Ever since the WipeOut series petered out on home consoles, fans of futuristic hover-racing have had to content themselves with top-drawer simulations of current technology. Fatal Inertia clearly aims to end that drought.
- The circuits have movable and breakable obstacles
- The game lacks real personality and originality
Troublesome oversights get in the way of enjoyment, such as the bizarre lack of a health meter, and the notion that tons of fast-moving metal can be brought to a screeching halt by straw-thin branches. These issues are all symptomatic of Fatal Inertia's crippling unwillingness to strike far enough out into new territory to find fresh rewards. However, Fatal Inertia does not sink to the bottom-of-the-barrel status, but neither does it ever manage to rise above merely average.
Price$ 89.95 (AUD)
Float like a 10 tonne butterfly
The first big difference between Fatal Inertia and its most famous predecessor is the environment collection: there may only be six of them, but they range from dusty canyon hills to tropical rain forest, are more naturalistic than WipeOut's glass-smooth surfacing, and are each broken up into nine different circuits. Though devoid of wildlife or moving parts, each features open spaces packed with movable and breakable obstacles, making each lap different from the last.
Unfortunately, these relatively detailed organic environments are carved into tracks that seem more concerned with causing crashes than promoting a desperately needed--but only sporadically delivered--sense of speed, and the frame-rate stuttering that accompanies crowded action doesn't help. Straightaways sometimes lead to tight blind corners and narrow outlets, and challenging "navigator" variations ramp up the difficulty even further. While the piloting scheme offers serviceable control mechanics, with barrel rolls and strafe-turning, they don't allow enough precision to elevate learning to recover after a screw-up from frustration to satisfaction.
Learning the ropes
Most of the weapons you can launch against your seven competitors, whether you're competing in the tiered career mode or playing on Xbox Live, are predictable, though the ability to choose whether to fire a rocket for damage or use it for added thrust is intriguing. Magnets fired onto opposing vehicles disrupt their handling, EMPs disable everything in their blast radius, and force fields shield from harm. By far the coolest options are a time dilator that slows the temporal dimension for everyone else, and the game's one truly inspired feature: an elastic cable that can do everything from tether two opponents together to rubber-band you into the lead, thanks to the Unreal Engine's (mostly) convincing physics simulation.
That sole innovation can't save Fatal Inertia from its biggest problem, though, which is an overwhelming lack of personality. A "magnet mayhem" mode enlivens things with infinite ammo, and "velocity" events dole out speed upgrades exclusively, but every craft feels hopelessly generic, no matter what unlockable engines, wings, and cockpits you slap on it. Enemies never do anything particularly cunning, and a generic breakbeat soundtrack thumps along dispassionately in the background. There's just not much soul in this machine.
Middle of the road
Other troublesome oversights get in the way of enjoyment, too, like the bizarre lack of a health meter, and the notion that tons of fast-moving metal can be brought to a screeching halt by straw-thin branches. These issues are all symptomatic of Fatal Inertia's crippling unwillingness to strike far enough out into new territory to find fresh rewards. KOEI's next-gen racer does not sink to bottom-of-the-barrel status, but neither does it ever manage to rise above merely average.
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