When Sony launched Wipeout back in 1995, it pretty much surprised everyone in the gaming audience. All of a sudden, it was possible to feel a tremendous amount of style in game-, ship- and track-design. Design-wise, SCEE Studio Liverpool took the same approach regarding the evolution of Wipeout's visuals, but the difficult task for the development team was to actually bring something new to the table; after three instalments in the series, it was about time for the next level. But judging from the latest playable version we've received, the team is very much on track.
For starters, Wipeout Fusion offers a whole lot of game modes right from the start: arcade, anti-gravity league, challenge, and multiplayer. As you progress, you'll unlock a range of additional modes, such as the zone mode or time trial mode, plus a host of multiplayer modes such as multiplayer variants of the anti-gravity league and arcade modes, as well as a custom league mode. Like in the previous games, you can choose from four teams in the beginning, including old ones such as Feisar or Auricom. Each team offers one pilot you can choose, with a second being unlocked when you progress. In total there are 16 pilots in eight different teams. In arcade mode, you start out racing one of the available tracks. Getting bronze, silver or gold medals allows you to unlock either different tracks in the same environment, mirrored versions of tracks you already, or altogether different environments, of which there are seven. In total, you'll be facing 45 tracks of differing difficulty. As you progress through the league, you'll also gain credits, which you can use to alter the performance of your ship. There are six parameters you can adjust, now such as handling or speed. Generally, the differences between ships are more defined now than in previous instalments of the series. Heavier ships, for example, can ram lighter ones more easily during a race but the downside of that being that they are slower in their handling. Another promise of Studio Liverpool was the inclusion of damage and breakable parts, which in fact look very impressive. Again you have a shield-bar, which tells you whether you're in good shape, or not. If you're not, then it's about time you head to the finish line and stop by the recharging-area, where your shields can be replenished. If you fail to recharge them on time, it's game over for you. The game's damage model allows you to see your ship falling apart, and, as its structural integrity degenerates, it'll take a performance hit. That's where the effect of the ship-damage can be seen best.
The other new features seem to have turned out very well, too. For example, judging from the version we've played, it seems like Wipeout is no longer simply about racing. It is when you switch off the weapons (which you can actually do in the options-menu) but with weapons on, Wipeout Fusion is a game heavy on combat, as well as racing. More often than not, it's important to be very clever at using fierce weaponry to bust up your competitors. It can happen that there's explosions and ships left and right of you, and the screen lights up with plenty of rockets, mines, plasma bolts, gravstingers or quake disruptors. In many ways, Wipeout Fusion seems to have evolved in the direction of combat, and no longer is a straight racer. With 16 ships in each race, you can bet it's a heated battle until you're past the finish-line. But racing fans don't need to worry, since the adrenaline rush is unchanged. Rushing over turbo-pads and hearing that a homing missile is incoming makes you want to overtake the next ship so the homing missile finds another target. Launching your turbo-boost while overtaking other ships, or navigating around laid mines definitely requires a good dose of reaction. Many of you most likely remember the first time you played Wipeout on the original PlayStation. It was a game that didn't allow you to blink, leaving you with a case of watery eyes after each race. And it still is.
Controls are pretty much in tune with the whole series. X is for accelerating, triangle changes your camera, L1 is for rear-view, and R1 shoots your weapons. As with the previous games, the L2 and R2 buttons act as the airbrakes, which you simply can't live without in Wipeout Fusion, as they allow you tighter cornering.
As you can imagine, Sony Liverpool also has come up with plenty of new weapons in both single- and multiplayer-modes. Everything from flamethrowers and autopilots, to control jammers and energy drains are available. Each team has also got distinct super-weapons, which can be used against the competition. Some of the weapons are super-missiles, biological projectiles that grow and block the path, orbital lasers, power swarms (drones which are placed, and use rapid-fire against anyone coming by), nitro rockets and penetrator missiles. To give you a picture of how tense the action can get, here an example: One of the most impressive weapons is the quake, which you'll get very early on. When you use it, a shockwave ripples and moves outward, distorting the track like you would when you shake a carpet. Now, if someone uses this who is behind you, you can suddenly feel your joypad start to vibrate, along with your screen. The rumbling gets increasingly stronger as the shock nears you, and when you use your rear-view, you can see the wave coming closer and closer. That's about the time when you need to use your turbo-boost to speed away before the wave gets you. Moments like that are very tense and give you a reason to take a deep breath when you managed to place first at the end of the race.
Another new feature is the higher level of interactivity in the tracks. For example, you can race over special pads which open (or close) shortcuts, raise or lower bridges, or activate your 180-degree flip (which is used to access parallel tracks). Another first is the open areas and sections within the tracks. Upon entering these, the track's boundaries will open up, and you'll be confronted with a section where you only see trees and snow, or rocks and sand. In those sections you can take your own route, navigating around the obstacles. The amazing part is that if ships are ahead of you, they'll kick up snow or dust so your view is enormously limited. Sometimes it's hard to guess where the actual path is, but at the end, the areas begin to narrow again until you're racing on a normal racetrack. Those sections add a lot to the diversity of the tracks.
The graphics in Wipeout Fusion are already very smooth. It runs very fast, but has a lot of jaggies. But considering the speed you're going at, this pretty much doesn't matter at all. The sheer amount of onscreen action and intensity of the race will keep you too busy to scrutinize such tiny details. As expected, the game also features a club-music soundtrack with many DJs contributing. You can even create your own playlist of songs you want to hear when you're racing in the game.
To sum it up, Wipeout Fusion has become a much bigger game than previous installments considering the content. Challenges as well as unlockable characters, cheats, tracks, teams, weapons, and art gallery entries all add up to a game that offers much more longevity than an ordinary racing game. We're desperately hoping that Sony Computer Entertainment America will bring this game to the US, which is when we'll bring you a full review. In Europe, the game is currently officially scheduled for release in mid-December, but it could slip a tad, as the team is currently affecting some final touches. We'll keep you posted.