Though it was originally announced as a retail exclusive for the PlayStation 3, delays in development allowed the Xbox 360 version of Fatal Inertia to jump out ahead of its PS3 counterpart. Now, almost a year after the release of the Xbox 360 game, Fatal Inertia EX is finally available as a download from the PlayStation Store. The EX version boasts new single-player races, an adjusted difficulty setting, and motion controls. Despite some improvements and additional content, however, Fatal Inertia EX never really rises above the floaty physics and underwhelming sense of speed that plagued its original release.
The Fatal Inertia combat racing series features futuristic hovercrafts sponsored by various corporations, each with their own style and specialty. The Titan class, for example, features heavy machines that are slow but tough to take down. Phoenix racers are more agile but easier to damage. The single-player campaign consists of themed events divided into four races each. In traditional combat races or knockout events, your goal is to reach the finish line in the fastest time with your ship still intact. The Velocity series limits the available items to those that give you a speed boost, and it's during these events that Fatal Inertia overcomes its otherwise lackluster sense of speed. In the magnet mayhem events, each player is granted an unlimited supply of bullets to try to incapacitate the competitors. The variety of race types keeps things interesting, but the linear nature of the single-player campaign is very restrictive. You can't try a new series of events unless you've completed each previous race in succession.
The weapon designs in Fatal Inertia EX are imaginative, and most serve a dual purpose. The cable can be used to snag two opponents together or sling shot your ship around corners. You can fire magnets that attach to an enemy ship and slow it down until the projectiles eventually explode to cause more damage. A quick-thinking opponent can avoid the explosion by performing a barrel roll to knock the magnets off his or her hull. Used effectively, these items can quickly turn the tide of a close race. Unfortunately, effective use of weapons is ultimately out of your control because the acquisition of them is completely unbalanced. Racers in first place are usually stuck with magnets or smoke bombs that are of little use when no one is near you, while those lower in rank are blessed with speed boosts or time dilators that allow relentless opponents to close even the widest gap. This makes for some great multiplayer matches against human opponents of all skill levels, but the Career mode just feels like it's punishing you for doing well.
A number of changes have been made to Fatal Inertia EX in its transition from the Xbox 360, but not all are for the better. The difficulty curve has been adjusted to make earlier races less frustrating, and gluttons for punishment will be happy with the new master difficulty tier. Fatal Inertia EX also supports Sixaxis motion control with three levels of sensitivity, but none feel quite right. On the medium and high settings, you'll find yourself oversteering and running into walls. On the low setting, which isn't nearly sensitive enough, it's very difficult to maneuver around sharp turns. Controlling the pitch of your ship is also troublesome, obscuring your view during long jumps.
Progression through the Career mode unlocks new paint, emblems, and parts that allow you to customize, as well as improve, the performance of your ships. These customization options are great for distinguishing yourself in online matches, which run smoothly. AI opponents are available to fill any unused spots, and you'll likely need them because the servers are sparsely populated. Luckily, split-screen multiplayer is a blast to play, so there's plenty of fun to be had once you've finished the single-player offerings. You can even play the Career mode with a buddy if you don't feel like unlocking each tier by yourself.
The environments in Fatal Inertia EX are all rendered beautifully. Weaving through downed tree trunks in Deepwoods Pass or jumping off of a cliff into a pool of lava in Devil's Summit are both impressive, if not a bit cliche. A few visual effects add nice touches to the presentation as well. Setting off an EM pulse, for example, covers the screen in static and momentarily renders any nearby opponents inert. The soundtrack is mostly techno, but between the sounds of weapon fire and engine revving, you won't even notice the music during races.
If you have a passion for challenging, futuristic racers, you'll find Fatal Inertia EX to be a competent effort. Punishing track designs and relentless AI opponents are still issues, but the more gentle difficulty curve helps alleviate some of the stress. It's a fair bit more expensive than most of the PS3's downloadable offerings, but if you can take advantage of the multiplayer options, there's enough content to justify the $29.99 price tag. Otherwise, casual racing fans are probably better off avoiding this one.