Friday, 28 June 2013

The Past and Times of Yore: WipEout HD/Fury, the Last of a Legend


Release Date:  September  24, 2008 (HD) October 15, 2009 (Fury)
Genre: Futuristic Racer
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Developer: Studio Liverpool
Playstation 3
Players: 1-2 (Splitscreen) and 1-8 Multiplayer

Classification: E 10+

Playing this title again, It never occurred to me how much impact this title has now despite being almost 4 years old, since Sony announced the closure of Studio Liverpool (formerly Psygnosis) in August last year it is essential the last WipEout game to be released for a Playstation Console (apart from WipEout 2048 on PS Vita) and thus ends the Wipeout series. I can still remember playing the original WipEout game on PC the late nineties using a joystick as well. Back then the only racing games I had played before were SNES titles such as Mario kart, Biker Mice from Mars and Rock’n’Roll racing, but this was something else. The first Wipeout defined what the whole "playstation experience" was with a single game. It also defined a lot of current day "club culture" At the time the WipEout soundtracks were also, for a lot of younger people, the first time they were exposed to artists like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, LFO, Underworld or Aphex Twin which could possibly have been my first influences into Techno and Dance which I love today.

Of course the main point of Wipeout was the awesome speeds you could reach with the Wipeout “ships” which blew away any car racing game out there, ships being the operative term here as they obviously didn’t have wheels they hovered above the racetrack and used ‘airbrakes’ to turn corners and there was a small backstory about the Anti-Gravity “F” titled racing league and mock press releases in the booklets for each game

The original Wipeout game released in 1995, oh the memories. by mastes1

I was only in my early teens at the time and was a bit young to realise but the original WipEout revolutionized gaming for the older gamers who were around when it all started, it had a non-cutesy futuristic setting with ultra-fast ships and bangin’ dance beats, it was like it was made for that generation hence why the directors of the movie Hackers saw it as something they wanted to include in their film which had a dance music listenin’ cyberpunk culture of young people which WipEout appealed to the most and represented in the gaming world. I kind of never saw it this way, I just thought of Wipeout as a cool futuristic game and spent many hours zooming along trying to win all the races and not hit the damn sides, and it was a blast to play especially when I got the PS1 version which worked perfectly compared to the PC version which I had a bit of trouble sometimes getting to work properly being DOS and all.

Shortly After that came Wipeout 2097 with more tracks, classes and music, the second game in the series smoothed down both the graphics and the physical racing gameplay making the racing experience much more enjoyable, it also added shield energy to the game for the first time, meaning that the weapons as well as stalling your opponent now drained their shield as well which they could recharge by flying into a “pit lane” which was adjacent to the starting grid and losing a few seconds. This added weapons such as the Quake disrupter which fired a ripple down the track and the Plasma bolt which destroyed opponents in a single hit. The game also introduced the Vector and Phantom being the slowest and fastest Speed Classes in the game with the original Venom and Rapier being in the middle. Wipeout 2097 was probably best known for its soundtrack which featured The Prodigy, The Future Sound of London, The Chemical Brothers, Fluke, and Underworld. There was also a popular soundtrack album. I now know that the reason for all the Red Bull advertising was that the game was featured and played in various nightclubs as a promo in conjunction with Red Bull Energy Drink though it wasn’t till years later that I actually started drinking the stuff lol it seemed that back then Wipeout was more in the club scene than ever.

Wipeout 2097
In the interim of Wipeout 2097 and Wipeout 3, Wipeout 64 was released which was basically a port of 2097 but had two very distinct new features such as steering with an analogue stick (digital control was disabled even) and split screen multiplayer which is written as supposedly being 2-4 players though I only ever played 2 players with a friend myself, this is still a massive improvement over 2097 where the only way you could play two player was the ridiculous Playstation “link cable” which you need to purchase as well as requiring two television sets, two PlayStation consoles, and two copies of the game. It was the time where the Playstation multiplayer functionality was laughable compared to N64 which had a greater number and quality of (albeit kid-friendly) multiplayer games and most important 4 controller ports whereas I had to buy a multitap for both my PS1 and 2 to be even able to play 4 players. The benefit with that though was with some games you could get up to 5 players but that another story.

