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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 



      

 

 





Putting gamers into the magnetic shoes of frenetic cybernetic racers, Sonyís Kinetica attempts to meld the massive speed of a futuristic racer with the trick-based play of Ďextremeí sports titles. While the overall design is impressive from both a technical and aesthetic standpoint, Kineticaís lack of extra modes and complexity may turn off some players. However, the solid and challenging gameplay makes this a thrilling ride once you get the hang of it. Look inside for more details on this excellent future racing title.

While some may find themselves a bit tired of the genre, itís no surprise that futuristic racing has drawn gamers in since the days of F-Zero on the SNES. Other landmark titles such as Wipeout and Extreme G pushed things along further but the genre seems to have fallen into hibernation in the past year or two as older platforms wound down and new ones came up. However, the genre was destined to rise again and along comes another landmark title, seemingly right on schedule. Mixing elements of Wipeout and SSX but having a unique feel all its own, Sonyís Kinetica is a futuristic racing game that adds stunts and incredible speed to create one of the PS2ís most enjoyable racers to date. The basic structure is simple. Players can race either solo or against a friend and unlock extra courses and racers by winning races in the Season mode. This is Kineticaís biggest problem - the lack of different modes. Aside from a two-player split screen mode, there really isnít much to do aside from playing through the tracks and unlocking hidden portions. Still, itís not that bad, since the main game is so challenging and there are a number of very difficult courses which adds some longevity. Despite the simple structure, this is a surprisingly complicated and difficult game, so maybe the absence of extra options can best be explained as a function of an emphasis on gameplay rather than gimmicks. On the other hand, this also makes for a very short ride once you get the hang of the controls, so how this is goes over is really a case of whatís most important to the player. Since most racing titles seem to have a short shelf-life anyway, this is really not a major issue.  

If youíre familiar with this style of game then the trappings are going to be quite familiar: futuristic urban and outer space landscapes, an intense techno soundtrack, a good variety of powerful sci-fi weapons and, of course, the usual array of cool, super-fast sleek racing vehicles. In this case, however the vehicles arenít really vehicles at all but magnetic cyborgs in customized racing suits. This is implemented in a much cooler fashion than it sounds, because the characterizations are well-done and the cyborgs seem more like advanced robots than people with cyber-metal on their bodies. The overall effect is quite impressive as the characters look different from what youíd expect, as you can tell from the screen-shots. This gives the characters an unusual design thatís intriguing and leads to Kineticaís key twist. The difference between this and other racing titles is that you can perform stunts when you jump. These are elaborate, flashy moves that involve spinning and twisting the characters around for the most part. Performing more difficult stunts gives the player more powerful speed boost to help you along. You will need to practice these moves a lot and it takes some trial and error to figure out which moves provide you with the best advantage.

Kineticaís course designs are impressive since the magnetic racers can attach to almost any surface and race along walls or even upside down during the race. This is all done in a very effective way that gives Kinetica a sense of extreme vertigo that really makes the game fields come alive and makes the races pulse with intensity. The downside to this is that the rapid angle switches with incredible speed as players take 90 degree turns up or down walls. This can be extremely disorienting at first but it gets better as you adjust to it and makes the courses more challenging. The tracks look incredible and are relatively straightforward with some minor branching. Some of these are slightly faster or contain weapons power-ups so it pays to go through each level multiple times and learn its layout. One of the more interesting things about the game is that players can choose to use the boost pads as they go over them or collect that energy into their boost meter Ė this adds a layer of strategy and action to the proceedings that many other racing titles lack. While itís been done before, it always helps to keep players interest-level high The main obstacle isnít the courses but the opposing racers who are surprisingly aggressive and wonít give you much leeway if you make even the smallest mistakes. Youíll need to be constantly aware of your position relative to your opponents and will have to implement defensive acts if you see one of them closing the gap with you or when you need to pass them. A big part of the strategy in Kinetica is to figure out which of the racers to use, since they all have strengths and weaknesses but some of them are much more difficult to succeed with and perennially seem to finish just out of contention.

  Controlling the racers and performing stunts isnít quite as simple or intuitive as youíd expect. While the game offers several different control configurations, the underlying problems remain a constant throughout. Sometimes, the game feels almost perfect while at other points, Kinetica can be highly frustrating. For example, while the racing action is outstanding at the baseline level, Itís too easy to crash or go entirely off the course when performing stunts so players will need plenty of practice in order to master the nuances of this element of the game. Pulling off the stunts themselves isnít easy either and requires a know-how and almost near-perfect timing in order to do the more complex stunts. It doesnít seem really worth the effort, since there isnít a lot of extra boost offered unless you can perform the most difficult stunts. However, the controls during the race are responsive for the most part and you should get the hang of it with some practice. The biggest problem aside from the above, is that itís far too difficult to get back into the race if you accidentally get turned around. Given how fast the races are and how little room for error there is, the best thing to do is to start over. This is acceptable the first few times, but it gets extremely annoying after awhile. Still, in the end, these are all minor issues and the controls arenít that bad and gradually get much better with continued practice.

Visually, Kinetica is one of the best looking racers to come along for the PS2 in quite some time, the racing environments move along at an excellent clip, with vibrant colors enhanced by spectacular light sourcing and dynamic lighting effects that give the gameís graphics quite an impressive feel. The mixture of different environments from deep space to lost jungle cities gives Kinetica a nice dynamic and helps to make the overall feel of the game seem expansive. Character animation is also quite nice with silky movements and realistic responses giving a somewhat convincing visual feel to the action. As mentioned before, the gameís soundtrack consists mainly of techno tracks, but seems to be balanced more towards the mellower trance subgenre than the by now clichťd driving beats most players are accustomed to in future racers. Ob servant players will also enjoy the sound-effects which do a good job of conveying the various actions and functions in the game, though these are almost overwhelmed in the mix. A good polish oversees the entire game, with a slick consistent look and feel that extends to the menus, giving it a somewhat immersive and consistent experience.

Kineticaís a lot more complicated than it could be which can be overcome with a lot of practice and once you get into it, the experience is quite impressive. While not every element of the game is completely original, what really separates this from the pack of racing titles are its cyborg vehicles which are both unique but more importantly fun to play. These make this game play and feel very different from what youíd expect it to. The overall approach is innovative and makes for an exciting title which has may elements that make it feel refreshingly different. Stunts and tricks add a new challenge to the game, though performing them while racing isnít easy and it also takes a lot of skill, timing and yes, luck to compete successfully. Despite these problems outlined above, this is an excellent title overall. Kinetica delivers an intense rush to those looking for it. While itís not perfect, it still good enough that Kinetica pushes the expectations higher for all future racers to come.