"We race. We die. There is no beauty anymore." -Stefan Geist
When you think of the world's greatest racing leagues, what comes to mind? Formula One, NASCAR, CART, maybe IMSA and SCCA - all valid answers. Well, add to that list the F5000 Racing League from Midway's newest offering for race fans, Wipeout 64. Sure, it's completely fictitious, but as far as the game goes, Wipeout 64 will give the best game from any one of the aforementioned leagues a run for their money.
To their credit, Psygnosis (the developer) has kept the story in Wipeout 64 consistent with their Playstation masterpiece
How does Wipeout 64 measure up to Sony's "A" offering? Well to tell you the truth, when I first took it home from the office I thought to myself, "Great. Another weak racer that I'll probably be bored to death with in five minutes." I was completely wrong. I played for what seemed like five minutes and when I looked at the clock, I'd already been at it for two hours! So how good is this game? Good enough to make me want to sit down for some intense sessions and pull me away from other top-notch titles I've been working on, namely Tales of Destiny (Rutee's a babe) and Resident Evil 2 (Yeah, like how C4 works is common knowledge. Sheesh.).
Wipeout 64 is the best Playstation to N64 port I've seen recently. New to the 64 version is the "Challenge mode," which includes three categories of six challenges each. You must complete each challenge in a specific craft, and qualifying rewards you with bronze, silver, or gold medals. Categories include Race (finish third or higher to advance), Time Trial (beat the pre-set time limit), and Weapon (eliminate prescribed number of opponents). Qualifying in all challenges opens a fourth, secret category.
Also new are super weapons. If you thought the Quake disruptor made you laugh like an idiot for days, wait'll you get a load of these. Each team has their own specific super weapon with cool names like Energy Sphere and Shield Raider.
Graphics are really cool, though on some tracks the pop-up gets wicked. The graphics on the craft could use more detail and look much more simple than in the Playstation version, but not shabby by any means. The engine moves at blistering-fast speeds without any hint of slow-down. The faster pace of Wipeout 64 also puts a new spin in the gameplay. You'll need lightning-quick reflexes as well as perfecting the turn-air brake-turn-thrust technique. Hardly any games give me Nintendo-thumb, but this is definitely one of those arthritis-before-you're-thirty games.
The aspect of Wipeout 64 that really impressed me was the challenging track design. You'll need to put in some quality time perfecting turning and thrusting techniques before mastering any of the seven tracks. Psygnosis did a killer job with not only track design, but in giving the whole game a feel and challenge that usually only comes with good Formula One racers. You'll find yourself memorizing every section of track, where the turbos and weapons are, and looking for landmarks to indicate the best possible time to slam on the air brakes and slip around that hairpin just as smooth as a prom queen's thigh.
Not surprisingly, the sound isn't as good as in the Playstation - but then again, what on the N64 is? There are three new techno tracks by Propellerheads and Fluke and the rest come courtesy of PC Music (???). Expect the same kinds of sound effects as in XL; the snowspeeder-like whine of the engine and the fabulous wing-scraping as you skitter around a wall are killer. Crashing into a wall provides a pretty boring "thunk" which sounds similar to XL, but without the metallic-echoing effect.
The manual for this game just rules. Psygnosis really has an attention to detail with profiles and backgrounds on not only the teams but also the tracks, giving the game a real "legit" feel. Take a gander at this excerpt about the Klies Bridge track, built on a radar base in Greenland: "Plus, the magnetic disruption caused by the craft has resulted in wildlife mutation. I believe the penguins can no longer swim."- Grant Watson, Staff Architect of the F5000 Racing Commission.
Wipeout 64 suffers from a couple of curious omissions. Gone are the spectacular lighting effects that were present in Wipeout XL. Remember watching your craft reflect all different colors of light as you traveled through dark tunnels? Well, that's pretty much gone inWipeout 64. A regrettable omission, but this and the simple craft design were probably done for the sake of four-player racing without sacrificing the blistering speed.
And what happened to the speedometer? It's very difficult to tell at what speed to take turns and sometimes you're left wondering if those boost pads are really doing anything at all.
Although Wipeout 64 is an excellent racer, it's really just a translation of XL for the N64 with a couple of goodies added. I'd love to give this game an A grade, but it just doesn't offer a lot of innovation to the genre. For the next sequel, I'd like to see fully customizable craft, maybe multi-level racing, and shortcuts would be ideal. With the glut of "anti-grav" racing games on the consoles as well as in the arcade (like Vapor TRX, also by Midway, surprise, surprise) you gotta come up with something really mind-numbing to get that coveted Revolution 'A.'