‘A ball bounces. A pin drops. A man falls. Gravity is the glue that binds us to our planet. We are about to apply the solvent which will free our species forever.’
The anti-grav hums pleasantly as it pushes you away from the earth, holding you suspended a few feet above the ground like a cheap magician’s trick. Your thruster begins to gather its energy in a bright blue point, a miniature plasma star gleaming behind your vehicle. Quickly! Move through your mental checklist: shields fully charged, weapons systems ready. You test the airbrakes, flexing them like steel fins in a thin nitrogen ocean. The countdown commences and you force you mind to relax, to focus, to see only the race. You must not falter; you must feel where the other racers are at all times; you must make maximum use of the weapons that fate awards you. Fail, and all that’s left is to Wipeout
Psygnosis’ sci-fi racing combat game returns in grand style with Wipeout XL. I was actually a little dismayed by the title. I thought that they might have simply re-released my favorite racing game with a few more tracks (one of the flaws of the original was a shortage of racecourses). But this was not the case. New tracks, new vehicles, new graphics, new weapons, new challenges, new soundtrack. It was a genuine and worthy sequel!
This time around there are 4 anti-grav racers to choose from (at first). The Feisar team has a pokey, but easily controlled craft. AG Systems prefers one that is fast and maneuverable, but has weak shields. The American team, Auricom Research has a ‘muscle car’ with a big powerful engine, but is tricky to handle. Finally, the Russian Qirex is the fastest ship out there, at the expense of most other characteristics. Wipeout (the original) allowed you an additional selection of two different drivers, which changed the paint job on your racer. While I missed this option a little bit, I admit it was purely eye-candy and had no effect on the game.
Wipeout XL has six tracks, two in each racing class. They wind their way through futuristic cities,indutrial parks, snow capped mountains and lush green forests. Some of the tracks now include beautiful environmental effects of rain and snow. Beating the final two tracks (Rapier class) is quite a challenge, but if you are up to the challenge of winning the gold on all tracks, more difficult races await. The F-5000 challenge has you racing all 6 tracks against Rapier class opponents. You have three lives. Beat this challenge (very difficult!) and you unlock the prototype F-5000 racer and new tracks.
The graphics in Wipeout XL are even smoother and more detailed than before. They are easily the best I have seen on any racing game to date. The ships describe perfect arcs as they speed around corners and the cockpit view is as beautiful as it is dizzying. The backgrounds are more detailed, better texture mapped, and include lots of moving objects: commuter trains, venting steam, falling water and the aforementioned bad weather. The weapons look better also, with smooth lock-ons and rayed light spinning behind the rockets. The new Q-weapon is impressive and difficult to describe. You just have to see it… and then see it a second time.
However, my favorite addition to the graphics are the trails of blue plasma that the thrusters now leave behind. These trails stream from behind your opponents vehicles (as well as your own) leaving a translucent, glowing contrail curving around corners and brightening the tunnels.
The music is all new, but in the same genre as before. 11 Techno tracks provide a steady beat to the BGM. Although I admit it is not my favorite kind of music, it fits the game well and is not intrusive or annoying. The bands are listed in the instruction book, but I didn’t recognize any of the names, although some of the writers did. If you attend a lot of raves you may have heard some of these bands before.
The best part of the sound is that your vehicle produces the same pleasant low humming/whooshing noise as before. Recently the new PSX titles Andretti Racing and Formula 1 passed through our offices, setting my teeth on edge. The noise from these games might be authentic Formula 1 engine noise, but it reminds me of a visit to the dentist. It’s wonderful to be able to race without getting a headache from the screaming engine of a racecar or motorcycle.
Wipeout XL is an improvement in nearly every way over the original, which was arguably the best racing game previously made for the PlayStation. I know that simulation enthusiasts prefer real cars and real tracks, but the rest of you with open minds have a glorious treat in store. This game is beautiful, even hypnotic to watch, and fun to play. The challenges become progressively difficult enough to keep the best gamers hooked for a long time. Wipeout XL is the next benchmark in racing games (if not simulation games), and the competition had better fire up their thrusters if they want to catch up.