As we all know, the distant future is a place populated by expansive cities that are often as tall as they are wide, unthinkable technology, and a general public with an insatiable desire for forms of transportation that move really, really fast. Capitalizing on these concepts and others, SCEA has come up with Kinetica, a futuristic racing game with a taste for the outlandish. Though Kinetica is definitely a capable racer, it is hindered by graphical problems and a general lack of polish.
The gameplay modes in Kinetica are pretty straightforward, and this is typified by the no-nonsense menu options. You can run a single race, or a practice race, which rids the track of any competitors. You'll only have four tracks available to you right off the bat, though eight more tracks can be unlocked through the season mode, which is broken up into three different sections. Place high enough in all four races in the first season, and the second season will be unlocked, and so on. Kinetica also contains a customizable two-player mode, in which you can tweak the amount of races and the number of computer-controlled competitors you'll race against.
The track design is some of the most outlandish ever seen in a futuristic racer, with lots of big drops and little regard for the laws of gravity. Unfortunately for Kinetica, extreme track design doesn't translate directly into fun. Though you may pull off some gravity-defying moves several times on a given track, there's rarely a horizon to watch as a point of reference, making these would-be thrilling turns a moot point. Also, the track design isn't as conducive to speed as it should be for a futuristic racer, and you'll often find yourself coming to a screeching halt thanks to some kink in the track. In a genre where the sensation of speed is of paramount importance, Kinetica simply can't keep up.
Instead of the usual fare of hovercrafts, motorcycles, and other more abstract forms of craft found in previous futuristic racers, the racers in Kinetica wear special suits with wheels on their hands and feet, making the drivers themselves the vehicles. The design of the characters is worth mentioning, as it was quite obviously a major point of focus for the developers. Each racer is a combination of sleek machinery and flesh, with a distinct focus on skinny women with rotund rumps. Though it is an attempt to add a sort of sexy-cool feel to the game, it comes off as bawdy and silly, and it will no doubt elicit more than a few jokes. Our favorite involves lyrics from Sir Mix-A-Lot's seminal rap classic "Baby Got Back."
Since the racers are able to freely move their arms and legs, you can perform a variety of aerial and ground-based stunts that fill up your boost meter, which can be tapped by simply pressing the R2 button. Extra boost can also be obtained by driving over boost strips and holding down the circle button. The stunts are performed by holding down the R1 button and executing simple up-down, left-right, and circular motions with the left analog stick. Stunts can be chained together into combos, exponentially increasing the amount of boost you receive for the stunts. The simplicity of Kinetica's stunt system makes it easy to master and generally keeps it from getting in the way of the actual racing. Kinetica also has a simple power-up system, in which you are randomly rewarded with bonuses such as infinite boost or an electrical attack for picking up the crystals scattered throughout each track.
Graphically, Kinetica has a lot to offer. The racers all have a distinct style and design, and they're all nicely animated, making it a pleasure to simply watch them pull of various stunts. The tracks are all highly detailed, with plenty of lighting and particle effects layered on for good measure. One of the better examples of this is displayed as you drive over the boost pads, which results in an orange light enveloping your racer and a cloud of small translucent arrows rising up off him or her. The great variety of the tracks found in Kinetica, such as the aptly named, Blade Runner-inspired Macropolis, the alien-looking Electrica, and the murky swamp-like caverns of the Lost City, gives the feeling that the textures are rarely recycled. Still, all this impressive eye candy comes at a cost--the frame rate. When cruising along by yourself on the track, the frame rate will usually cruise along with you at a steady and even 60fps, but when you come across a pack of competitors, all shouldering against each other and performing stunts, the frame rate can drop drastically. Considering the importance of speed and fluidity to any racing game, these frame rate issues pose a big problem for Kinetica.
The game's manual heavily touts Kinetica's use of "SoundMAX technology," which is supposed to deliver a more organic type of sound design that reacts directly to the action onscreen, but the sound is really more derivative than it is revolutionary. The soundscape is populated by a variety of appropriately synthetic sounds, such as the high-RPM whine of the futuristic technologies hidden inside your suit and the robotic voice of the race announcer. The soundtrack is, as you might've guessed, composed entirely of techno music, specifically the trance variety, provided by groups like Juno Reactor. While there's nothing patently wrong with the game's sound, it comes off as more of a tool than an integral part of the game.
Kinetica is by no means a bad game. The interesting character design and unique stunt system set it apart from the pack, but the fluctuating frame rate, track design issues, and poor sensation of speed hold it back from being a really good futuristic racing game. However, if you've already burnt yourself out on the PS2's other futuristic racing game, Extreme-G 3, and simply cannot wait until the release of WipeOut Fusion next year, Kinetica can serve as a proficient placeholder.