There's no doubting the impact made by the original Wipeout on its release. The trendy design and cutting edge music (at the time) created a tempting package, but the gameplay itself just needed more refinement. Thankfully, Psygnosis realised this and created a truly amazing sequel. Ladies and gentlemen, we present Wipeout 2097.
Set some forty years after the original, Wipeout 2097 (or XL for our US readers) retains much from its predecessor. The same four teams compete (and are joined by a fifth, Pirahna), the Designer's Republic are still on board for graphical embellishments, the finest dance acts of the day are on musical duties (on the PlayStation version, anyway) and the weapons are back. However, it's the various tweaks – subtle but many – that strengthened the series, and led to the Wipeout we know today.
The use of weapons in the previous game resulted in a minor inconvenience to competitors, stalling their ship and costing them time. While that was a fine tactic, it all felt a little flat. 2097 ups the combat element considerably with the addition of health bars for each ship. Once depleted, the craft is destroyed and must leave the race. A 'pit stop' at the end of each lap now has to be considered to replenish lost health, but this will cost players precious seconds and possibly a position. The more combative edge simply makes the game more fun to play. The thrill of being in second place and unleashing a missile on the ship ahead, destroying it and securing a gold medal is hard to describe.
Since the focus here is more on combat, more power ups have been added. Some return from the first game (speed boosts, shields, rockets, missiles), but the new ones, such as quake, plasma and thunder bomb provide much satisfaction when unleashed. The quake causes a wave of destruction along the track, dealing out huge damage to opponents (and looking pretty good as it does it) while the plasma shot can destroy a craft instantly, but requires practice to use effectively. The weapons and their effects add much more excitement and a slightly darker tone to the game – something built upon by the game's general aesthetic.
The tracks and surroundings are similar in design to those of the original title but have, a grimier, more dystopian feel. From Talon's Reach, a course set in a Canadian industrial complex, to Gare D’Europa, a track fashioned from the remains of a French Metro system, the circuits often feel oppressive, and add to the violent futuristic sports stylings seen in Speedball or F Zero. Combine this with music tracks like Future Sound of London's We Have Explosive and the Chemical Brothers' Loops of Fury and you have a game that's one of a kind (at least until everyone else started to imitate it.
There is no doubting this is a huge improvement on Wipeout. The design tweaks and gameplay additions make it a better game and other reforms such as allowing your craft to graze barriers instead of stopping you dead improve it further. It's the kind of sequel you would expect – take the good stuff from the first game, iron out the creases, add some new features and spread on a layer of gloss. Psygnosis didn't rest on their laurels, they new they had to innovate to keep the franchise going, and it paid off. The only real flaw here is the lack of a two player split screen option (system link makes a return in its place), but the single player offers a challenge with single races, time trials and tournaments. Thereâ€™s plenty to unlock too, such as two extra tracks, animal ships (?) and an extra weapon (the minigun, if you're wondering). It's a game that still stands up today, even with the excellent Wipeout HD available, and hopefully it will see release on the PSN soon.
Written by Dan Gill