Reviewed: July 18, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
How long have you been waiting for the next Wipeout game? If you’re like me then you’ve been waiting for Wipeout Fusion since the PS2 released back in October, 2000.
The original Wipeout was arguably one of the most innovative racing games ever released on the PlayStation, - an amazing achievement considering this was a launch title. It came at a time when the video game industry was saturated with platform games and other uninspired offerings. Wipeout offered blistering speeds, futuristic vehicles, and imaginative track designs – everything you need to make a great racing game.
It was no surprised when the sequel, Wipeout XL, released shortly thereafter. Not only did this version enhance the gameplay of the original, it was one of the first games to license some excellent European techno music – a concept that has now become commonplace in many modern day titles. The sequel even made the trip to the PC in a nice 3D-accelerated version.
In 1998 Wipeout made its debut on the Nintendo 64. Wipeout 64 looked and played better than any of the PlayStation games and nearly equaled the PC version. The analog stick on the N64 controller offered amazing control not possible with a conventional D-pad. And now four years later we finally get the next installment in supersonic hovercraft racing.
For a time it almost looked like Wipeout Fusion wasn’t going to make it to the states. Developed overseas by Studio Liverpool (formerly Psygnosis), it seems that the UK and Australia have been playing Fusion and taunting us Yanks about it for months. But thanks to BAM! Entertainment we get to keep the Wipeout series alive on our PS2.
Prepare yourself for these amazing features:
Fusion features a brutal Elimination mode that requires you to destroy multiple racers, and the opponent AI has been injected with some mutant strain of testosterone that will have you limping into the pit area every other lap. Other racing modes include the League, Arcade, Time Trial, Endurance, Speed Zone, and special manufacturer Challenge races.
You can approach Wipeout Fusion from several angles. The game keeps track of your overall progression through each of the game modes with a single status screen, and you can tackle these modes in any order you want or even bounce around between them.
There are plenty of incentives to race in all of the modes. League play earns you cash that lets you upgrade your racer or equip it with better weapons and shields. Competing in the ship-specific Challenge modes lets you unlock special weapons and team-specific super weapons for use in other modes. You can unlock additional craft and pilots as you advance through this massive game.
Control is flawless and you will be amazed at the physics incorporated into this title. The original Wipeout used 7 parameters to determine how your ship acted and reacted with its environment. Fusion uses 48 variables to create one of the most realistic anti-grav racing models in gaming history. This means that each of the manufacturers’ ship models behaves quite differently and any modifications you make are immediately noticeable.
Several classic moves from the original games are back. You can still get that jump off the line by pressing the X and nosing down just as the announcer says, “GO”. You can fire your weapons behind you if you toggle the rearview camera before firing, and the airbrakes become critical in the more twisty tracks.
Track design has increased in length and complexity and now the courses are interactive. Not only do you have the traditional weapon pads and blue acceleration strips, there are also trigger pads that activate bridges or open up alternate routes. Tracks now feature dangerous intersections, huge jumps, hidden shortcuts, and large undefined areas that resemble Star Wars pod racing.
Even though there are only 7 circuits, the designers did an excellent job of getting 45 challenging tracks out of them. Force fields are used to block off certain sections in one race only to have them open in another. These sections of track are linked in various combinations and even run in reverse mode. If this sounds like Ridge Racer then you're right. The scenery might start to look familiar but the races never will; especially since many races feature multiple branching paths.
Combat racing is nothing new, but this is the first time it has been implemented with any seriousness in a Wipeout game. You now have entire game modes and racing challenges based entirely on the destruction of your opponents. These are some of the most challenging parts of the game as the pit/repair area is usually deactivated during these races and the opponent AI is brutal.
Racer AI is almost human-like in its ability to zip past you and steal that weapon you were about to run over, or locate that perfect racing line through the twisty section of track. I was pleased to see that the racers fight amongst themselves. Often in games like this they will all gang up on the "human", but it is quite possible to hang back on the first lap of an elimination round and let them weaken each other, then you can zip in on later laps and pick off their smoking ships.
Each racer has their own abilities and skills that can be enhanced throughout the season. Racers also have their own level of “popularity”, and it is possible to pick a driver that everyone hates then find yourself under constant rival attack. Racers will also hold a grudge if you eliminate them, and these will last the entire racing season.
I couldn’t find any major faults with the gameplay in Fusion other than the fact that the concept is no longer as original as it once was. Games like XG3 Extreme G Racing and Star Wars: Racer Revenge have more than filled the gap in futuristic racing, and Fusion just seems like a late attempt at playing catch-up.
I must admit I did despise the menu system; not only the visual style (that I will cover in a moment), but also the functionality. Take the Challenge mode for instance; where you pick a ship then go through a series of 6 challenge races. After each race you are returned to the main menu where you must once again go to Challenge mode, re-pick your ship, then cycle to the next challenge. The entire game is like this. Races that should be linked in series always require excessive menu wandering before you can play.
