It came as a bit of a surprise that one of the most popular series for the PlayStation was being brought to the Nintendo 64 by a developer owned by Sony, but there you go, eh? For those of you not familiar with the line, WipeOut and WipeOut XL saw drivers competing on futuristic tracks using antigravity hover racing vehicles. Power-ups such as missiles and mines played a part too, but the focus was more on driving than battling.
That all remains much the same in WipeOut 64, which should be seen as less of a third in a trilogy and more a hybrid of the two previous PlayStation WipeOut titles. How? Because the vehicles don't come to a screeching halt when they hit the walls, keeping the game moving at a fast WipeOut XL pace, and its all-new tracks (six main ones and one extra challenge course) are more in the style of the courses from the first game.
The things that really made the WipeOut series, WipeOut XL in particular, excel were graphics, track design, and music (in XL's case, provided by such techno luminaries as Underworld and The Chemical Brothers). These elements have been reproduced to mixed results here. To begin with, the visuals in WipeOut 64 just don't meet the par established by WipeOut XL on the PlayStation two full years ago. While there's no doubt that W64 has a faster frame rate than XL, the graphics are very blurry by comparison (it's like there's Vaseline on the windshield or something), and the pop-up is more frequent. On the soundtrack front, it was obvious that the music was going to take a hit in the transition from CD to cartridge format, but things turned out positively dull here. The remixes of the WipeOut XL PC songs and new tracks by Fluke and the Propellerheads all come across as repetitive background tunes (Muzak electronica?) instead of the immersive beats of old. Extreme G showed that great techno could be pulled off on the N64, so there's no excuse for it not being better here. The track design, however, does match those found in the first game, and the analog control is even better than that previously found even using Namco's negCon controller.
The multiplayer mode is W64's main advancement over the previous titles, the first of which had no multiplayer to speak of and the second of which required the use of the PlayStation link cable (and thus two TVs, two PlayStations, and two copies of the game, too). The two-player split-screen mode is the title's biggest plus, because it lets two opponents square off against each other, as well as 13 other competitors, without much slowdown or additional pop-up. The three- to four-player mode, however, only allows for four ships in all, the frame rate bogs, and you can watch the tracks being built a few hundred feet in front of you nearly the entire time. Other changes/additions include new weapons (each ship has a special, such as the machine gun-like minigun) and the challenge mode, which demands you meet placement, time, or elimination conditions. They're extras, and they add something to the mix, but not a great deal and certainly nothing defining.
WipeOut 64 isn't horrible, it just feels like the developer's first effort for the system at times - which it is. The one- and two-player modes are worth exploring, but the game will still likely be disappointing for hard-core fans of the series who expected more improvements after the two-year wait. Those looking for a more worthwhile futuristic racing game on the N64 might want to check out Nintendo's F-Zero X or, for a more combat-oriented take on the theme, Acclaim's Extreme G (which has a sequel due very soon as well).