Booze, Baseball, and another "B"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thoughts on WipEout....

As I was watching the HD version of the WipEout HD trailer, I started thinking about how great the WipEout series really is, and I was motivated to commit my thoughts to the annuls of history (read: my blog).

WipEout XL was the first game that I can remember wanting to have online world rankings for. I remember putting up a perfect lap on the Sagarmatha circuit, in the Piranha ship (which not only was by far the fastest and most difficult to control in the game, but you had to unlock it) and being quite proud of my achievement. Quite simply, it was awesome. I was very confident that nobody could do any better than my time. I remember back then nobody could beat me in the game, and I was constantly looking for challengers. There were a few other games where I wanted world rankings at my fingertips (SSX Tricky, Ridge Race 4, among others), but WipEout XL was the first one I can remember where I felt like I had a convincing case for absolutely nobody having an opportunity to be better than me.

Watching Death Race this last weekend (which actually was pretty good, and is a good film to see in the theater) I was reminded that WipEout's influence is far reaching. Within the film, during the races, drivers have an opportunity to drive over lighted pads which grant weapons or defensive capabilities...just like in WipEout. I've been trying to remember if a racing game did that before WipEout, and nothing really comes to mind, but there might be something I'm not thinking of. If nothing else it was cool to see a neat game idea incorporated into a film.

WipEout also did wonders for techno music, even though Techno is now dead. The soundtrack to WipEout XL not only was one of the best Techno compilations ever, but it was something that you could actually find at record stores and big box retailers. It was the first game soundtrack (that I can remember) which had mainstream appeal and availability. In fact, all three of the PlayStation WipEout games not only had great soundtracks, but they could be put into your CD player and listened to while working on homework, or driving (in reality), or hanging out with friends, or whatever. Listening to WipEout 3 as a music CD was almost better than playing the game (I was underwhelmed by WipEout 3, but I still very much enjoyed the game).

WipEout XL, for better or worse, was one of the first games to feature in-game advertising. Back in 1997, when they had Red Bull featured prominently in the game, it was cool. There was a dose of reality in this fantasy world, and not many other games had anything like it. Now in-game ads have been pushed to the extreme (do I really need to know about Street Kings while I'm taking down Tangos in RS:V2?), but back then Sony and WipEout had it right.

The WipEout series, particularly the first few installments in the series, really were notable for their aesthetic too. Psygnosis, in collaboration with The Designers Republic, created not just cool menus but a great fantasy world for gamers to immerse themselves in. I think WipEout XL was probably the peak of this, but both WipEout and WipEout 3 were very well designed too. The cool aesthetic has carried into the new games, but these days cool menus and game design aren't as unique as they used to be.

Both WipEout and WipEout XL have to be in the conversation when discussing best PlayStation racing games, and I think that WipEout XL has to be included in any conversation regarding all-time best racing games. They brought so much to the genre, and were high points in an era of great racing games.

Something people easily forget, or just don't think of, is that racing games really came into their own during the 32 bit generation. Games such as Outrun and Rad Racer were fun before then, but they couldn't hold a candle to something like a Ridge Racer, Gran Turismo, or WipEout. As the genre was transitioning from caterpillar to butterfly, WipEout was one of the series which really helped make that happen. I'm disappointed that the genre is suffering now, but hopeful that releases such as WipEout HD might remind people why racing games are so much fun.

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