December 14, 2001 - What is the one thing all racers should properly convey? Also that one definitive aspect around which the sport (in any form) revolves...? Speed! Without speed racing is just driving. Such is the mentality behind Ballistics, a futuristic, unadulterated exercise in eyestrain. The game moves so fast that only experiencing it on high-end systems can properly bring its true intention of afflicting the masses of gamers with epileptic seizures to fruition. If a looping demo of Ballistics were run on a Jumbotron in the midst of an urban sprawl, hapless citizens would be falling left and right, convulsing and quivering all the way to the floor. If you have eye problems or may in anyway be prone to epileptic seizures, please do not play this game.
At a glance, it may seem as if the title takes inspiration from the speedy Wipeout or even F-Zero series of games, but actually playing (if you feel so inclined) immediately reveals roots that dig far deeper into the annals of gaming -- roots that perhaps also don't clasp as firmly to the gameplay rich soil as those mentioned do (it being Friday immediately supercedes any law that may have otherwise prohibited me from using "stupid ass" metaphors).
The futuristic premise of Ballistics is certainly indicative of the Wipeout method of track racing at insane speeds through neo-urban and nature expanses. But (and it's a big one), unlike Wipeout before it, even though progression in Ballistics is based off acquiring position, there is little to no competitive racing involved. Rarely will you see other racers about the track (starting line aside). And, if by way of some rare planetary alignment you do happen to cross an opponent, this encounter will last approximately the duration of an eye blink.
Because the game is so fast and frantic, I found myself either initially surpassing the pack and maintaining an assumedly sizeable first place lead (hard to gauge because there is no actual track overlay map) or falling behind to a distant and humiliating last place after jarring to a sudden halt on any number of obstacles strategically and statically scattered about. So, in straying away from play that necessitates the muscling for position and eloquent bids at passing, Ballistics suddenly finds it necessary to build off other areas; namely obstacle avoidance.
Obstacle avoidance can make tight racing games exceptional ones. The reliance on reflexes at the last moments before the finish line, if pulled off correctly, can be brilliant. But (you're going to see that word a lot in this review) because Ballistics is so fast (its biggest draw after all) the ridiculous speed actually often works to debilitate this gaming fundamental upon which it is built. Here's how it breaks down... It's all good flinging to and fro, dodging stuff. It's not all good vainly attempting to fling to and fro and ending up crashing into things by chance because you're moving too damn fast to tell what's coming.
The end result? A big, fat game of memorization and trial and error. Play the courses five or ten times, remember where every X pylon, mine and half wall is; then, play them again and boost only when you know it's safe. Cramming the tracks with more readily apparent and competitive racers could have only benefited the game. Fighting for speediest position in turns and best routes through obstacles would have been amazing. Without it, the redundancy and simplicity is only distended by the fact that you're at all times confined to the interior of a snaking tube.
Tracks wind, dip, turn, bank, pitch and dive in and out of various places, but (there it is again) all the while you're only moving forward (one keystroke) and rotating around the tube to avoid the myriad of nuisances (two additional keystrokes). In this sense, the game takes on a decidedly Tempest reminiscent feel (only not in preset increments).
Despite all this (clever way of saying but), Ballistics retains an appreciable amount of enjoyment, due in no small part to the level of difficulty chosen. At harder settings, not only will the typical "try not to crash into every bleeding thing" style of play apply, but now taking turns on the proper side of the tube will also become a critical factor of success. If you try and take one on the inside (easily distinguishable as the side of the track opposite to where your HUD pointer is directing you) you'll lose your magnetic cohesion (sticky stuff that holds you to the tube) and immediately find yourself unpleasantly floating a drift. Reorienting yourself to the correct direction and reattaching can be a real pain, sometimes taking upwards of five seconds; not much on paper, but an eternity in play.
