In most ways, Kinetica is a prototypical futuristic racing game. It involves sleek, futuristic crafts that often defy gravity, and it contains more than a handful of gameplay elements secondary to the actual racing. In that way, Kinetica is also like many modern hybrid-racing games--much like SSX, the game revolves around a trick system, which, if you work it properly, will add to your overall effectiveness in a race. Where the game deviates most markedly from any given trend, though, is in its visual design. In place of any sort of orthodox vehicles, Kinetica puts at the forefront a very unique set of cyborgs. Essentially, they're humans with automotive components fused onto their extremities, and they literally dance at roughly 200mph as they maneuver the twisted tracks on which they race. It's definitely one of the more fanciful designs we've come across yet.
The game is being developed by an internal Sony team, and it's being headed by one of the heads responsible for Twisted Metal: Black. As you'd imagine, a certain level of technical sophistication and polished design is implicit. Luckily, it seems that those expecting such will not be disappointed. The game excels at portraying a tangible sense of speed, and its "trickcentric" system will keep you engaged throughout many of the long stretches. And the rewards for successful tricking are fairly satisfying; watching the exoskeleton-wearing riders perform serpentine dances as they jet through the surreal tracks is definitely one of modern gaming's most unusual pleasures.
The developers seemed to have borrowed a key element of SSX when it designed Kinetica--the boost-enabling trick system. As it were, you're rewarded for successful tricks with spikes in your boost meter. Activating boosts greatly increases your speed momentarily, and effective use of it is key in navigating some of the game's more treacherous corners. Tricks are achieved in a fairly simple manner; you hold down the R1 button as you're speeding and input certain control combinations while it's depressed. You can enter chains of tricks while the R1 button is down, and the only thing you should keep in mind are upcoming barriers, since you can't turn your vehicle while the trick button is depressed. As such, being a successful trickmeister requires you to know the tracks well--you'll have to identify the long, featureless stretches of the tracks and take advantage of them, as those are where you'll net the highest combos. Air combos and ground combos differ in look, and certain types of inputs (full circles, for instance), seem to work only in the air. The effects, though, are marvelous in any event--Kinetica has some of the wildest animations ever put into a video game, both from a technical and aesthetic standpoint. It's as if the developer literally mo-capped these sultry cyborgs.
But Kinetica is a racing game at its core, despite its apparent desire to transcend this. As it happens, though, the actual races seem to take a second seat to the game's more prominent elements. They unfold in a very textbook manner: set on surreal, futuristic, roller-coaster-like tracks, the races pit you against a group of your suited-up peers, and they're populated with all manner of future-racing clichés, such as infinite drops, boost pads, and full-stop obstacles. The tracks range widely in theme: You'll race in a futuristic metropolis, a set of Mayan ruins, and a space station, among others, and they all look and feel suitably distinct in most cases. It's clear, though, that the developers took certain liberties when designing the tracks, including all types of dead drops and drastic changes in perspective to add to the drama and dynamism of its races. In many cases, these drastic shifts are quite disorienting, but when they work, they work well. Our only hope is that paths will be more clearly marked when the game goes gold--at this point, it's often hard to determine where the race must flow, due to the fanciful track designs.
Thankfully, the game's control scheme is tight enough to make the small hassles worth it. In terms of layout, it's pretty standard: the left analog stick controls steering, while the right stick (or, alternately, the X and O buttons) controls acceleration and gas. And the R1 button, as mentioned earlier, puts you in trick mode. Meanwhile, the R2 button controls your boosts, with L1 allowing you to powerslide. Finally, the L2 button controls the power-ups you acquire via massive tricking. Overall, the cars and people you control are a little overresponsive; you really have to make use of the powerslide and boosts in tandem to maneuver the craziest turns. Once you get the hang of it, though, it's pretty satisfying to drag into turns and zoom out of them via a boost. Some of the larger characters are much more stable than the smaller ones, too, which helps remedy this quite a bit.
It's clear that you'd have to look far to find a game with visuals less conventional than Kinetica. The characters themselves look like amalgamations of Go-Bots, Tron lightcycles, and Predators, and the worlds they inhabit run the gamut from something out of Disneyland to something conceived by Phillip K. Dick. And from a technical standpoint, the game looks great. Cleverly used particle effects accompany most actions and attacks, and the real-time environments are mostly cleverly detailed. The models themselves are fairly detailed (right down to the thongs), and they move very, very well. In terms of performance, the game is currently a little bit shaky--though most of the action goes down at near 60 frames per second, areas particularly thick with models chug to less than half that. Hopefully, it will all be nailed down come code release.
It would be a shame if Kinetica didn't sport the fine technical production that its willful design warrants. There's time, though, for that, and then some--the game is scheduled for an October release. We'll have more for you once we see some new code.