Fueled Up Review: It's a Gas
Ever since Overcooked burst onto the scene in 2016, there's been a notable uptick in chaotic four-player party games starring cute animals and lovable weirdos that could be best described as "Overcooked but..."
Fueled Up is the latest game in the "Overcooked but…" genre, but instead of cooking delicious food, your team of intrepid adventurers is tasked with fixing, fueling, and transporting damaged spaceships to safety. You must do so before they're destroyed by the evil space octopus, who will be chasing each and every spaceship you salvage for the duration of the game.
It starts simply enough: take a fuel crystal, refine it, and put it in the engine to keep it running. But you'll also have to deal with debris, which periodically peppers your ship with holes. Failing to do so will tank your ship's durability. If it gets low enough, your ship will explode. Then, of course, there are batteries, which do things like keep the airlocks closed and need to be regularly replaced unless you feel like taking an unexpected spacewalk.
You'll also have to manage asteroids, which will explode into fireballs or green goop that slows down anyone walking through them if not disposed of quickly. Sometimes you'll be separated from your teammates, and you'll need to throw switches to open doors for one another or pass items along conveyor belts.
As the game goes on, more challenges get added. Early levels might task you with managing only one or two things, but later levels might have you contending with almost all of the game's mechanics – and by the end, there is quite a bit.
As the title implies, keeping your ship fueled is the key to victory. As long as your ship is moving, you'll gain points. The more points you gain, the more stars you'll earn, up to a maximum of three. The better condition your ship is in, the more points you'll get, and adding fuel to an engine boosts your multiplier.
If your engine runs out of fuel, however, your ship stops, and you start losing points. Running out of power also gives the evil space octopus time to catch you. If it catches you, your ship will explode, and you'll have to start the level again, no matter how well you did up until that point. Make it far enough, though, and you'll jump to hyperspace and safety.
Things get even trickier when you have a ship with multiple engines because each engine must have fuel to keep the ship moving, and each engine has its own fuel capacity that must be managed separately. While most engines can take simple fuel refined from a single crystal, some engines are a bit more complex, requiring you to add an additional crystal to already refined fuel and refine it again, essentially doubling the time it takes to power the engine.
Playing Fueled Up is pretty simple. You can pick up, put down, and use items, and move your character. That's about it. The difficulty comes from the decisions you'll have to make. Do you dispose of an asteroid before it can explode or replace a dead battery to close an airlock? Should you put out a fire or finish refining a crystal for an engine that's about to run out of fuel? Do you fix holes on a ship that's at low health or throw water on a generator that's about to overheat and explode?
At its best, Fueled Up requires you to manage several things simultaneously while coordinating with your team and trying to maximize your score while keeping your ship from exploding. Levels are highly chaotic and wildly inventive. Ships are populated with teleporters, toxic waste pits, moving platforms, and even a volcano.
Deciding what to do – and doing it without falling into toxic goo, blocking a crewmate's way in a narrow corridor, or getting sucked out of an airlock – and trying to control the chaos around you is part of the fun. The fact that you can play as a cat in a space suit, a disembodied brain, a banana, or a sentient balloon is just icing on the cake.
Even the most challenging levels are pretty doable when you have a full team of four, but later levels can feel impossible with smaller crews; the game doesn't seem to scale with how many people are in your crew at a single time. This doesn't matter much when you're only dealing with a few things.
But when you're worried about fueling up multiple engines, moving asteroids, making sure your battery-powered airlocks have enough juice, fixing holes in the hull, managing conveyor belts, and putting out fires, a single mistake can often be the difference between a ship that's running efficiently and one that explodes or gets caught by the evil space octopus.
On later levels, having at least three players seemed mandatory for success. You can beat about two-thirds of the game's 32 levels – which are divided into five worlds – with two players, but at a certain point, there's simply too much to manage for two people, no matter how well-coordinated the group is or how familiar they are with the genre.
One level in world four took my partner and me over 20 attempts, and when we did complete it, it was by the skin of our teeth. Adding a third person instantly made the following levels much more doable. Developer Fireline Games has released a patch that does rebalance the difficulty, but this was a notable point of frustration in the pre-release build I played.
The game's other major problem is legibility. By default, the camera is incredibly zoomed out, and it can be hard to see your character, how much fuel an engine has left, or where items are on the ground. This issue is somewhat mitigated by options that zoom in the camera and add heavier highlights to items, but it can still be a problem in some levels.
Even with those options enabled, the game's chaotic nature can often make it hard to tell what's going on or where things are in the more visually busy levels.
But when Fueled Up works, it feels amazing. It controls well, looks great, and features a wonderful soundtrack that perfectly fits the hectic pace of the levels while providing a sci-fi feel. The game also provides a lot of accessibility options.
The aforementioned option to zoom in the camera and toggle the highlights is great. Still, you can also choose to hold buttons instead of mash them – an option I immediately enabled to save my fingers some wear and tear. I played it on PC, but playing it with a controller, remapping my buttons, and determining whether I wanted to see Xbox or PlayStation button prompts was as easy as enabling a few options.
Fueled Up Review — The Bottom Line
- Lots of accessibility options.
- Chaotic and challenging, especially with friends.
- Wonderful music and art design.
- Levels don't seem to scale based on the number of people playing.
- Sometimes it can be hard to see what's happening or where things are.
- It's fairly short (though there is replay value to be had).
Fueled Up isn't a long game – you can beat the whole thing in a few hours – but there's plenty of replay value here when it comes to chasing high scores and completing bonus missions; each level has two, and they vary quite a bit. Some ask you to keep the engines running throughout the whole level, open an optional safe, or use a limited number of batteries. The best ones, though, lean into Fueled Up's weirdness – like asking you to feed the monster living in the goop puddle or having everyone jump out of an airlock at a particular moment.
These objectives are purely optional – you don't get anything for doing them – but they're a welcome change of pace that makes levels both more challenging and more fun.
It would be easy to dismiss Fueled Up as another game in the "Overcooked but…" genre, but it's much more. This clever entry blends cooperation and chaos in a way that is challenging, fun, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. If Fireline can fix the game's scaling issues, they'll have something special here. Until then, make sure you have a couple of friends to play it with.