Fatal Racing can be considered to be a hybrid of Stunts and Destruction Derby. The player picks among a broad selection of cars and drives through tracks with loops, corkscrews and insane jumps while trying to smash into other cars to destroy them and at the same time cross the finish line first. There is a variety of different camera views available in the game, "in-car", chase-cam, etc. Multiplayer is supported by IPX/SPX network and modem, in addition a split screen option is also available. Fatal Racing supports graphics resolutions of 320×200 and 640×480, the latter being very demanding on the hardware available at the time of the game's release. The game also runs in a 16:10 aspect ratio and not the more common 4:3 aspect ratio at the time.
The names displayed for drivers of cars in the race not controlled by human players all come from famous robot or computer characters from science fiction movies and television (Kryten from Red Dwarf, Slave from Blake's 7, Robby from Forbidden Planet, etc.), though this can be changed within the game's options.
Corkscrews are difficult for beginners to navigate. The recommended approach is to stay 'high' (as in, on the side of the road that rises) and following the gutter along the side. Driving straight down the middle will cause you to fall off.
Twister jumps appear on two tracks, sending cars into a barrel roll. The timing on these is tricky, but usually involves turning slightly upwards and slowing down a bit. Cars that can powerslide, such as the Zizin and Pulse can increase or decrease the rate of mid-air spin by leaving the jump while performing a skid.
Moving speedbumps are a unique feature and appear on almost all tracks. Ranging from almost unnoticeable waves in the road to sheer mountains, these obstacles constantly flex up and down, causing jumps of varying height and distance.
Open Pits appear on several tracks. They can appear in the middle of the road or along the edges. On some tracks, pits are added to the edges of banked track sections, creating a Pinball Wall.
Loops appear in various sizes and with various modifications including split paths and a loop combined with a corkscrew.
Artificial Intelligence behavior
When the player (or other AI car) inflicts a large amount of damage on them, at the next given opportunity they may strike back. Behavior is also team dependent; Global tend to be more aggressive than the others, DeSilva tend to try to impede other racers, Million Plus may sometimes try to go the wrong way or simply stand in the way. The player's AI teammate can also follow (or disobey) his or her orders. At the beginning of races, all the AI cars accelerate at the same rate to keep the grid formation until all cars are at full speed, regardless of the respective car's actual acceleration. This usually keeps the AIs in front clear of the initial pack-induced collision damage, which gives them another advantage.
Higher difficulty settings make the AI more aggressive and also make the race last longer, which allows the AI to pull out some of its more dirty tricks. Although the driving model is quite primitive, races on the highest difficulty level (Impossible) with High damage last about 10 minutes and require good racing tactics and a thoughtful pitting strategy to survive, let alone finish in a good position.
- When one driver of a given team is in a high position and the other driver is doing poorly, the latter may turn around and go the wrong way to cause chaos and head-on collisions. Although this usually leads to its own destruction, a stricken opponent loses speed, is forced to pit and may even be destroyed, allowing its teammate to move up in the pack. This is usually a tactic employed by the lighter and more reckless teams, or as a suicide tactic when a driver is down to its last life.
- The heavy and fast Reise Wagon and Global drivers tend to tailgate slower opponents, pushing them down the track. As the victim takes more damage, its top speed slows down, making it even harder to escape. If the track is too narrow for an evasive dodge, this may lead to an elimination in 15 seconds or less. For this reason, Impossible/High drivers are advised to swerve out of the way if they are damaged and a Reise or Global is approaching behind them. If there is an elevation change ahead, slamming on the brake may cause the assailant to fly overhead.
- Some drivers may race through the pit lane at full speed instead of following the regular track. Because damaged vehicles need to stand still in the pit lane to get repaired, this may lead to a high speed collision, launching the damaged car back onto the track with even more damage than before. The crippled car is usually eliminated shortly thereafter unless the driver is exceptionally good at damage avoidance. This tactic can be avoided by hugging the pitlane wall, staying on the inside if the pitlane is curved, parking against another car or if you are in an agile car, parking backwards in the pitlane. This tactic is unavoidable on the Bonus Cup tracks with a pitlane in the middle of the road, making these tracks very difficult to complete.
- Plain old sideswiping. While not very dangerous in and of itself, if this happens at a banked ramp, corkscrew or drop-off, it could lead to the victim falling off or landing upside down, after which the vehicle respawns in the middle of the road and usually gets rear-ended instantly, taking major damage.
Later, there was an enhanced 3dfx Glide version of the game made. This was bundled with some Voodoo Cards as "Fatal Racing 3D". This enhanced version is however hardware specific, so it requires a Voodoo I Graphics Card to function correctly. There were also patches available for the original versions of the game to add support for 3D Graphics Cards such as the Rendition Verite and the S3 ViRGE.
Like some DOS games, Fatal Racing had audio CD tracks for realistic music performance. It can be chosen as a music option in the Sound and Music setup program. This was used to replace low-quality MIDI choices. While the title, race victory and championship victory tracks are high-quality versions of their respective MIDI equivalents, the menu track and in-game tracks are completely different on the CD. The audio and the sound effects (featuring the 9 songs) were produced by Neil Biggin.