Wipeout 64 vertical split-screen gameplay by jk7201b

I was much looking forward to the release of Wipeout 3 or “Wip3out” as  seemingly any 3rd game of a series which has an E in the title always turns out to be i.e “Driv3r”, one of the most ludicrous version of this I’ve seen was Thief 4 or “Thi4f” I’ mean seriously since when does a number 4 look like an e? Also they didn’t do it with the previous game as there was no number in the title, figures. Anyway Wipeout 3 was a pretty clean package, it’s wasn’t that much different in terms of features, it retained the same ship/teams and most weapons from 2097 and added a couple more. The tracks were different this time in the way that they were not based on real world locations but in the fictional “Mega City”. The soundtrack was as good as ever being composed of techno and electronica tracks selected by DJ Sasha and features contributions by Orbital and The Chemical Brothers. Probably the two most prominent features of the game were for one the inclusion of a 2 player split-screen mode which after finally getting the feature I was only able get a few friends to play with me regrettably. The second feature was its unique graphical style which I really can’t explain, it was sort of like 2097’s graphics but much smoother, brighter and funkier (with most tracks) with a much better level of details then 2097 and was the first in the series to run at high-resolution mode (720 x 480, or 480i).

Wipeout 3
The Designers Republic who had worked co-operatively with Psygnosis on the first three Wipeout games’ visual style including menu’s, text, load screens and in-game billboards and screens really gave Wipeout its edge where other games may have had great looks vehicles and tracks but bland landscapes for the backgrounds, their designs were especially prominent with Wipeout 2097 and Wipeout 3 with the ultra-minimalistic menu interface.

Some shots of the Wip3out menu screen designed by The Designers Republic, minimalist is an understatement

Wipeout Fusion was the premier Wipeout game for the Playstation 2 and the first game made after Psygnosis' name change to SCE Studio Liverpool. The main changes (apart from the obvious graphical upgrade with the PS2) brought in vast changes to the track layouts which now instead of being a single track was a giant one split into 3 creating a short, medium and long circuit of a particular location, also for the first time trackless sections where I have slammed into a boulder and blew up a lot of dust in my time, it also included hidden-wall shortcuts or ones that required a turbo-boost power-ups to get over.  In Fusion weapons and combat suddenly became huge, the proton cannon, grav stinger, flamethrower, and gravity bomb was added and each team was given a unique super-weapon, as you progressed through the different leagues the cpu players got more and more aggressive, sometimes it was such a clusterfuck of ships firing everywhere that you barely got through the first lap without being blown up, it became less of a race then a survival to just see who could finish and the only time you could repair yourself was in the pit lane.

Wipeout Fusion gameplay featuring a trackless section of the course.

Apart from the pilot aggression there were a few other things I didn’t like firstly there was the way that there was no Speed classes anymore, when you did the various leagues you were given credits to spend on upgrading your craft which you needed to do to stay competitive, this was alright it’s just that then you end up stacking all the points into the one ship. What confounds this even more is the return of the Pilot characters from the first Wipeout which was evident as there was much more storytelling elements and backstory in the game, but instead of putting points into the team, you put points into either the first or second pilot and the more points you put into a pilot and their ship it got bigger and “meaner” looking with 3 variations. This kind of thing really irked me as I enjoyed the way Wipeout 2097 and 3 just had the teams though it did add a bit of character to the game but I liked the ships stats staying the same and changing accordingly so it was a bit off-putting. Also the way the ships had obvious damage I didn’t like either but I guess it was more realistic.

After Fusion I had quite a long break from the Wipeout series and really consoles in general, until we happened to get a PS3 and I course decided to purchase and download the Wipeout HD/Fury package, I’d only played it a bit before on a friend’s PS3 but buying it myself and having a good go made me realise what a nice tight package it was for a Wipeout game, it was quite similar to Wipeout 3 in terms of teams, tracks and controls so pretty much all the gameplay, and the grid style Campaign was excellent, I did the HD campaign first as you did all of the types of races including: Single Race, Tournament, Speed Lap, Time Trial, and Zone. Zone mode, which first appeared in Wipeout Fusion, has you piloting a ship with full stats in an awesome looking digitized track with minimal textures and a graphic equalizer in the sky moving to the current music. I was glad to see that pretty much all of the unwanted stuff inc individual pilots, new teams, credits-for-stats, super weapons have been taken out.

Wipeout HD
As you play through the campaign all the different modes of play are randomly laid out in a hexagonal grid, you start from the middle and gradually unlock the surrounding hexagons, you can change the difficulty at any time before/after a race if you are having trouble.  After acquiring a certain number of points unlocks the next , as you progress through the events the modes get harder i.e. faster speed classes, more aggressive opponents and more challenging medal goals. I reckon this a great addition to the series and much better then the Fusion version as what Wipeout really needed was a single campaign that created a fun and balanced way to play most of the singleplayer content in the game.

The new tracks were pretty damn cool, the first track Vineta K situated on the beach with a classic underwater section, Metropia dodging around skyscrapers with breathtaking drops, Ubermall, a new incantation of Mega Mall from Wipeout 3 and Sol 2, a track suspended in the air with a dreaded open-sided section. The tracks included a reverse option but were not divided into 3 as before, also there were no-more trackless sections or shortcuts in any of the tracks.

