Revisiting a PlayStation launch title and high speed icon.
There were two games that really convinced me that the future was now when the original PlayStation launched back in September 1995. Those games were Ridge Racer and WipEout*. Ridge Racer because, holy hell, it was an ‘arcade perfect’ (remember that expression?) racer on a home console! This can’t be happening! And WipEout because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Sure, I’d played F-Zero on SNES, but this game’s anti-gravity racing took players on precipitous, rollercoaster-like courses at speed, and did it all to the sounds of a superb club/rave soundtrack. Wipeout was Cool with a capital C.
This game’s anti-gravity racing took players on precipitous, rollercoaster-like courses at speed…
And if you took a step back, and looked at gaming at the time more broadly, the arrival of PlayStation represented several huge shifts for console gaming. It was the move to the bold – and as it seemed at the time, more mature and sophisticated – new world of 3D, it was the move away from cartridges to CDs, which meant more cinematic presentation and proper CD quality audio, and it was a console that – from the get-go – was marketed to teens and adults. Sony wanted the PlayStation to be a console for the clubbing generation, and WipEout was the game that most perfectly encapsulated that.
It didn’t hurt that it was brilliant, either.
UNDER THE BONNET
WipEout was developed by U.K.-based studio Psygnosis and was a European launch title for the original PlayStation. It came out on September 29, 1995 in Europe and on November 21, 1995 in North America. While it’s generally thought of as a PlayStation-specific series, the original game was also released on PC (in late 1995) and Saturn (in early 1996). It was the first of many Wipeout games, with WipEout 2097/XL (the latter is the North American name – aka WipEout and the Sorcerer’s Stone) following almost exactly a year later.
KICK IT IN THE GUTS, BARRY!
I was pretty worried about coming back to WipEout. How would it stand up? It’s almost 20 years old, and it’s probably been about 15 years since I’ve played it. I shouldn’t have worried. It’s aged, absolutely – its polygons literally come apart at the seams, and it’s almost certainly the least accessible game in the series – but the core design and gameplay is strong enough to transcend the shortcomings.
Championship mode takes you through six courses, with only the Venom speed class accessible from the start. Beat the Venom championship and you’ll unlock the much faster Rapier. Win Rapier and you’ll unlock a seventh course – Firestar.
There’s still a fair challenge on offer here. While weapons are only used to slow opponents down – as opposed to destroying them – courses are absolutely littered with pick-up panels, so that’s a bit of a wild card. Unlike the Wipeout games that followed, you also aren’t given much room for error. No grinding against the side of the course here – mess up a corner and you lose all your momentum, and that can cost you the race. It’s a lot easier to oversteer here than in later games, too. Anti-gravity shopping carts baby!
The championship structure is also unforgiving – you get three attempts to get a top three place on each course, but because of the way the points system works, you can easily find yourself on the last course on Rapier with no way to win the Championship, and hence, to unlock Firestar. And boy, what a course number six is. Silverstream is jam-packed with tight corners designed to test your racing line and proficiency with the air brakes… all while you contend with the pack and what appears to be a million power-up panels. It also has several branching paths, the last of which can leave you with no chance of winning if you choose the wrong way. Always go left.
The best I’ve done on Silverstream at Rapier speed in my recent WipEout sessions has been second. Which left me second in the Championship. And earned me a game over screen. Oh, video games past, you’re a cruel mistress.
No matter, all that means is that I’m out of practice. WipEout is a game that demands you master its racing lines and come to grips with its air brakes, which allow you to swing the tail around corners to make tighter turns or make lateral adjustments at speed. And then you need to integrate the right speed boost panels into your racing line, and learn tricks like trying not to catch too much air off jumps so as to maintain speed, and adjusting your AG craft’s pitch to land jumps smoothly. It’s a tapestry all right. And time trial mode is your friend.
SO WHAT WAS SO GREAT ABOUT IT?
The course design in WipEout has been seared into my brain for the best part of 20 years and there’s a reason – it felt so fresh and so futuristic. This game delivered on the promise of the PlayStation and 3D gaming in general. The racing was fast, the soundtrack was amazing and the courses sent you along technically demanding but utterly thrilling race courses. Up insanely steep slopes before launching off the apex and soaring through the air. Slaloming through treacherous chicanes. Gliding around banked corners. It’s still thrilling. And it’s still a serious challenge.
It’s also worth noting that the tone of the series shifted with each subsequent game. WipEout 2097, for instance, felt like it made more of an effort to be edgy, with its neon-tinged future cityscapes, obtuse iconography and more adversarial gameplay. The soundtrack also moved from the bespoke, in-house productions by CoLD SToRAGE – which were rooted in early 90s rave/club techno – to a largely licensed soundtrack featuring the likes of The Future Sound of London and The Chemical Brothers. There’s something special about the tone of the original game, and while each iteration took steps forward, to me they also moved laterally, ensuring the original is still special in its own way.
THE 0-60 WORDS OR LESS
AG Systems, Auricom, Qirex, Feisar. If any of those names mean anything to you, then the Wipeout series has been a part of your life at one time or another. This is where it began, and despite its rough edges, WipEout is still a special experience, (almost) 20 years on.
*Please note: It’s IGN’s policy not to indulge the whims of developers and publishers who decide to ALL CAPS their game titles or randomly capitalise letters, but in this instance it’s just too adorably a product of its time not to. OUR GAME IS FOR CLUBBERS! CHECK IT OUT, THE ‘E’ IS CAPITALISED! The only thing better would have been chucking a smiley face on the cover somewhere. ‘AVIN’ IT!
Tacho Tuesday is IGN’s new weekly look back at some of the most memorable racing games ever made. Got a proposal for a racing game you’d like us to dig up and check out again? Track down Luke and Cam on Twitter@MrLukeReilly and @jazzebration. Legendary classics, underappreciated gems, or even unforgettable disasters; all suggestions are welcome!