Every year at about this time, a new set of hovercars/maglev bikes/inverter buggies are deployed on the futuristic neon-lit starting grid, each one outdoing the other with ridiculous hyperbole recycled from last year’s marketing shambles. Key slogans include 'unrivalled sense of speed', 'ultimate arcade racer’ and the ever popular 'adrenaline-pumping action’. Clearly we’re dealing with that particular sub-genre, the futuristic arcade racing game, which was both popularised and defined by the banging techno beats of WipEout all those years ago. Often such games can be quite a bit of fun, yet somehow the bold rhetoric is never quite realised.
Ballistics sits quite comfortably within the future race genre and attempts little that hasn’t been seen before. The difference is it actually lives up to the claims. Indeed, in terms of the criteria for success in the genre it is nothing short of perfect.
For starters, Ballistics is, in fact, the fastest racing game ever. There’s no speed limit attached to its magnetically driven hoverbikes, the ceiling being determined rather by your own reflexes. In place of a conventional track, racing takes place inside a magnetic tube, the only impediments to acceleration taking the form of red barriers -walls, bumps and crossbeams -clearly best avoided. Hitting blue coolant pads, on the other hand, is a good thing; running over yellow booster chargers positively essential. It's a logical extension of the up-wall action of such games as Killer Loop and Rollcage Stage II, and makes for far greater emphasis on pure speed.
Sit And Spin
Indeed, Ballistics eschews many of the hallmarks of the genre, such as weaponry, shortcuts, and track memorisation, leaving you to worry about only two variables - speed and heat. Heat builds up mainly as a result of collisions, while a manual cooling system causes friction and slows you down, hence doubling as a brake. The only other thing you have to worry about is losing your magnetic connection with the track. Sometimes you’ll want to do this, as it allows you to spin through mid-air and pick up bonus items. Mostly though, it will occur as a result of your own ineptitude, through failing to stick to the outside wall on tight curves and colliding with barriers.
Of course, all this speed would mean nothing if the visuals weren't up to the job, and thankfully they are superb. The spatial stretching effect that kicks in when you gun the booster is particularly nice, as is the slight blurring of the geometry when you hit mach speeds. The designers have done wonders with the seven courses as well, using transparent surfaces and open frameworks to alleviate the potential monotony of racing through a drainpipe.
The only possible criticism to be made is that, by refining the genre to such a pure focus on speed and reflex, the game is also that much more shallow. And this is not helped by the inclusion of a frankly worn-out upgrade structure, where, predictably, you must use cash earned from races to buy new components for your bike.
However, the first time you go supersonic inside a narrowly twisting cylinder and defy all expectations of your own reflexive aptitude with your spinning genius, none of this will matter. To the glee of marketing copywriters everywhere, the speed-happy action of Ballistics really will leave your adrenal gland as dry as a stiffened sponge. Or some such nonsense.
All of mankind have separated their differences and worked together to make the world free from the troubles of disease and poverty. Things have become a virtual paradise, yet in the glory of it all there is still something missing from the heart and soul of each individual. People have found that without the worries of everyday life that their lives have become dull and without meaning. Now they seek to fulfill their lives with excitement through a new breed of extreme sport entertainment called The Ballistics. Based on the old world's Formula One racing, The Ballistics use an upgraded form of hover bike and magnetic technology to fuel their appetite for danger. The pilots of these impressive crafts are chosen from their teens to be physically altered to adapt their frail human bodies to the stress of the high velocities. The process is quick and easy, usually adding support to the skeletal system and enhancing the reactions of the pilot turning them into the ultimate athlete of the future. The roar of the crowd and the thrill of the race fuels each of these pilots souls for now they are part of something bigger then anything before them, they are now part of The Ballistics.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
You’ve got to remember that nothing is free. In the beginning of the game the only bike that you can afford is large and bulky, which slows you down during the race. To get more cash to spend you’ve got to perform amazing stunts that will impress the crowd. Now this is one of the better ways to earn cash quickly but it is also a great way to lose the race. The more stunts you perform the better chance that you’ll crash into one of the obstacles or have one of your opponents pass you to take the lead. If you feel unsure about performing a variety of different stunts, you can always focus on the race and try to win. Depending on how well you ranked in the race, you can also get a large chunk of cash to spend before the next race.
