Fatal Inertia Review (Xbox360)

Anybody out there remember Quantum Redshift on the original Xbox? That was a fun game. You really got the feeling of speed. I remember sitting in my living room wearing airplane goggles as I played it for fear that I might get some tiny bug caught in my eye. Now Quantum Redshift never really got a sequel and I’d like to know why. The reviews were solid, it played well, had a manageable learning curve, in fact it had everything you could’ve wanted from a Wipeout clone. So why am I talking about Quantum Redshift? Well if you hadn’t guessed by now, Koei’s Fatal Inertia is its spiritual successor in my humble opinion. It has everything: small, pod-like crafts whizzing around at ludicrous speeds across grand, spacious canyons, deserts, ice-worlds and jungles. You can upgrade your current craft or simply chose one of the very many that are given to you by various race federations. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Every good review should start with outlining the plot. Yes, Fatal Inertia, a pod racing game, has a plot…

Watch out from the checkpoint arcs! They’re vital in order to complete the race
The water effects are lovely and really add some much need atmosphere

...and I very much doubt it’ll get bought up by any Hollywood studios but here’s the deal anyway. We’re now in the 23rd Century and the cut-throat world of Fatal Inertia racing is now the leading source of entertainment on the planet. The vehicles are owned by huge corporations who you’ll need to prove your worth to once you enter Career Mode and if you come first place in the trial race they’ve set up for you, they’ll let you race in their basic model hovercraft/jet powered pod thingy - or whatever you want to call them. Now as you progress through the career mode, various companies will pay more attention to you and offer up their crafts for you to race in and will eventually offer you upgrades. So you can customize your pod with a new engine, better brakes etcetera, etcetera.

Although the story never reveals your motivation for wanting to be the best Fatal Inertia racer around – I was hoping that the head of the racing was really your long lost father who’d abandoned you and although is cold on the outside, loves his son and has secretly built these races as a way of rekindling your relationship, but alas – it does at least paint some kind of picture for you and perhaps might add a certain sense of motivation apart from that of just coming in first every time. [Note to Ed: - You may want to underline the word ‘might’ several times]

Now as you race, there are several weapon-pads lying around that as you fly over will bring up an icon on your screen alluding to what type of weapon it is (think Mario Kart people). You can either choose to fire them at your opponent by pressing RB or use them to your advantage, LB, or Primary and Secondary fire being the officially title. A good example is that of the rocket: you can either try and shoot the guy in front or simply use the rocket flames to boost your craft and play for some extra speed. This option is Koei’s attempt to make the game tactical and believe me later on you’ll need to think as the races get trickier and your opponents tougher. Annoyingly so, in fact.

The feeling of speed that the game unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to
Grapple your opponents and then fling them into kingdom come

There are around four main race types that you’re presented with: velocity (a race with only speed power-ups on the map), combat race where the aim is to destroy one another, knock-out which is kind of a Slayer race where the last man standing wins, i.e. no respawns if you take too much damage and of course just the normal free for all. These all allow for you to get to grips with the various weapon-types that are available and master the tracks as when the difficulty ramps up - and it will, quickly - you’ll need to plot your route carefully as the weapon pods prove to be vital in the latter stages of the game, especially in the Velocity races.

It all sounds pretty decent so far doesn’t it? Well like most games, the only thing that lets it down in unfortunately the gameplay! A petulant comment I know but so many games sound good on paper but to wheel out a now haggard old phrase the proof of the now cold, mouldy, flea infest pudding is in the eating...or something. The thing is Fatal Inertia just doesn’t play very well. For a start, almost all racers should run at 60fps as standard. If they can’t due to whatever reason the developer tells us, then when running at 30fps it should be as smooth and glitch free as possible. Fatal Inertia does neither. It’s riddled with frame rate issues and pop-up as you’re careering round the tracks and this really detracts from the overall experience of supposedly travelling at 567kmph or whatever ludicrous speed it is.

To add to this, the amount of times you’ll find yourself hurtling into a rock or random obstacle Koei has decided to lay in your path gets very frustrating indeed. I know they’ve incorporated the UE3 engine into the game but it almost seems like they’ve shoehorned in debris, just so you’ll hit it and see the realistic physics of you spinning round and ending flying the wrong way or past one of the many checkpoint arches that even more annoyingly have to pass under in order to complete the race. It’s almost like it’s a showcase for the engine itself rather than actually adding to the fun, which is quite an important part of video games I reckon. So many times you’ll fly past said arches and have to stop, turn around and fly under it and in effect throw the race you were just competing in. So in short, the level design is a real bitch, in the nicest sense of the word, of course.

Graphically too the game is decidedly average. The tracks are well detailed but it all looks like Quantum Redshift but shinier, rather than adding anything revolutionary to the track design. Also, as you’re treated to a small track preview before the race begins, having the frame rate drop and trees not loading in properly kind of removes the player from the experience. The water effects are excellent (I loves teh water!) however, and the foliage is rather well detailed although nothing that screams next-gen at you from the track-side as your racing past which, as next-generation console owners, is what we’ve come to expect nowadays.

In the great pod-racers of the past, the soundtrack goes a long way to immersing the user and really creating the intensity required for racing at break-neck speed. I remember the awesome Chemical Brothers track in the now legendary Wipeout as a classic example of how the right music really enhances your experience. However, Koei have completely forgotten this rule of thumb. The music is a drab affair with the same old song playing over and over with tiny guitars, generic pulse beats and tinny electronic effects that grate on you rather than inspire. Luckily of course you have the custom soundtrack on the 360 and if you do buy this game make sure you’ve some decent tracks stored on your HDD as you’ll almost definitely be needing them.

Watch out for those rocky surfaces! The damage they do builds up over time and could cost you the race
The need for speed

Fatal Inertia just simply doesn’t deliver in any area you’d expect from a racing game and there are simply better games out there for far less money. The concept of high speed pod racing has pretty much been done to death nowadays so if you are going to attempt to enter into the genre then you must at least get the basics right and also do your best to offer something radically different to boot. Koei offer you neither of these which is a shame. Although the game has life in it by way of split screen co-op play and fully customisable tracks to set up and race against people you never met over Xbox Live, the core single player experience isn’t really worth the price of admission. With Wipeout HD available on the Playsation Store for less than half price of Fatal Inertia which is just a high def makeover of the old games or now that Quantum Redshift is available for a packet of crisps and half a Mars bar, I know where I’d rather be putting my hard-earned given the chance.

Top Game Moment:
Navigating the track at very high speeds can be a great rush.

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