When it comes to kart-racing games, it's hard not to draw comparisons with the definitive Super Mario Kart for the SNES. This is due largely to that game's sheer excellence, and also because no subsequent kart racer has been able to improve upon the formula set out by Super Mario Kart in any appreciable manner. Furious Karting, Infogrames' new kart-racing game, makes some superficial changes to that formula, but this is a case where different does not mean better.
While most kart racers have also served as showcases for game-company mascots, Furious Karting is cast with a ragtag group of very British-sounding extreme-sports types. At the outset of the game's career mode, you can choose between one of eight different racers, who are divided up into two teams, the TNT clan and the Yellow Sharks clan. Once you're on your way, you'll compete in an increasingly difficult series of races against your teammates, against single opponents, and in mixed company. Since you'll be racing alongside your teammates in many of the races, you'll often play a support role, making sure that your teammates place high in the races instead of just lone-wolfing it. The game's rubber-band AI--which will cause the computer-controlled racers to speed up or slow down, depending on your own pace--is pretty blatant, and the computer's generally simplistic tactics take a lot of the challenge out of the single-player component.
As is to be expected from a kart-racing game, Furious Karting features some multiplayer action as well. The classic mode plays identically to the single-player game, while the jam mode has players hunting down a CD that's hidden on the track and maintaining possession of it for a certain amount of time. These modes are reasonably entertaining, but the lack of any real customization options or variety keeps the multiplayer game in Furious Karting from having much longevity.
The core gameplay in Furious Karting stays pretty close to the conventions of the kart-racing genre, though with a few notable exceptions. Obviously drawing inspiration from the classic Road Rash games, Furious Karting arms each racer with an aluminum baseball bat from the start. Your use of the bat will directly impact your karma meter, which in turn affects how the other racers will treat you from race to race. Oddly, though, the game features an apologize button, which you can use to counteract the antisocial side effects of the bat, which seems decidedly un-furious. Along with the bat, you'll find some basic power-ups on the track. There are standard nitro boost and oil-slick power-ups, as well as some not-so-standard power-ups like flammable glue and a chicken, which, when tossed at an opponent, will slow him or her down. The bat is a fairly unique addition, but it just doesn't make up for the anemic selection of power-ups in the game.
Keeping with its extreme-sports motif, Furious Karting features a rudimentary trick system, allowing you to ride up on two wheels and perform flips and spins when in the air, but the whole system feels very tacked-on. Performing a big trick will occasionally net you a short speed boost, but this is the only positive impact the trick system has on the gameplay. Considering how slowly your kart rotates in the air, you'll end up landing on your head more often than not, and it's rare that going for a trick is worth the risk.
Visually, Furious Karting goes for a hip, urban look, but with an exaggerated cartoony edge. You'll race around a rather slummy-looking suburban area, inside a shopping mall, and through a pretty nondescript warehouse. Actually, all the environments you'll race through seem pretty nondescript. Though it uses Criterion's Renderware engine to power the graphics, Furious Karting doesn't have nearly the level of graphical polish as other Renderware games. The game's textures have a very flat look to them, and as if to counter its generally dark color palette, Furious Karting uses colored lighting with an almost gleeful abandon. Minor frame rate fluctuations are almost a constant in the single-player game, and this issue is amplified in the multiplayer modes. To the game's credit, the character models in Furious Karting have a simple but stylized look to them, and it's one of the more endearing aspects of the game's presentation.
Due to the way the single-player game handles the soundtrack, listening to Furious Karting can be an almost schizophrenic experience. The soundtrack itself is a decent blend of hip-hop, dance, and indie rock, but whenever a racer from a different team takes the lead position in the race, the music switches to a song associated with that team, though after a noticeable pause. It's kind of a neat idea, but the music between the different teams doesn't mesh very well, and the effect is ultimately jarring. The voice acting is also kind of odd, as most of the actors either have incredibly British accents or sound like they're trying desperately to mask their British accents.
The selection of kart racers on the Xbox is pretty slim, but nonetheless, Furious Karting doesn't bring enough to the table to appeal to the serious kart-racing crowd. The fundamentals are relatively sound, but the overall lack of options, from the sparse selection of power-ups to the lean multiplayer component, greatly limit the game's appeal. If you're not so discerning about your kart racing, you might be able to forgive the game's shortcomings, but if you've spent any amount of time with a kart racer of serious quality, such as Crash Team Racing for the PlayStation or Super Mario Kart for the SNES, you'll definitely walk away from Furious Karting disappointed.