Now how do you win the race? First you’ve got to learn how to control your bike. You’ve got to understand that your bike uses a magnetic repel unit to keep it hovering over the track. This allows it to virtually move at whatever angle the track supports. It also means that you can make your bike move at speeds that would suck the eyeballs right out of your skull. Sounds like fun, my friend? It is more than fun, it’s a way of life. To keep things interesting you have to worry about obstacles on the course like walls or the other contenders. So if you want to avoid them, you can decide to detach from the course. With this option you can jump from one part of the track to the next without having to move around the other players. On the other hand that means you have to sacrifice the ability to maneuver so you may crash and burn the first couple of times.
So, how fast is fast? Since the game is made to move as fast as you can imagine then it really depends on how well you can keep track of the course in front of you. The better you are at maneuvering the course at high speed, the more cash you’ll be able to gather and the further you’ll progress through the game. Keep in mind that you may want to take it slow for a bit since the course is littered with items to boost your speed and keep your bike from overheating. If you move too fast your bike will overheat, and if that happens then you’ll kiss goodbye your chance at first place. Keep your wits about you and if you can hold it together then you’ll be rewarded with money.
So now that you understand how the game works you should get familiar with how to control your bike. You use the keyboard for almost all of your basic needs. Since you are attached to the track you can only strafe around the track but if you decide to detach you can attempt to jump from one part of the track to the other. I’ve found that this is usually more pain than it is worth, since it is difficult to reattach your bike in a decent amount of time. Most of the time you’ll just crash and burn, so unless you’re a master at the technique it is best to avoid it all together. You’ll also need to be aware that you’ll need to use your keyboard to cool down your craft so you don’t overheat. I didn’t really like having to keep watching the heat gauge, especially when I needed to keep my eyes on the track. If you need an extra bit of speed to get by the other contenders you can press a button to get a boost of speed. It can really come in handy when you need to get in the lead quickly. By clicking on the mouse keys you can adjust your speed. While playing the game I found that the controls could be more of a hassle then their worth so you should configure them to work better for you.
So how fun is the game? I had a difficult time getting into it. I never really liked it when I would have my bike detach from the track to snag a passing power-up or to attempt to steal the lead from one of the contenders. It usually blew up in my face and discouraged me from using that technique later in the game. I also had a hard time dealing with how fast the bike could go and would find myself hitting a barrier or missing a greatly needed power-up. I found that I would become frustrated with the game and would have to come back to it later.
The saving grace of the game would have to be its superb graphics. A large amount of detail was put into each bike design. Even the basic bikes that are made to be big and bulky still look like they belong out of something from the movie Blade Runner. Most of the bikes are designed to look dark and gritty, but if you choose you can adjust them to give them colorful racing stripes or to decorate them with flames. I felt like I could almost reach out and touch them when they passed by on the screen. If that wasn’t enough, the courses each had their own special flare. In the first race you get to race through a fancy looking city with flashy billboards and flying cars. Occasionally you can see yourself suspended above the city looking down at the ground below littered with cars and people. The further you get into the game eventually you can race in some sort of rain forest. It was amazing; the plant life was so huge that it made my character and bike look like nothing more than insects. With all of this included and a great splattering of colors and textures, it makes the game eye candy for any player.
Nothing really impressed me about the sound effects of the game. You’ve got yourself a witty announcer who I could barely make out over the roar of the engines. Plus, all those darn engines kept getting on my nerves. The only reason that I kept the sound on at all was to listen to the good music. The soundtrack was upbeat and really catchy which was probably why I liked it so much. It reminded me of something that you’d hear out of a good science fiction thriller or at a ritzy dance club.
I didn’t have as much fun as I could have. I felt that a few of the elements of the game ruined it for me. I didn’t like that the bike could detach. It’s supposed to be used to help you but it always caused me more trouble than it was worth. Also, I had an issue with how poor the sound effects of the game were. I felt that if the graphics were done well, the sound effects should have complimented them. For these reasons I had to scratch off some precious points. Since the game wasn’t terrible and I had a few good hours of gameplay, I still gave it a generous score of 74. It looks like a good game with strong points like graphics and originality but the downsides keep it from ever excelling to the level of other racing games.
The time: 2090.
The place: Various points around the globe.
The game: Ballistics.
