Introduction

There's no getting around it: some of you are going to be bitterly disappointed by this game. For the fans who have been around since the beginning, Wipeout Fusion represents a radical change in the way the game plays, looks, and sounds, and for some people, those changes are going to be for the worse. This reviewer, however, finds the new Wipeout to be the logical evolution of the series from limited concept to mature interactive entertainment.

History

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There is some important historical context here that should be explained. The Wipeout series has been a staple of the Playstation platform since it's premiere in 1995. The core of the game focuses on the Anti-Gravity Racing League, an ultra-fast and extremely dangerous sport which has risen to the top as the world's most popular distraction. Take the world-wide obsession with football (or soccer, for those of us in the States), multiply it by one thousand and throw in a good dose of American corporatism and you've got the Anti-Gravity Racing League of Wipeout's future. The original Wipeout has been credited as the Playstation's killer app, carving out a crucial demographic of sophisticated gamers who could appreciate the game for it's tight gameplay and innovative soundtrack. For its time, Wipeout's graphics were exceptionally good and they showcased the nascent Playstation's hardware.

Wipeout 2097 (released as Wipeout XL in the States) updated the original Wipeout with new graphics, tracks, ships, and tunes. The soundtrack for Wipeout 2097 was truly remarkable, a veritable who's who of the newly popular electronica scene of the mid-90s. Featuring acts like the Future Sound of London, Underworld, Orbital and Photek, the soundtrack to the game was so popular that it was released as a standalone album which sold quite well. The game also featured ads for the seemingly underground beverage Red Bull. Each loading screen displayed the now-familiar Red Bull logo and the phrase "Improve reaction time, drink Red Bull." The product endorsement and music fit perfectly with the sharply designed dark vision of the future provided by The Designers Republic and cemented the over-all feel of the Wipeout series - ultra-fast racing with a impeccably slick image.

The final Wipeout game released on the original Playstation, Wipeout 3 (aka Wip3out) is what most fans would call the consummate Wipeout experience. The game is ultra-polished; every detail is fully realized. Ships, teams, tracks and music come together to create one of the most challenging and entertaining games every released. The series' bullet-proof cool is here in full effect. From the first rapid fire title cards of the surreal intro movie, the player is completely immersed in style. Players today are still trying to shave tenths of a second off their times around Porta Kora and bragging about their best laps on active fan sites such as WipeoutZone (www.wipeoutzone.com).

So, it should be more than clear that Wipeout Fusion has quite a bit to live up to. And fans certainly were waiting with bated breath. Wipeout Fusion has been a flagship product for Sony since the PS2 launch. Combine a long wait (even longer for Americans, as the game was released stateside months after Europe and Australia) with a rabid fan base and expectations can tend to get out of hand. "So what about it then," you say, "does it live up to the hype?" The answer is, of course, "yes and no."

Review

Wipeout Fusion is definitely a Wipeout game. The hovercrafts are there, the speed is there, the music is there. All the ingredients of the perfect next generation Wipeout are clearly present. Unfortunately, these elements do not mesh so perfectly as they did in the third installment of the series, and this fact is glaringly obvious. As Gamespot's Ryan davis put it, long-time Wipeout fans "should prepare themselves for some bittersweet nostalgia."

First, let's talk about the good things. Fusion's graphics are exceedingly good. The tracks are well realized and each has a unique style, as well as an over-all consistency which helps maintain the futuristic setting. The long standing masterminds behind Wipeout's look, The Designer's Republic, did not do the graphic design for Fusion, but the new guys, Good Technology, have proven themselves a skilled company. The game does not depart widely from the look and feel of the other Wipeouts, but their vision of the future is lacking some of the darker, ultra-stylized components that were so vital to the DR image. Alas, you will find no angryman in this installment of the series, but the game does have distincly less of the eurotrash feel that was present in its predecessors.

By removing some of the austere design elements of the series, Good Technology and Studio Liverpool have opened up the Wipeout ethos to more depth. The future is much frendlier in Fusion. Previous Wipeouts had little or no story, and there were almost no distinct characteristics to accompany the teams or the Anti-Gravity Racing League itself. In Fusion, however, each team has a distinct image and personality and their ship designs reflect their racing styles more accurately. Gone are the differently textured triangular wedges of past games, each team has three different ship models which change as the ship is upgraded, which is another new feature brought to the table to expand the depth and playability of the Wipeout formula.

The concept of money is brought back to Wipeout in this installment (it was last seen ages ago in the original Wipeout). Credits are won via competing in AG League matches and can be used to upgrade ships beyond their standard configuration. Each team has two pilots, each with different ship stats. The primary pilot of each team is unlocked by upgrading the lowerlier, second pilot to a certain level. This new feature adds a good deal of gameplay that was not present in earlier games. Other consideration was given to expanding the overall amount of play in Fusion, including the system of unlocking additional racing teams by competing in AG League matches and unlocking features of the game itself by completing a certain percentage of the game. Certain game modes are locked out entirely until much of the game has been completed.