The save system is a bit cryptic and can put a potential drag on your gameplay experience. By default, Fusion does not Autosave anything, but you can turn this option on in the preferences. Be warned that by doing so will trigger a lengthy save after each and every race, whether you plan on keeping those results or replaying for a better score. I opted to manually save my games, but even the location of the save game feature is buried several menus deep.
The game manual is pretty sparse, and while it does a good job of telling the story and talking about the ships, weapons, and racers, it does little to explain the gameplay; especially the new features implemented in Fusion.
Where to start? How about the beginning. The opening movie is a blistering montage of monochromatic blue imagery composed of what appears to be live video mixed with game footage. It’s short and not all that inspiring with a repetitive techno track and some haunting giggles of children as the movie fades into the menu.
The menus are boring text rings that spin around as you move up or down and launch other menu rings. Other menus consist of a circular logo in the lower corner with dots that light up as you cycle the options. Most annoying is the fact that locked items such as tracks can still be selected; only when you try to confirm your choice you get a big red X finally letting you know this is not available yet. If you want to see what the interface should have looked like just visit the Wipeout Fusion flash website.
The ship designs are still those incredibly boring wedges we’ve played countless times before in the previous games. Back then the designers had to keep the polygon count low to maintain a reasonable frame rate, but with the PS2 driving this game I was hoping for some more original ship designs along the lines of the Star Wars pod racers – now those were original!
There are a lot of nice little graphical touches such as ships with moving control surfaces and designs that change as you upgrade your ship. There are some nice weapon effects and colorful engine trails, but landscapes and track designs are rather plain.
The tracks are huge; some even three times the size of those found in earlier Wipeout games, and while they desperately try to achieve the same level of complexity as those twisting monstrosities found in XG3 Extreme G Racing, they never quite match up in either design or ambiance.
The PS2 has no problem keeping this game flowing at a silky-smooth frame rate, even with a full field of racers, weapon effects, and other special visual effects. The draw distance is clear out to the horizon with no fogging and no pop-up. There were several instances (mainly on the darker or nighttime tracks) where I saw visible seams in the textures. These lines often streaked across the screen in what could easily be mistaken for machine gun fire from other ships.
The explosions are excellent and there are particle effects, colored lighting, and some amazing dust and smoke effects. One of the desert tracks has a section of natural terrain where the ships kick up enough dust to actually blind you if caught in the back of the pack. Weather effects such as rain and snow add some additional ambiance but have little effect on visibility or gameplay.
Perhaps one of my most favorite weapons from the last game was the Quake weapon that sent out a rolling upheaval of the track flipping any ships in its path causing major damage. Imagine my surprise and disappointment to find that this amazing visual effect has been replaced with some cheesy transparent shockwave that ripples ahead of your ship. The result is the same but the visual effect is nowhere near as impressive.
If this game had released when the PS2 launched, or even during the first year after its release it would have been a perfect ten, but as we now approach the second anniversary of the system, the visuals of Fusion are about as original as the gameplay.
Wipeout has always had good music, and as mentioned earlier, pioneered the concept of using licensed tracks in a video game. Fusion brings together an amazing collection of energizing dance tracks from popular electronic musicians such as Orbital, Plump DJ’s, Hybrid, and Timo Maas. There is a huge variety of music and it blends with the action so well that it never gets repetitive.
Sound effects are excellent ranging from the whine of your engines to the unique sounds of each weapon. You are going to want to go into the sound options and tweak the volume settings if you want to appreciate the subtle sound effects. The default mix favors the thumping music drowning out most noises and what little speech there is.
Speech is sparse but effective. You get the female computer voice warning you when an enemy is about to fire as well as the deep male voice updating you on race laps and of course everyone’s favorite quote, “Contender Eliminated”.
The game supports a Dolby Digital mix for the opening movie only. This option must be toggled on in the preferences and really isn’t worth the time or effort. The rest of the game plays in a Dolby Pro Logic II mix that sounds incredible. The surround effects are implemented perfectly and you can literally hear the sounds whiz past if you have a surround sound speaker setup.
Wipeout Fusion is massive. I’ve logged almost 36 hours on this game in the past ten days and have finished 42% according to the statistics screen. No matter how much or how often I play this game it never gets boring and I always look forward to my next session and advancing a bit further and unlocking that next cool item, racer, or track.
The multiplayer modes are fantastic with plenty of multiplayer-specific weapons that offer their own unique challenges. You will be playing this game for a long time, and even when you have completed every last challenge and unlocked every secret and bonus item you will keep on playing. There is just something strangely addictive about this game.
Wipeout Fusion is a perfect example of the saying, “If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it”. This game builds on everything that made the previous games great and aside from ruining the Quake effect, manages to improve just about every aspect of the game.
There is more than four times the game content packed onto this disc than previous versions, and the superior control and realistic physics combine to create one of the fastest and deadliest racing games available. It might not be as original as it once was, and it may not be the prettiest game in the genre, but make no mistake about it – this is one of the most fulfilling racing games you can experience on your PS2.