20-Dec-2001 An arcade racer so fast Anthony Holden's eyes nearly fell out An arcade racer so fast Anthony Holden's eyes nearly fell out
Every year at about this time, a new set of hovercars/maglev bikes/inverter buggies are deployed on the futuristic neon-lit starting grid, each one outdoing the other with ridiculous hyperbole recycled from last year's marketing shambles. Key slogans include 'unrivalled sense of speed', 'ultimate arcade racer' and the ever popular 'adrenaline-pumping action'. Clearly we're dealing with that particular sub-genre, the futuristic arcade racing game, which was both popularised and defined by the banging techno beats of WipEout all those years ago. Often such games can be quite a bit of fun, yet somehow the bold rhetoric is never quite realised.
hold everything Ballistics sits quite comfortably within the future race genre and attempts little that hasn't been seen before. The difference is it actually lives up to the claims. Indeed, in terms of the criteria for success in the genre it is nothing short of perfect.
For starters, Ballistics is, in fact, the fastest racing game ever. There's no speed limit attached to its magnetically driven hoverbikes, the ceiling being determined rather by your own reflexes. In place of a conventional track, racing takes place inside a magnetic tube, the only impediments to acceleration taking the form of red barriers - walls, bumps and crossbeams - clearly best avoided. Hitting blue coolant pads, on the other hand, is a good thing; running over yellow booster chargers positively essential. It's a logical extension of the up-wall action of such games as Killer Loop and Rollcage Stage II, and makes for far greater emphasis on pure speed.
sit and spin Indeed, Ballistics eschews many of the hallmarks of the genre, such as weaponry, shortcuts, and track memorisation, leaving you to worry about only two variables - speed and heat. Heat builds up mainly as a result of collisions, while a manual cooling system causes friction and slows you down, hence doubling as a brake. The only other thing you have to worry about is losing your magnetic connection with the track. Sometimes you'll want to do this, as it allows you to spin through mid-air and pick up bonus items. Mostly though, it will occur as a result of your own ineptitude, through failing to stick to the outside wall on tight curves and colliding with barriers.
Of course, all this speed would mean nothing if the visuals weren't up to the job, and thankfully they are superb. The spatial stretching effect that kicks in when you gun the booster is particularly nice, as is the slight blurring of the geometry when you hit mach speeds. The designers have done wonders with the seven courses as well, using transparent surfaces and open frameworks to alleviate the potential monotony of racing through a drainpipe.
The only possible criticism to be made is that, by refining the genre to such a pure focus on speed and reflex, the game is also that much more shallow. And this is not helped by the inclusion of a frankly worn-out upgrade structure, where, predictably, you must use cash earned from races to buy new components for your bike.
However, the first time you go supersonic inside a narrowly twisting cylinder and defy all expectations of your own reflexive aptitude with your spinning genius, none of this will matter. To the glee of marketing copywriters everywhere, the speed-happy action of Ballistics really will leave your adrenal gland as dry as a stiffened sponge. Or some such nonsense.
A new benchmark for the future racing sub-genre
Truly unparalleled sense of speed Simple control system Pure racing dynamic
Somewhat shallow Only seven tracks Slighty