviews from critics it really didn’t sell very well and although the racing was acceptable, it just didn’t seem worth the effort to play it. It has since been withdrawn from sale and you can no longer buy it on any digital platform. Sad, really, when you consider that FUEL began development as Grand Raid Offroad, a spectacular-looking labor of love that notably used the same ‘Asobo Conception Engine’ software engine for large environments we’re seeing the benefits of with Flight Simulator.
Here are some early screenshots of Grand Raid Offroad:
With the recent radio silence from Bigmoon Entertainment on their upcoming fully-licensed Dakar title, I can’t help but look back and wonder what could have been with this one. I can find record of this title being worked on for at least five years, with noticeable graphical improvements along the way (see screenshots above vs. below), but I can’t find any reason for it’s cancellation, nor would I ever expect to be told why.
Some later screenshots with noticeably sharper visuals:
Two trailers were also released for the title, but both appear to have been produced before the visuals were improved. Regardless, you can see just how vast, open, and varied the environments were. And while they don’t show us a huge amount in terms of physics, there really were not a great many complaints about that aspect of FUEL – the game this turned into – and it could have given us an excellent starting position more than ten years before the release of Dakar 18 from Bigmoon Entertainment.
Here are both trailers in a single video:
Stories like this one make me look back on the history of sim racing and consider just how many times the racing title a development team wanted to make just did not find success, or didn’t get made at all. I’ve been involved in projects where timing dictated everything, and even in the products that made it there will be people on that development team who felt like they didn’t produce their dream sim, knowing that they’ll never get the opportunity to try again. Commercial failure in sim racing is nothing new, in fact you could probably say that every simulator we consider to be the best of all-time didn’t meet sales goals, so whether it was money, timing – whatever it was – sometimes they just don’t get made at all.
Even though Grand Raid Offroad never saw release it should be recognized that this title probably was someone’s dream… Someone wanted to make this. The reason why I brought RSC back online; why I post back-dated news articles from old press releases and am gradually bringing my offline archive of old screenshots and trailers like these online, is because it deserves to be remembered that someone put the work into it. They tried.