Further additions to the substance of gameplay come from managing boost (as mentioned) and the heat it generates. If your racer reaches critical heat levels (through crashing and excessive use of boosting) you'll explode. There is a built in, unlimited supply of cooling available to you, at the cost of speed anyway, so keeping an eye on the temperature indicator and weighing the risks of moving for cooler pads regardless of potential peril as opposed to using the built in cooling functionality at the cost of speed adds a nifty twist. I found it best to only resort to the built in cooling functionality when I was filled with boost, that way I could cool down, and then instantly pick myself back up again with little pause.
It's also cool that after a track is sufficiently driven and all things not to be feloniously crashed into accounted for, breezing through without so much as a hitch can be a thing of beauty. Safely being able to boost well past the speed of sound for prolonged stints distorts and contorts the screen in a way you thought previously reserved for time machines. Here comes that but again...
GeForce 3/Radeon 8500 enhanced graphics are awesome... But, it all flies by so fast leaves much of it unrecognizable. Certainly advanced polygonal detail and architecture are visible, especially in moments when the normally solid tunnel breaks into a transparent one and the true meticulous nature of the courses can be realized, but a lot of it will go unnoticed if you're not at a dead stop intent on appreciating the view. Still, the very fact that it's all there, lighting, texturing, advanced effects, etc., and all even flying by faster than Dan running from a late afternoon sweaty Tal hug, is brilliant.
Shining also in the department of production value, as far as these nuances and subtleties are concerned, Ballistics allows for a few additional viewpoints, including an external chase cam; plenty of HUD customization, including color and clutter; and even a shop to enhance, upgrade, and altogether customize your craft. Changing the view serves no purpose, you'll either crash or you won't, same as always, only now slamming into the wall can be done in the third person. Modifying the HUD, on the other hand, however trivial it may be, is sweet. Change the color in-game, toggle the amount of crap strewn about... Useless, but neat. Same can be said about the shop. Color and design choices are allowed, as are craft modifications, but it is entirely possible to beat most of the game without ever upgrading.
For these pros, there is an equal or even greater amount of cons. No quick restart option! But hey, this doesn't matter because sitting through the egregious loads offers up plenty of time to practice that Tai Chi you've been putting off (you'll need it to quell the mounting rage). Only seven tracks. Constant and consistent placement of obstacles (tunnels are cool!). An install that goes up to 530% (no kidding, seriously 530%, so don't restart it thinking something got broke). And the cherry perched atop all this lovely whip cream? A menu that's about twelve times as dizzying and nauseating as the actual game. Whoever had the brilliant idea to incorporate a fast scrolling background into the interface needs a beating and then needs to be sat staring blankly at it, eyes taped open, for at least one hour (I suppose more beatings can ensue).
For the longevity minded amongst us, multiplayer does exist, but (hey there's our old friend) remains subject to all that limited the single player experience, perhaps even more so because now a single slip against a seasoned player spells certain loss.
Fast as all hell, but not quite as competitive as it could, nay should have been, Ballistics amounts to today's technologically enhanced version of Old Maid. It's fun, but so trial and error intensive and lacking in longevity (at least the enjoyable kind) that it never excels past the mark of decentness. Neither markedly bad nor strikingly good, it remains the fastest damn thing on the planet, worth a look only to those whose computers harbor the technology to power it, or to those who can stomach racing with no variation: racing that's based solely off memorization.
-- Ivan Sulic
|out of 10||click here for ratings guide|
No quick restart for races and the entire menu, however functional, is distorted by a fast moving background that both gives me a headache and makes me nauseous. Best way to get a sea sick epilepsy.
Despite the color blurring speeds at which the game moves sometimes causing the amazing texture and polygonal detail to fly by unappreciated, such detail nonetheless still exists.
Fast techno style music appropriate to the theme comes accompanied by standard compilations of whooshes and swooshes in-line with this racers of the sort. Nothing new, glamorous, or bad.
Ballistics amounts to more of a feat in obstacle course navigation than racing. Opponents providing approximately zero in terms of play really mars what could have been an exceptional experience.
Only seven repetitious tracks and severe emphasis on obstacle navigation over competitive racing make this an enjoyable, but all too brief stint in memory retention and trial and error.
(out of 10 / not an average)
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