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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


 

    

 

 


Wipeout Fusion finally arrives on the PS2 after what seems like an eternity. The graphics are better, there are some new weapons and ship designs, plus larger, more open courses. As usual, a killer techno soundtrack accompanies the action. It's been three years since the last disappointing installment appeared and the question of whether Wipeout Fusion recaptures the magic is  answered here.

The revolutionary Wipeout series caused quite a frenzy in the mid-90's with its unique design and synergy with the emerging techno scene. While the concept of a futuristic racer has been done to death since, making it seem a tad passť at this point. Even though the brilliant developer of the series, Psygnosis has sadly collapsed, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and US publisher BAM have released the fourth installment in the series, Wipeout Fusion. This isn't a rehash, and has some unique ideas while conforming to the parameters set by previous games. Wipeout Fusion returns the series to its roots as far as gameplay structure but moves the series forward with improved graphics and inventive extras.

Everything that was cool about the other games remains intact, though there have been some significant changes that stretch the game. The courses are much more inventive this time around with their more free-form structure. As expected, there are several types of play including challenge, AG League plus the usual practice, time trial and single race modes which add to the game's longevity and overall depth. Additionally, there is a new Zone mode, where players are rewarded for maintaining an impossibly high speed. Each of the main modes is also supported in the game's multiplayer modes, where 2 players can go head-to-head. The single-player challenge mode is back and as usual, each race has a different task such as knocking out a set number of rival ships or completing a lap under a set time. This unlocks some secret weapons. Additionally, there are even more courses and ships plus extras including concept art which are unlocked by playing through the AG league. Of course, you don't have to unlock everything before you start having fun. At the start of each race, players can select which of the corporate racing teams and pilots, which is a cool throwback to the first game.

The re-appearance of some of the older teams such as Feisar, AG Systems and Piranha sets this installment solidly within the back story of the first three titles. Like the earlier games, players can gradually progress to better ships as they progress through the game, though doing this will require the mastery of the air-brakes plus the ability to anticipate turns and react to the other vehicles. Wipeout Fusion's courses also gradually become more complex and difficult as more and more branches and obstacles are introduced. While the larger, more open areas are cool at first, they're more fully integrated into the game later on and gives Wipeout Fusion an excellent balance. Players who've mastered the older games should find the controls generally familiar though they've been tweaked a little.

Wipeout Fusion feels very comfortable and the button configuration is excellent. While the switch to using the upper controls for firing and weapons select is a bit odd, the feel of the controls hasn't changed significantly and this familiarity allows for a similar feeling game with ships that seem a tad easier to control this time around. As in previous games, a good defense means nothing without the proper offensive abilities. Here, the weapons are mostly familiar though they don't seem as effective as in previous games. Familiar items such as the shield, mines, missiles and the Quake all return. There are some new weapons, such as the Force Bomb, which causes the screen to go white and the flamer which lights up the tracks with flames. Both of these are successful additions to the series and there are also unique super weapons which each vehicle has that can seriously damage opponents, making the battles intense and addictive.

As usual mastering combat between the vehicles is a bit difficult, given the speed of the attacks, lining up the attacks isn't easy and still takes time and precision to perform. Taking too much damage puts you in a vulnerable position where you can lose your ship or the entire race. This can be rectified by swooping in the new power-stations on each course, which have the disadvantage of slowing you down significantly. Unlike previous games, the courses this time feature more open areas. This is the most significant change to the series and a welcome one. Hitting the dead ends in these areas is frustrating at first, but once you memorize the layouts, this adds to the excitement and challenge. Additionally, the courses seem to have more branching, which also improves the structure of the series a bit. Players can also unlock new tracks on the same areas and the courses are generally a little longer. Wipeout Fusion's gameplay is challenging enough but also has longevity because of the myriad of mirrored courses, extra weapons and hidden ships included.

The hallmark of the series has always been the combination of cutting-edge visuals and underground electronic music soundtracks, which created an immersive and unprecedented experience. Given the excellence and sophistication of the soundtrack from the original games, it's no surprise that the music in the games was good enough to merit not one but two CD's. Wipeout Fusion carries on the tradition and features big names such as Orbital, BT and FSOL, plus more obscure electronic artists. It's not as revolutionary as the earlier games, but there are some really outstanding tracks this time. The course and ship designs are likewise cutting edge with some creative futuristic designs as you've come to expect, though from a creative standpoint this is more an evolutionary step and stays within the parameters of the earlier games. This is a tad disappointing because the series has always been forward-looking. Unfortunately, Wipeout Fusion's excellent design and trendy production values are tarnished by the PS2's limitations. While it looks fantastic, the impact is dulled because of the lack of anti-aliasing makes for a blocky  look. This has been the curse of too many PS2 titles and undermines the aesthetics. It doesn't look horrible, but is still very noticeable. The good news is that the incredible speed of the gameplay means you'll quickly forget this and concentrate on the racing.

Most of you out there are probably aware that The Laser has always been a fan of the series. In fact, our original print version awarded Wipeout and Wipeout XL on the PS1 it's game of the year award in 1995 and 1996 respectively. While we weren't actively publishing in 1999, Wipeout 3 surely would have been a strong contender on the list as well. Wipeout Fusion isn't the revolutionary game one might have expected, especially considering this installment marks Wipeout's transition to the PS2 hardware. It plays very much like the older games, which is good in the sense that they remain some of the most addictive racers ever made, but also makes Fusion seem under whelming. It's the dilemma all sequels face after awhile and is a bit unavoidable. However, this is by no means a bad or unentertaining title. Far from it, there's plenty to enjoy in this game, and it's speed and graphic design remains on the cutting edge of gaming. Under the surface, there are some really impressive new features, weapons and modes that add some new wrinkles, though these are more minor tweaks on a successful formula than a wholesale reinvention. That said, it's an excellent and addictive title and judged on its own merits, Wipeout Fusion is easily one of the best PS2 racers to date. Highly recommended for fans of the original or the genre.




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