Release Date: September 11, 2007
In the future, regular sports are considered too mundane and boring, so the world's greatest corporations get together and invent a new sport, Fatal Inertia (for which, of course, they make all the cars). One part racing and one part death sport, Fatal Inertia is a racing game in which you don't drive cars. Instead, your vehicle of choice is a futuristic, electromagnetic-powered hovercraft which is capable of traveling at unheard-of speeds, turning on a dime and being equipped with a wide variety of various weapons and equipment to maximize their performance. They also require uncommon skill to drive, and thus FI racers are among the most respected in the land. Naturally, you take the role of a novice racer who plans to become the greatest FI racer of all time.
Fatal Inertia's hovercrafts don't just race on solid surfaces. All of their tracks are made up of uneven and difficult terrain, mountains, oceans and other interesting obstacles, so the player not only has to focus on the horizontal movement, but also the vertical movement. Even going uphill requires you to adjust your vehicle's height to ensure that you don't scrape along the ground and damage it. Naturally, this means learning how to avoid boulders and using jumps, but that isn't all there is to it. There are a number of shortcuts and hidden areas scattered throughout Fatal Inertia's stages that allow you to get a leg up on the competition, but getting to them isn't as simple as finding a gap. It often involves going through tight scrapes and hidden passages, and if you're not careful, your racer might miss a checkpoint, which is grounds for disqualification from the race.
The hovercrafts themselves are incredibly agile. Despite the high speeds at which they travel, they're never tough to control. While the basic controls are fairly simple, there are a number of advanced techniques that will take a bit of practice to get used to, but can completely change the way you race. The Brake Boost is a special technique done by using both the brake and the accelerator at the same time. When holding both buttons, your machine slows down but slowly begins to overcharge its engine. Releasing the brake launches you forward at incredible speed, although holding it in too long causes your engine to overheat.
Likewise, you can perform barrel rolls to avoid obstacles and knock objects off your hull. One of my favorite additions is the "restart" ability. If you screw up, get knocked down or otherwise get knocked out of the race, you can choose to teleport yourself back onto the track with the push of a button, which adds an interesting element of strategy. Is it worth the time lost for the teleport, or would you recover faster on your own?
Doing well in races in Fatal Inertia attracts the attention of the numerous giant corporations who created the sport. Naturally, if a racer wins using the corporate products, that's a fantastic endorsement for the company, so they're eager to furnish you with new and more powerful machines. Curiously enough, you're not really limited to a set "model" that you upgrade; once you get enough parts, you can build your racer from scratch, which allows you a lot more freedom to create that perfect hovercraft for your playing style.
The area where Fatal Inertia really shines is in its weapon selection. Unlike most other combat racers, the focus isn't on damaging your opponents so much as slowing them down or disorienting them. For example, the basic weapon you're going to get is the magnet, which fires a small, powerful electromagnet that latches onto an enemy's hull. These magnets make the vehicle drift, slow down, attract nearby weapons to it, and eventually explode, giving the enemy a nice chunk of damage. Other weapons include an EMP bomb that disables enemies and stops electromagnetic devices, a rocket that can either be fired at the enemy or attached to your own car to blast it forward at mach speed, or even a device that slows time for all other racers.
Undoubtedly, the coolest weapon in the game is the cable, which comes with two modes: magnetic and non-magnetic. The former latches onto the nearest racer, while the latter latches onto any of the nearby geographical features. Attaching a cable to anything pulls you toward it incredibly quickly while also pushing any moving objects (i.e., other racers) back toward you. This alone is amusing, but the real fun comes when you use an attached cable again. The other half of the cable (usually attached to your vehicle) is then launched at whatever you choose, so you can tether an enemy to the ground or wrap two enemies together — it's a weapon that's open to a lot of entertaining and unique ideas.
Races in Fatal Inertia come in one of four different formats. Combat is the basic race to the finish line, where whoever comes in first, wins. Velocity removes all of the weapons aside from those that boost your racer's speed, turning the already fast-paced races into a high-speed free-for-all. Knockout consists of a seven-lap race, and whoever comes in last is eliminated one by one, until only two racers remain. Finally, Magnet Mayhem gives all characters access to an unlimited supply of magnet weapons. Trying to hit enemies while being bombarded from every side by magnets turns even the simplest of racetracks into a deadly (and hilarious) battlefield. Naturally, gamers can play against computer-generated opponents or even against other gamers via Xbox Live or split-screen multiplayer.
With titles like Forza 2 and Burnout gracing the system, the Xbox 360 doesn't have any shortage of racers, but it's been lacking a racing game with the wild multiplayer fun provided in offerings like Mario Kart. Fatal Inertia is shaping up to be the game that fills that niche in the X360's lineup, and those eager for wild multiplayer racing action will certainly want to give Fatal Inertia their undivided attention.
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