GameSpite Quarterly 8 | WipEout

As the PlayStation spread its 32-bit influence worldwide in the first autumn days of 1995, the young video game console needed something cutting-edge and stylish to distinguish itself from the aging 16-bit consoles it hoped to succeed. It found that something in WipEout, a futuristic racer that eschewed the cartoony pilots of F-Zero in favor of a more serious futuristic aesthetic. Pilots played second fiddle to the competing engineering firms that thrust their anti-grav ships into competitive racing circuits, each one eager to prove its dominance as the premiere manufacturer of high-speed anti-gravity racing technology.

With WipEout, developer Psygnosis created an unusually savvy videogame for 1995. Working with graphic design studio The Designers Republic, Psygnosis constructed a futuristic world where style was nearly as important as substance. The dramatic art used in the game’s packaging and promotions was the first step: it broadcast a hip sophistication absent in the Ridge Racers and Cruisin’ USAs of the day. In-game, the angular racing craft, bold lines and checkerboard patterns gave WipEout an unusually distinct look of its very own. Even the faux-2052 advertisements smartly included a strong Japanese influence, likely inspired by visionary cyberpunk writer William Gibson.

But the key ingredient of WipEout’s cool cred was the hard-driving, thumpin’ electronica soundtrack (with CD-quality audio!) that drove each race along at a frantic pace. Even at the main menu, this game broadcast energy and excitement. That energy carried over into the fast-paced races, which demanded precise control and perfect air-braking to whip the anti-grav ships through hairpin turns. The ships themselves further separated WipEout from other racers: though each manufacturers’ anti-grav craft handled differently, they all controlled with an unusual heft. All the power and mass lies in the ship’s giant thrusters, and steering from the back of the craft lends WipEout a unique feel that the series has maintained to this day.

Though WipEout has evolved since its original release, nearly all of the basic elements were there at the beginning. The engineering firms remained, refining their ship designs in later decades for WipEout XL, Wip3out and beyond. The weapons pickups and booster pads stayed in place, but WipEout XL added an energy meter into the mix, making it possible to destroy opponents or be destroyed by the mines, missiles and shockwaves that make up WipEout’s futuristic arsenal. Each WipEout sequel features a similarly impeccable collection of electronica and the same trademark visual flair.

But oh, how the sense of speed has changed. The original WipEout is extremely unforgiving about collisions, which makes its two speed classes, Venom and Rapier, plenty challenging. By 2007’s WipEout HD, those options had expanded, ranging from the molasses of Venom up through Flash, Rapier, and the blink-and-you’re-gone insanity of Phantom.

From its earliest incarnation, WipEout demanded fast reflexes and close study of how each craft handled. The original feels the most dated due to those unforgiving collisions. Over the years, Psygnosis took the basic elements of anti-grav racing and refined them, layering on the polish and culminating in the immaculate sheen of WipEout HD. But no matter which WipEout you’re playing, the reward for dexterity and skill is one of the most satisfying gold medals you’ll ever earn in one of the most exhilarating racing games you’ll ever play.

By Wesley Fenlon? | April 18, 2011 | Last: Ridge Racer? | Next: Gunners Heaven: Rapid Reload