Review By: Jared Black
|# Of Players:||1|
|Accessories:||Memory Stick Duo (393 MB Required), Download via PS3|
The original WipEout was one of the leaders of a revolution in the video game industry. As the 16-bit era drew to a close and the CD format emerged on both consoles and PC, gamers were ready to embrace a more mature gaming experience. FMV (for better or worse), Redbook audio soundtracks, and an attitude that Nintendo wasn’t ready to present at the time dominated early PlayStation releases, and perhaps none of those releases were as influential as WipEout. That wasn’t only due to the game itself of course; Sony marketed the game as the coolest thing on the block with kiosks in night clubs, a kicking techno soundtrack (and an “official” soundtrack that featured well-known bands like Prodigy), and an appearance in the “so bad it’s awesome now” movie Hackers.
I know it certainly influenced me, because it was the game that convinced me I needed a PSX even before Final Fantasy VII arrived. Flush with cash due to a part time job and having virtually no bills to speak of, I purchased a PlayStation console in May of 1996 along with a copy of WipEout. Of course, I couldn’t let go of my prior allegiances completely and bought Super Mario RPG the same day, but that’s beside the point. As far as gaming is concerned, that summer was basically the Summer of WipEout for me, so when it was released as a downloadable I could play anytime I wanted on my PSP (now also PS3 compatible) nostalgia pretty much forced me to buy it.
Over 11 years after its initial release, WipEout’s core gameplay still holds up well. The game’s main draw to me is its insane speeds, and it’s as fast now as it ever was. The tracks are designed with speed and challenge in mind, with plenty of twists, turns, hills, and jumps to keep you on your toes. The tracks are laid out well, with these hazards spaced out far enough to give the player room to maneuver despite the courses being fairly slim in spots. Bumping into an opponent or wall will bring your ship to an almost complete standstill in most cases though, which is a poor design decision that WipEout's sequels went on to fix by being more forgiving (allowing the player to “scrape” walls) and opening the track up more.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy by any means though, as you’ll need to master the air brakes before you’ll have a chance at winning anything other than the slow Venom class. Although the four different teams (each with two drivers per team) have different ratings in top speed, acceleration, mass, and turning circle, even the easiest to control requires using the air brakes to make it through most turns at higher speeds. Since the brakes were mapped to the L2 and R2 buttons on the original PlayStation controller (L1 and R1 were unused), on the PSP I highly recommend that you change the default button layout in the emulator to Type 2, which maps the L2 and R2 buttons to the PSP’s own shoulder buttons. The default Type 1 layout sets the analog nub to mimic the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons, and that just doesn’t work in this game since you’ll be using them constantly. Of course, this isn't an issue if you're playing the game on the PS3.
As a combat racing title there are also several power-ups to pick up, such as rockets, land mines, and the tricky shockwave that throws off the controls just enough to create chaos. There are also arrows on each course that will give a temporary speed boost, and hitting all of these is essential to stay competitive at higher speeds. Still, although the selection of weapons was somewhat revolutionary for its time, now it seems limited compared to modern racing titles. Overall though, it’s a solid lineup of weapons that serves its purpose, and the sometimes brutal A.I. can make things really intense in spots.
The biggest problem with this retro release is that the emulation is absolutely perfect (upgrade your PSP’s firmware to at least 3.30 first if playing on that system, otherwise the game runs horribly slow), and that really highlights how rushed this launch title was back in 1995. Necessary to keep up the game’s insane speeds at a solid framerate on the original PlayStation’s hardware, WipEout’s pop-up is horrific by modern day standards (yes, even worse than Oblivion). Although you can always see far enough that it doesn’t impact gameplay, large chunks of the environment popping up before your eyes, and the course itself being painted a few feet in front of you as you go, is definitely distracting. There are also a number of glitches, like the camera going through the sides of tunnels, clipping issues, jumpy textures, bad seaming (where polygons don't quite touch like they should), and chunks of track at the bottom of the screen or behind you disappearing completely (which is really noticeable in SilverStream's hairpin turns that let you briefly see the track behind you). I honestly couldn’t believe that its graphic problems were as bad originally as they are now, so I dug out the original game and played it for comparison's sake. Indeed, the flaws present here were there as well, despite my own nostalgia-tainted memories telling me otherwise. Aside from the excellent art style enhanced with Designers Republic’s logos, technically WipEout’s look is definitely that of a first-gen 32-bit title.
And then there’s the whole capitalization issue. On the game’s logo, the middle “E” is capitalized so that the game is spelled WipEout. Throughout the instruction manual however, the “O” is the one that’s actually capitalized, as if the manual was printed and then Psygnosis decided at the last minute to capitalize the “E” instead (which I prefer personally). Yeah, it has no real bearing on the game itself, but it’s another indication that the team was tweaking the game right up until launch and that the whole thing was rushed.
If you want to play WipEout on the go, WipEout Pure is still the best way to do it. The original WipEout is an excellent secondary purchase at only $5.99 though, especially now that the game is PS3 compatible as well. If you've never played it before, you owe it to yourself to try out one of the most influential games in modern history. Even if you have, chances are you’ll appreciate being able to take it with you on PSP, or as a replacement for your old, scratched-up CD-ROM on PS3.
Posted: 2007-05-12 12:37:01 PST