The Sol 2 (sky track) Phantom class time trial by HellfireWZ

The ship roster is made up of all the ships from the original Wipeout to 3 with new ones (Triakis, Mirage and Harimau) taken from Wipeout Pulse I was pleased to find out that the Triakis team is Australian and true to Australian form our ship is built like a brick shithouse with maximum shields though their quite hard to handle but I don’t care I go them all the time in multiplayer. As I had gotten the Fury expansion I already had access to the Fury ships which I used through the HD campaign where I should have been using the HD ships though it didn’t matter all that much as I used the Fury Mirage ship almost all the way through I wish I researched all the unlocks and ship skins etc properly before I played I used the same team for most of the HD campaign thinking that you had to get full loyalty for a team to get all their ship skins but it turns out all you need to get is 8000 for each team to unlock two alternate skins and 10000 only once for a team to unlock the classic Wipeout HUD (which I wasn’t going to use anyway) I ended up getting 26000 points with Mirage and although they are a great all-round ship it was kind of a waste as apart from achievements all the other skins are unlocked via the Campaign

Wiepout HD Ships/Teams
Reading the reviews now I notice that lots of people are saying how smooth and great the graphics look, I must admit I didn’t really notice this as all PS3 games look equally good to me really though I admit as the Wipeout games got better quality they also a bit harder to see where you are going as before there was just a plain coloured track and bland walls and scenery, now there’s intricately detailed track grids through Las Vegas entertainment complexes with lights (flashing, neon or otherwise) all over the place. But I suppose it’s not exactly that hard though I found though that when the lights went green (or whatever happens) on your first race and you thrust forward your eyes go kinda fuzzy and have to re-adjust to the speed, especially at the higher levels, the graphics look great though any way you look at it.

Wipeout HD - The Amphiseum - Phantom Time Trial by HellfireWZ

As I mentioned before the fury expansion brought new ships (with upgraded stats), game modes, tracks and another campaign. The new ships looked a bit sleeker, newer and somewhat chunkier/blockier then the previous ones. Three new game modes were added inc

Eliminator: Which is basically an endless single race where the objective is to damage and destroy other ships until you get to the targeted damage count.

Zone Battle:  Which is a twist on the original Zone Mode. Rival pilots appear on the track as you race to reach the target zone. Drive through zone pad to charge your zone bar and you can use it to either boost your zone and come closer to victory or absorb it to replenish ship energy and activate your shield. The first to reach a target zone wins.

Detonator: Which is again similar to zone mode except you are in a ships which fires laser bolts and have to destroy objects on the track in your path.

The new Detonator mode by Kylethe2011

Eight new tracks were introduced for the expansion with 4 of them being zone mode only, this made things a bit repetitive as with the whole campaign you only had 4 tracks for doing Single Race, Tournament, Speed Lap, Time Trial and even when they were reversed sometimes I still reckon they needed at least 1 or 2 other tracks for the normal modes.

On my recent foray back into HD/Fury to finish the Fury campaign, I’ve had a grand old time playing multiplayer and getting my ass kicked by Japanese punks, strangely enough even playing people from different countries, the game still seems to play pretty smoothly though sometimes I don’t see ships moving at all and certain modes like Eliminator can get fairly laggy though most of the time it’s just single race or tournament being played. I’ve done pretty well for myself though getting seconds and thirds though there’s always one lightning fast motherfucker who creams us all, one instance I was doing pretty good and got 2 minutes 14 seconds for a race in Ubermall but the guy who came first beat me by 13 seconds. As I said before my favourite team used to be Mirage but now it’s Triakis cause their Australian, the ship is hard to manoeuvre but is fast and tough as cause of the full shield stats.

I can honestly say that together Wipeout HD/Fury has been the best Wipeout game ever, yes it even beats 2097 and 3 and that’s in terms of overall features, gameplay and obviously visuals and for the mere fact that it’s the first Wipeout which I’ve been able to play online rather than having to make people play 2 player with me. I encourage anyone who hasn’t experience Wipeout to spend that 20 or so dollars and get a digital copy or get Wipeout 2048 if you have a Vita, and experience it as with a Wipeout game, you can’t really get any better  you’ve never seen racing like this before.

WipEout - Through the Ages 2012 by HellfireWZ

So sadly that would appear to be it, Studio Liverpool has been closed down by Sony so it seems unlikely we will see any new Wipeout games in the near future. Of course I haven’t mentioned all of them in this post just the ones I have experienced myself, the full list can be found here, feel free to have a look and more importantly “like” the facebook page to spread the love. I’d just like to say thank you to Studio Liverpool for creating one of my favourite racing game of all time and will hopefully see Wipeout again in the future where it began.


Image from Studio Liverpool's final post on the Wipeout facebook page.

Perfect lap!

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