There are few pivotal moments in video games, but when they arrive it feels special to be a part of it. Space Invaders, Super Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy VII and GTAIII are among the titles I'd count as truly trailblazing, yet one of the more important titles in recent memory (and one to take some credit for the success of the last two on the list above) is Psygnosis' Wipeout. Seen as something of a poster boy for the PlayStation generation, it has introduced a new crowd to gaming, infiltrated nightclubs and birthed a massive Sony franchise which lives on to this day. But how does the original stand up to scrutiny so many years after its release?
Sadly, not well. As a PlayStation launch title in Europe (and the first non-Japanese game to be released on the format, fact fans), it suffers from the same problems of many games from that era – poor draw distances, ropey controls, and a lack of substance. While there's no doubting there is a game in here, what's on offer is limited. Being an amalgam of Super Mario Kart and F-Zero, Wipeout tends to focus on racing more than combat, so it would be expected that the racing is well honed and exciting.
What we actually have is oversensitive handling and a demanding challenge. This isn't a game you can just dive into and enjoy straight away and you have to play by its strict rules to get the most out of it. The learning curve for Wipeout is steep, but if you have the determination to succeed, you will reap the rewards.
Wipeout is harsh. Make that very harsh. The demands it puts on the player are high, it expects you to make few mistakes on the track. If you do, it will punish you. While replaying Wipeout for review, I found myself swerving all over the track, from barrier to barrier. Any time your craft clips the sides, you stop dead. Now I like to think of myself as a fairly decent Wipeout player, but finishing in seventh place humbled me somewhat. I realised it was merely a lack of refinement on the game's part, and that the sequels had improved on this foundation (but let's save that for another time).
However, it is a decent foundation. The basic principle of Wipeout is sound (race floating craft around futuristic tracks while shooting at other racers), it just needed a bit more playtesting. For instance, the weapons do little more than slow down your opponents, and lack any kind of excitement. It does feature a decent two player mode in the form of system link (if you can find a mate with their own PS, TV and copy of the game), the dance soundtrack and graphics fit the tone and the tracks themselves are pretty good. It just doesn't help that your craft handles with all the grace of a three-wheeled shopping trolley.
Despite all the complaints that run throughout this review, Wipeout still has its place in the annals of gaming history. It was a very important release for Sony, it ushered in a new era for gaming and it laid the groundwork for what was to come. Its problem is that it's a product of its time, and it has lost most of the magic it had upon release. Is it worth playing now? That depends on your patience.
If you have the time to dedicate yourself to a blurry, cumbersome PSOne title and can overlook its flaws, you'll get something out of it. I think it is worth owning for the completists among you, and perhaps even those who want to see where it all began. It's available to download on PlayStation Network for around £3.50, but it may be best to wait for 2097 to make its way to PSN and buy that instead.
Written by Dan Gill