Fatal Inertia EX Review
When you think of Koei, you think of Dynasty Warriors, and maybe Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The last thing on your mind is a company that creates futuristic racers in the vein of WipeOut. Well, it's time to change that perception as Koei has done just that. It's been over a year since I pieced the first preview of Fatal Inertia, and back then the game was scheduled for a February 2007 release. Complications in development forced Koei to put the PS3 version on the backburner, leading many to believe it was simply canceled, and only release the Xbox 360 version. Well, not too long ago, Koei announced that the PS3's Fatal Inertia is back on track and that it would boast many enhancements over the flawed X360 game, in addition to being a downloadable game via PlayStation Network. The PS3 game also gets branded with an "EX" subtitle, as well.
After a 18 months worth of delays, Fatal Inertia has finally arrived for the PlayStation 3 and that delay was worth it for a number of reasons. For starters, because this is a downloadable game, you're not paying a full 60-dollar premium for a physical copy. Instead, Fatal Inertia will run you only $30! Secondly, Koei was wise enough to go back to revise and enhance the game for its PlayStation 3 release; the product here is unquestionably much more polished than what Xbox 360 owners got. Again, all for 30 bucks.
Upon entering the main menu, Fatal Inertia greets you with a few gameplay selections: Single Player, Multiplayer, and Garage. Inside the Single Player lies the Quick Race mode, this is where you'll put together a race of your own - use the Quick Race to do some practice runs either by yourself or against opponents across all of the game's courses and events. The Career Mode is the self-explanatory core of the game. You'll compete in a variety of tournaments that range between all of the game's event types such as Velocity, Melee, Magnet Mayhem, and Knockout.
Each event type has a distinctive purpose to it. When in Melee, item pods will supply you with all of the game's different weapons. You'll have to put the weapons to good use in order to stay ahead of the pack and place first. Weapons are completely reliant on the game's physics engine, as well. Magnets are one of the prime offense items you'll be using during a race, but what makes their use unique is their placement on an opposing aircraft. If you shoot a magnet and it strikes the right wing of the craft, not only will the craft now begin to veer off to the right because of the added weight, but the magnet will also attract crafts that are flying too close to the struck opponent. Handling characteristics will be directly affected by the placement of a magnet and this will add quite a bit of strategy to the gameplay.
Including the Magnets, there are a total of 8 offensive/defensive items that can be picked up during a race, all with their unique traits. One of the cooler pickups is a smoke screen that you can exhaust out from the rear of your craft, or shoot at opponents ahead. Clearly the use of the screen would be ideal right before a sharp turn so as to blind your rivals and send them crashing. The Time Dilator is a pick-up that slows time for everyone, but you, allowing you to gain momentum in the race. The EMP pick-up cripples the hovering capabilities of a ship, rendering it immobile briefly until the effect wears off. Then of course you have your sort of status quo pick-ups like the shield, a rocket and the Force Blast. Though the twist with the force blast is that not only does it give you boost, but the blast-wave also pushes back any rival trailing behind you. Lastly, you'll find a grapple-hook pick-up that can be used in a variety of ways, such as: 1) Latching onto a wall to make a sharp turn, and 2) To attach to a rival and sling yourself past them.
The Velocity event is a high-speed event where item pods will only dish out speed boosters allowing you to reach the highest speeds possible with your aircraft. Magnet Mayhem is the opposite; you will receive a constant replenishment of magnets, as opposed to having to pick them up from pods. Every second you are given an extra magnet - so pile them on and unleash at will. If you're hit with magnets, you can shake simply by performing a barrel roll (insert Star Fox 64 meme here) or a brake boost. Barrel rolls are done by double tapping either L1 or R1 (the game's strafing buttons). Brake boosting is done by holding the thrust with brake and letting boost build up, then releasing the brake for a surge. The final event is the lap Knockout race, a self-explanatory event.
There are 59 different courses in Fatal Inertia EX (eight exclusive to the PS3), spanning seven locations, and many of them feature a large dose of eye-candy, such as gorgeous tropical colors and details. More importantly, the stages are well designed, making them pretty enjoyable to race through. Through these courses you will use four different ships that range between four different classes. Don't be misled by the number 'four, because each ship is completely customizable and re-workable, allowing you alter practically everything about it. You are free to change everything from the fascia, the rear, sides/wings, spoilers, performance upgrades, and so on. You are essentially given a base template, and you have the ability to craft it into a unique piece of your own. It should be noted that Fatal Inertia doesn't quite boast the speed of games like WipeOut or F-Zero (not at all times, anyway), but it does get gradually quicker with later class crafts, and the Velocity events help.
The game is capable of supporting eight-players online, and even boasts co-operative split-screen career gameplay, in addition to split-screen quick races. All of the event types available to play offline are present for online games, as well. For those who were turned off by the controls of the Xbox 360 version, you'll be pleased to know that the PS3 game is entirely playable now. I haven't had any trouble adjusting to the game from the moment I picked it up, and even steering with the SixAxis is rather doable. Lastly, a Master difficulty level has been added to the PS3 game for an improved challenge.
With gameplay aside, other enhancements to the PlayStation 3 game includes a framerate that is stable nearly all the time, in addition to a complete absence of screen-tearing (V-sync issues) that plagued the Xbox 360 game so much. Fatal Inertia EX runs quite smooth on the PlayStation 3, and Koei claims that they've even enhanced the physics of the game, as well. Overall, the look of Fatal Inertia is good enough to be called next-gen. The water is some of the prettiest out there, up there with Uncharted. But it'd have been nice if your aircraft and its thrusters created a larger wake as you ride over the water.
Fatal Inertia makes good use of its color palette, as a lot of stages really brim with lush details. Aircraft detail and overall quality of the picture is great, as well. Some drawbacks to the visuals, in addition to lifeless water interactivity, are that the aesthetically duller tracks aren't quite as impressive on the eyes. Not every texture you'll see in the game is impressive, but you'd have to stop and take a good look in order to notice, anyway. Overall, while not amazing, Fatal Inertia EX is still pretty enough to please your eyes.
The audio consists largely of a trance-like, electronic soundtrack that pumps through your speakers to accompany you as you speed along the tracks. Unlike WipeOut's licensed soundtracks, Fatal Inertia's soundtrack is done by Koei Canada themselves, and it's quite a solid effort. Nothing in the audio stands out as annoying, and the noises emitted from the aircrafts are acceptable, but the option to have them louder would've been great.
All in all, for $30 Fatal Inertia EX is definitely an enjoyable title. Thanks to Koei making some key enhancements, the controls have now been fixed up considerably, erasing much of the game's previous faults. The career mode will keep you busy for some time, as will the game's 59 courses and its fully customizable aircrafts. The span of race events keeps the single-player and multiplayer experience fun, and the replay value solid. If you're tired of waiting for WipeOut HD and you need a distraction for the time being, Fatal Inertia EX should do you well.
5/31/2008 Arnold Katayev