IGN Review of Fatal Inertia
In the future, a handful of wealthy corporations decide that a great form of entertainment would be to hire a bunch of racers, give them some cool ships, and watch them fly around and kill each other. While a bit macabre in theory, the implementation of this destructive sport, Fatal Inertia, comes off as bland and unimaginative. KOEI has developed in Fatal Inertia a title that assured blazing speeds, unique weaponry, and dynamic course design, but failed to deliver on that first, most crucial of promises.
Fatal Inertia provides a wide variety of courses on which to wage futuristic racing mayhem. Paradise Isle sports a backdrop of surf, sun, and palm trees, with a few caves and sharp turns thrown in to keep things interesting. Lost Canyon is an abandoned construction site with craggy peaks and dilapidated equipment acting as obstacles. Each track features a number of different circuits that serve to rearrange course layouts, which significantly adds to Inertia's replay value. Tired of Paradise Isle, Circuit 1? Load Circuit 3 to explore deeper caves and even sharper turns. Some circuits are intentionally designed to be simple in terms of navigation and layout but boast an insane number of weapons, resulting in races full of crashes, rockets, and general chaos.
Different course conditions can be applied to further mix things up. Paradise Isle is best viewed at sunset, with the sun's dying rays reflecting off the water for some gorgeous scenery. Rather experience Paradise during a thunderstorm? Go ahead and add one to the map. Not every map can make use of the same settings--only Glacier Bay has a blizzard condition--but most allow for day and night to be swapped, in addition to one unique condition that can be applied.
Inertia's available race types range from standard to unique. Combat Race is the game's regular mode of play, and one that will be familiar to any gamer who has played an arcade-style racing game: choose a craft, choose a level, and use items to prevent other players from winning. Knock Out, always a fun mode in any racing title, features seven laps. At the end of each lap, the racer in last place is eliminated until the final lap, where only two racers remain. Velocity mode contains only power-ups that allow players to go faster, and Magnet Mayhem, Fatal Inertia's most unique mode of play, features only weapons that weigh down crafts, as well as distort a craft's sense of movement.
Even after playing through each course's different circuits, I still found reasons to keep playing by way of the Randomization option found on the map selection menu, which chooses a race type, course, circuit, and condition. Allowing the game to choose all race settings should provide ample challenge for racers who want more reasons to keep playing. Even better, all options available in the single-player game are also available via Xbox Live for up to eight players. Invite a bunch of friends, randomize the options, and play for hours without experiencing the exact same race settings twice.
Unfortunately, Fatal Inertia's versatility is also one of its largest flaws. Some of the tracks simply feature confusing and disorienting course design, thereby making navigation more difficult than is necessary. True, racing games require players to learn the maps; this is what elevates good players to greatness, after all. There is a line, however, that separates course memorization from outright sloppy design. Navigating Dragon Peaks, one of Inertia's much larger courses, wouldn't be so difficult if the course indicators didn't suddenly disappear so often. All too often I'd be presented with a turn that sent me off a cliff and a "Wrong Way" message flashing onto my screen while I floundered for a proper sense of direction.
Another prime instance of poor level design occurs on Glacier Bay during a segment that requires players fly through the hull of a wrecked ship, emerging on the other side to continue the course. The course indicators vanish, leaving players in a wide open area that, ostensibly, offers many options as to which path to take, yet only one main path exists. Yes, course memorization is crucial, but main paths should be clearly marked. If developers want to hide paths, that's fine, but make them optional shortcuts, not the only way through a level.
Course design in Fatal Inertia makes slamming into things a constant occurrence, but luckily, KOEI was kind enough to include a reset button that attempts to put players back on the right track. I say "attempts" because there are times when using reset teleports players directly in front of a rock, or in front of a sharp turn that has yet to be made. In racing games, a mechanic that resets a player's position should be optional, because it really shouldn't have to be pressed too often. Fatal Inertia renders it a mandatory inclusion due to all the times players will inevitably get confused by any given course's layout.
Even worse, Inertia's crafts can only take so much damage, leading up to an explosion that renders players unable to finish a race. Until players get used to the reset button not being 100% accurate in setting them in the correct direction, using the button will usually result in players zooming forward after reappearing purportedly back on track--only to slam right into a wall.
One way to cut down on collisions is to design a ship with as high a Handling rating as possible. Fata Inertia's Garage mode lets players build and tweak ships to an enviable extent. Certain upgrades such as engines and wings affect the craft's attributes, while others are for nothing other than aesthetic pleasure, which is nice, since sometimes, all I want is for a created ship to look cool.
Rather than adding only to Gamer Points, some of Fatal Inertia's Achievements allow for extra parts to be unlocked and used toward building the ultimate race craft. Completing the "Destructor II" achievement nets players a special set of wings, for example. It's a small but nice touch, one that should entice players not normally interested in Achievements to finish some of them, in order to be rewarded with extra gear options.
For a game dependent on relaying a sense of blistering speed to its audience, Fatal Inertia comes with far too many framerate issues. Except for courses such as Lost Canyon and Paradise Isle, which mostly feature sparse circuits in terms of environmental objects, the game chugs more than it should. When weapons start flying in all directions on courses filled with players, Fatal Inertia becomes almost unplayable. Add in the sometimes complete absence of course indicators and tricky paths, and the result is a very aggravating gaming experience.
Graphical "pop-up" or "pop-in" also detracts from the game's appeal. Players shouldn't have to wait for textures and entire objects to load as they're trying to finish a course. Having caves or trees appear in what was seconds ago flat open space is more than a little annoying. This hindrance is minor enough on its own to be overlooked, but when coupled with rampant framerate hitches, it becomes important enough to mention. Otherwise, on courses that don't bog down the game with slowdown, the pop-ups can be seen far enough in advance for most pilots to avoid any collisions.
Fatal Inertia's item selection is unique enough to make those levels free of slowdown and confusing paths a blast to play. Some weapons are spin-offs of standard arcade racer fare: speed boosts, a smoke screen that can be fired forward or behind. Others, however, force players to choose between two methods of fire, each of which is different. The rocket can either be launched at an enemy's craft, which will completely throw off its balance, or can be used to provide a temporary boost of speed.
The towline, probably the most versatile of the pack, can either be fired at two enemy vehicles, thereby stringing them together and most likely resulting in a crash, or via the secondary fire button, attached to the environment itself. My personal favorite towline strategy is to fire the line at an object near a turn--perhaps the side of a cliff--and use my momentum to swing me around the turn, accelerating my craft. Keep in mind that the secondary fire button must be pressed a second time in order to detach the cable!
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