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Fatal Inertia

Koei's PS3 launch title is a racing game. This is the same Koei, right?

A flying car zooms through a canyon, hot on the heels of another. Twin machineguns pop out of its bonnet and start spraying lead. Hurrah! Flying vehicular combat - we've done that. Aha, buuuut, it's not shooting the other guy; it's shooting the wall up ahead of him; and as the bullets cut across the surface they loosen a selection of rocks which fall just in time to smash the other guy to the ground and leave him stunned. A couple of seconds he's up again, and the chase resumes.

Given that its output largely consists of historical war games dealing with the warring states period of Chinese history, Koei isn't exactly synonymous with the laws of physics - or indeed the 23rd century - so it was slightly odd to arrive at its TGS press conference this afternoon and be greeted with a futuristic racing game (although we suppose the combative element at least was in character).

Fatal Inertia it's called, and since we're against the clock and you all love high concept anyway, it's a sort of cross between WipEout, Star Wars Pod Racer and, I dunno, something involving rocks that tumble down mountains. You take control of flying race-car things and zoom around outdoorsy environments - woodlands, canyons, glaciers - buzzing through ring-checkpoints and using various weapons to try and take down your enemies in the manner described above. The game uses the PS3's relatively stratospheric capabilities to not only look good but also compute the physics of rocks and other bits of scenery that tumble down as they're struck by projectile weapons - and with that it becomes a fairly interesting concept.

Hoops are high for this one. (Sorry.)

Introducing the game, lead designer Michael Bond said the physics - based on as-yet undisclosed middleware - were "an integral part of the gameplay". Fatal Inertia "encourages players to be creative in how they do battle" too, with an array of interesting weapons. We got a taste of this when Bond introduced the CG trailer. Having gone past the aforementioned tumbling rocks, our sparring racer pulled other tricks - including a missile that clamped onto his opponent's wing and eventually tore him out of the air. Bond said the weapons would be very versatile, and it would be up to the player to find out how best to use them - for example, in the trailer one of the racers used a grapple hook to pull a chap out of the air, and then fired it into the apex of a corner to slingshot round it without braking.

Bond was at pains to point out that this was an approximation rather than real-time footage, but before you start groaning and reaching for the close button, he did have a real-time version running on a PC to show us. Described as a very early prototype, it was a level "meant to resemble" the Grand Canyon. Here the highly detailed racecraft wafted along on the air and then stared up into the sun. Once our eyes had adjusted, we spied a sort of bridge between the two sides of the valley; with a couple of blasts the centre section broke away and tumbled down the hillside to land on top of a ship stationed below. Ah, tech demos.

You can't quite tell, but the finish line's held up by flying ladies. Seriously. TGS: for the win.

At this point it's rather difficult to say how it'll turn out. As neat as the concept sounds, the demo physics were a bit My First Physics Engine - rocks leaping up into the air like beach balls and rolling around - but Koei still says it's going to be ready for the PlayStation 3's launch in spring 2006. When it does launch, players can expect to take part in competitive and co-operative racing modes - both offline and online - and there'll be a variety of modes to service this, including racing, battle, team-play modes and others.

It's certainly been a team effort The game's only been in development since February, but work is ongoing at Koei's Canadian studio in conjunction with staff in Japan - in fact, Koei Canada's staff is part Japanese and many were trained in Japan - and it's a game that the publisher holds close to its heart. So much so that it even lead on it at its TGS press conference, and said it wanted to sell a million units worldwide. We'll let you know how it turns out next spring, hopefully - and in the meantime you can feast your eyes on some screenshots taken from the trailer. Beats the usual Mah-jong stuff, eh?

Fatal Inertia is set to be a PlayStation 3 launch title, which means it's due out in spring 2006 - assuming that's when the PS3 actually launches.