Hands-On Preview: Lookee, hovering vehicles in the sky! No it's not an invasion.
First impressions are essential. In this day and age where consumers are demanding more bang for their buck, it's incredibly important that the first impressions of a video game blow you away. Fortunately for Koei, first impressions aren't a concern anymore with its upcoming futuristic combat racer and Wipeout-style title Fatal Inertia. It need not worry because the first impressions of the game were awesome.
To begin with, it has to be the fastest game on the Xbox 360. No really, and it doesn't take more than a few seconds into the first race for this to hit you in the gut and make you fall on your knees. Anyone who has played Wipeout will know just how high speed that game can be and Fatal Inertia doesn't fail to continue the trend, while also pushing it further. Before going on to tell you how next-gen it looks, let's clear up what genre the game belongs to. It's a combat racing game, so have a guess what the gameplay is like. It's not stealth ? no! It's all about flying through the air to the finish line and sending rocks falling on your opponents' heads, which is about as subtle as a bus.
Yes, you can send rocks falling on the competition by making use of the destructible environments. These range from rocky canyons to forests and are all partly destructible. While this means you can't literally send anything flying in your wake, each map has a few things which can be knocked away from their stationary positions. As mentioned previously, rocks and boulders are just some of these wonderful makeshift weapons and distractions, which are found in the mountainous courses. The way these are triggered, if you will, is by firing certain weapons in their general direction. In the case of rocks, these can be sent flying backwards and hitting a racer behind, or tumbling in the way and causing another racer to make a last minute turn which, through lack of concentration, can also send them careering in the wrong direction and cost them a place ? or given how fast the game is, a few places ? in the race.
So, what will you be cruising in? The game has a few racecrafts by fictitious manufacturers which all have benefits and drawbacks over one another. For example, one race craft could have ridiculously good handling while the other could have a ridiculously high top speed. Fans of customisation will also be glad to hear that you can indeed pimp your craft. Xzibit won't be showing up and shouting about how he's added a mini-bar to the craft, but you can still customise it in many different ways to make your craft look nice as it's zooming past the opposition. There are also thankfully enhancements which improve your craft, such as engines.
The game plays similarly to Wipeout in its handling. It's essential to know when to brake and how hard to turn, while also concentrating on the game's banking system. If you just speed off as fast as you can, then you'll likely smash into the nearest wall. When first playing the game you may feel as though you'll never learn how to control your craft, but once you have the general idea of the layout down to a tee, the controlling comes as second nature.
Simply, you accelerate with the A button and brake with X. The left stick is used to steer and banking is controlled with the left and right triggers. That's just the driving though. When you're ready to completely humiliate your opponents it's time to learn about the awesome weapons. These are controlled with the left and right bumpers as primary and secondary fire and are very interesting. You collect weapons by flying over glowing pads on the ground which will add whatever weapon is there to your arsenal. A favorite was being able to temporarily slow down time for everyone on the map except you which is a huge advantage to either gaining first place or if you're already there, getting an even further lead. Another great weapon was a giant cord. This can be attached to an opponent and being elastic, will send them flying all over the place and possibly into objects which will send them crashing down. There are several other uses for the cord such as turning it into a slingshot and tying opponents together, but unfortunately these aren't made easy to pull off so it's generally just a case of where you shoot.
And it all looks gorgeous, especially through an HDTV. There isn't a Wipeout game on the Xbox 360 and so Fatal Inertia will be the first step into the combat racing genre for the console. At least, until Sega decide to give Full Auto wings. So yes, it's awesome, fast paced and above all, fun. The question is, will it be too hard for casual gamers to master? It's out in September, so find out then.