Having taken Formula One racing to the edge, the need for a faster, more aggressive sport has been realized. Using the latest in technology and the breeding of pilots with faster reflexes, Ballistics is the only sport in this future utopian society. Pilots race tracks specially built for them in locations around the world at speeds of up to 2000 miles per hour
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
For some reason, there is a preconceived notion that all sports in the future will be 'extreme." Whether sport evolves to a more brutal (and eventually deadly) kind of game (Blast Chamber) or that the only good sport is one involving insane speeds (Extreme G Racing III) or the crux of both, involving extreme speeds AND death (WipeOut). Are we becoming such a society that the risk of death and bloodshed will be our only forms of entertainment in the future? Not to rant, but isn't professional baseball over 100 years old? I certainly expect it to be around for a long, long time being that it's our national pastime. And given that the rules haven't changed that much I can't imagine baseball including landmines in the outfield and spike-riddled baseballs. So with that, I give you the review of Ballistics.
First things first, get the patch for Ballistics.
In Ballistics you play as a pilot of a 'speeder." These speeders are aerodynamic vehicles that are raced in a large tubular track that supports the magnetic field (MF). This MF allows the speeders to float mere feet off of the track surface while maintaining excessive speed. This idea isn't totally fabricated as the use of electromagnetic transportation powers the Japanese 'Bullet Train" along quite quickly.
Ballistics is a multi view game (I chose 3rd person) with a control scheme that you can customize to your liking. I found it easiest to use the arrow keys for acceleration and left/right strafing while using the 'B" and 'N" keys to barrel roll right and left. If you have a split keyboard you will notice that this setup allows for the spacebar to be used for the 'boost" function. Yes, I found it strange to play a game on my computer without using my mouse, but I got used to it quickly.
The primary mode in Ballistics is the league mode. In this mode, you start off as a rookie pilot in a fairly basic/crappy speeder. Racing the rookie circuit will afford you the opportunity to win more money so you can upgrade your current speeder and race though the circuit's various courses. As you race on the rookie courses, you must not only attempt to finish in a winning position but dodge obstacles and other racers who are trying to snag the icons that are found on the track. In order to gain even more money you can execute dangerous moves, which will ultimately break you free from the magnetic field allowing you to snag those really high icons floating impossibly out of reach. But beware'air resistance dramatically slows down your speeder when not connected to the MF. You should also know that breaking free from the MF could only be done when you move past the Rookie League.
The game also includes a single race mode, a multiplayer mode and a completely verbal (as in hands off) tutorial that doesn't really teach you anything.
This game is just teeming with problems. First, I found that the game would freeze up and/or shrink down to a window at inopportune times. I initially tried loading it onto a P-III 500 with a 32 MB graphics card, easily qualifying for the game's minimum requirements, but only found problems running it on my less powerful machine. I only experienced decent performance when I loaded it on my AMD 1.4, 64 MB graphics card. Away from the technical side, I found the game in general to be poorly executed. For example, if you happen to run into a wall while going 951 mph, you don't incinerate, you don't turn into a crimson mist, you don't even fly off of your speeder. Instead, you merely stop. That's it; you just stop dead in your tracks. Another thing, where's the sonic boom when the sound barrier is broken? The game just seemed to miss those important types of things that make a game fun.
You can go online and race others to determine which one is the best. I found a couple of racers online and did in fact challenge them to a duel. But poor Internet connections on the part of my opponents made for a disappointing race (granted it was 2:14 am on a Sunday night).
Well, here is the brightest spot in the game, the graphics are pumped up quite nicely and even require DirectX 8. The game takes advantage of newer graphics cards like the GeForce 3, allowing the frame rate to become a blur, and trust me, it will.
The bright neon lights and futuristic tracks are nothing short of awesome looking. I wish the traps and obstacles were a bit more varied but the game's designers can't be accused of making a less then flawless environment and while the programmers can certainly be described as fans of the movie 'Blade Runner," I felt the speeders needed a bit more of an aerodynamic look. Something meaner and sleeker looking would have done the trick.
The best part of the audio was the twisted carnival music that played when the advertisement for Grin (design team) software cued up. The rest of the game's audio needed to go away.
As with Xicat's other release Gothic the documentation was not done well. I expected to see the default keys printed somewhere in the manual, but it did not. The rest of the manual just seemed average.
If it seems like you may have played this game before, chances are, you have. The game is really like deja-vu with its borrowed ideas and completely unoriginal premise. Yes, the graphics are sharp, but the game isn't. My advice? Pass it over.