This business of fleshing out the actual game involved in Wipeout is really where Fusion differs from its older brothers. By adding these Gran Turismo-like hooks to the game, the purity of it is somewhat diminished. The game once focused upon the intense level of skill required to pilot the fastests ships in the best leagues, but in Fusion the focus is placed more on completely arbitrary goals built into the game itself. Combine this with the fact that the ships handle much more loosely and that the physics model has been changed substantially and many fans will come away with a bitter taste in their mouths. Gone are the days of pure speed and they have been replaced by something much more weapons based, a much more frenzied sport than the one featured in Wipeout 3. If previous Wipeout's featured gameplay that demanded Zen-like concentration, Fusion's gameplay requires an agile trigger finger.

The main problem with Wipeout Fusion is that games, on the whole, are becoming more sophisticated and that the way games are developed has changed since the days of the PSX. More features are required to be attractive to smarter, more discerning gamers who want hours of replay value from a single game. Of course, in the previous Wipeouts, fans created the replay themselves by setting their own goals and honing their skills. Some of the magic was lost when the designers attempted to recreate the pure replay provided by excellent game mechanics with arbitrary goals and lockouts.

If you give Fusion a chance, you can find all the elements of the greatest Wipeout ever made, and if you squint hard enough, you might just see how great this game could have been. Unfortunately, by dumbing down the series to pander to a larger audience, Studio Liverpool has created a game which is merely good, and not exceptional.

General Info

Soundtrack (in no particular order)
  • Timo Maas - Old School Vibes
  • Elite Force - Krushyn
  • Elite Force and Nick Ryan - Switchback
  • The Future Sound of London - Papua New Guinea (Hybrid Mix)
  • Humanoid - Stakker Humanoid 2001
  • Cut la Roc - Bassheads
  • Nightmares on Wax - Bleu my (wipe mix)
  • Amethyst - Blue Funk
  • Pump DJs - Big Groovy Funker
  • Bob Brazil - Big Ten
  • Rowan Blades and Naught G Presents - Beat's Defective
  • JDS - Punk Funk
  • Hong Kong Trash - Down the River
  • BT - Smart Bomb
  • Braniac - Neuro
  • Orbital - Funny Breaks
  • Luke Slater - Bolt Up

    An interesting side note, a couple of these tracks (Orbital's Funny Breaks and BT's Smart Bomb) are also present in the PS2 game Frequency.

    Racing Teams
    • Feisar - The basic beginner's team, Feisar has always had the easiest to pilot ship in every Wipeout game. Perfect for getting your feet wet in the realm of AG racing, but not fast enough to be serious in competition for very long.
      Lead Pilot: Daniel Johnson
      Second Pilot: Carlos Beneto
      Motto: "Feisar is on the verge of its most successful season yet."
    • Piranha Advancements - The most advanced team in the league and also the last team returning from a previous game. Piranha has always represented the fastest, most advanced ships in the Wipeout series and their role in Fusion is no different. The Piranha craft is the best ship you can fly in Wipeout Fusion.
      Lead Pilot: Myima Tsarong
      Second Pilot: Jann Schlaudecker
      Motto: "Just when you thought it was safe... the hungriest anti-grav racing team around."
    • EG-r Technologies - A mysterious new team in the league, EG-r technologies is based in China and refuses to reveal anything other than the most basic information about its team and hovercraft. There is a rumor circulating throughout the league that the team is using alien technology to gain superiority. The EG-R craft is exceedingly fast and handles very differently from the other craft in the game.
      Lead Pilot: Paul Cheung
      Second Pilot: Alex Reece
      Motto: "Creating a new age of civilization."
    • Van-Uber Racing Development - Founded by Wolfgang Van-Uber whose belief in AG racing as a "sublime and delicious sport" has created a near cult-like following, Van-Uber Racing Development features a craft that is heavy on speed but light on shields. This is the entry level craft for experienced pilots, but it is ultimately surpassed by the other, speedier ships.
      Lead Pilot: Songen Grey
      Second Pilot: Nami Mishima
      Motto: "Rest in Pieces"
    • G-Tech Systems - Chief Executive Blanche Undindin has this to say about the G-Tech AG team: "We're going to throw money at these ships until the float on the pungent stink of hard cash." G-Tech absorbed the Ag-R racing team which was present in previous games. The G-Tech ship provides a middle ground for a pilot who is somewhat experienced but still needs a little extra shield energy to get through races. Excellent choice for a beginning pilot.
      Lead Pilot: Roberto Sergio
      Second Pilot: Naomi Turner
      Motto: "If it floats, it's G-Tech."
    • Tigron Enterprises - Widely believed to have been founded by remnants of the KGB, this Russian team features a craft which favors shield energy and weapon strength over speed and thrust. This is the ship for the combatitve racer.
      Lead Pilot: Omar Khumala
      Second Pilot: Sveta Kirovoski
      Motto: "Burn baby burn"
    • Xios International - The Finnish Xios International relies on its technological superiority to maintain its elite status in the league. By employing artificial intelligence to design their ships, Xios ensures that their ships are top quality. An excellent team all round, surpassed only by Piranha in terms of speed.
      Lead Pilot: Natasha Belmondo
      Second Pilot: Zala Wollf
      Motto: "We think so you don't have to."
      "Trust us - We're scientists."



    Sources
    Wipeout Fusion Game Manual
    http://www.wipeoutfusion.com
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