Fatal Inertia: The Name Fits the Game

Too slow is the verdict on Koei's futuristic racing game for Xbox 360cool, destructible environments notwithstanding

Video game publisher Koei, best known for its long-standing Dynasty Warriors franchise, enters the driving arena with Fatal Inertia, a 23rd century racing game that mixes weapons, slick looking rides and unique physics. Originally slated for the PlayStation 3 (and now coming to the Xbox 360), Fatal Inertia seems to provide gamers with a different type of high-speed experience, one that may compete with the likes of the Ridge Racer and Burnout franchises, providing its developers inject it with a healthy dose of speed.

Unfortunately, Fatal Inertia just doesn't move fast enough. Unlike Nintendo's celebrated F-Zero games, which feature vehicles so fast gamers experience nausea, these rides merely plod along. The speedometer may dip into hundreds of milers per hour territory, but this subdued speed may be the game's Achilles heel. With less than two months before the game's supposed February 15 release, time may have run out.

On the positive side, the game looks outstanding. Built from the ground up for the PlayStation 3, using Epic's proprietary Unreal Engine 3.0 (the same technology in Gears of War); its highly detailed canyons, lava beds and grassy plains should make gamers (particularly those with high definition televisions) extremely happy. Jet engines burst with energy, lightning flashes in the distance and lush forests explode with greenery. If anything, no one should complain about the visuals.

Fatal Inertia's physics also deserve a mention. Koei programmed destructible environments that players use to their advantage. For example, and using one of the game's weapons, gamers cause an avalanche to block an opponent's path or crush them outright. Furthermore, all of the vehicles can be destroyed and feature full damage modeling. Clipping a wall causes wings to fly off and hitting something head on results in multiple parts flying from a vehicle.

Gamers will hop into four classes of vehicles: Mercury, Phoenix, Aurora and Titan. All of them sport unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Mercury Class packs superior handling and the fastest rides. The Aurora craft accelerates like Road Runner but steers like Homer Simpson after a rousing night at Moe's Tavern. On the flip side, the well-balanced Phoenix vehicles excel in all areas, while the much slower Titans carry more weapons than the competition.

Regarding weapons, Magnets slow down fellow racers or pulls vehicles together, essentially eliminating two opponents at once, the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) disables enemy weapons, the Time Dilator slows everything down, the Force Blast provides a necessary speed boost while knocking out enemies behind the player, and finally, the Force Shield protects the user for a currently unspecified amount of time.

While Fatal Inertia's slow pace may be its doom, Koei must also overcome its own reputation. The company excels at creating 3-D beat-em-ups and strategy games, not racers. Hopefully, the final product adds a new level of battle to Koei's cast of games.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.