Originally released for the PlayStation in 1996, Wipeout XL is a futuristic racing game involving speeding antigravity ships, winding tracks, and powerful weapons. The PC version's Direct3D support gives this new release a nice face-lift, while still keeping intact the fast action and stylized graphics that console players have come to know and love.
There isn't much of a story behind Wipeout XL. The year is 2097, and, well, apparently that's all the reason you need to hold a series of insanely fast races. The game has eight tracks in all (two of these are hidden), ranging from lush jungle scenery, to oil refineries in disrepair. You pick from five vehicles (one is hidden), each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The various craft are rated in acceleration, top speed, turning ability, aerodynamics, and shield strength.
Graphically, Wipeout XL improves quite a bit over its PlayStation counterpart, which isn't much of a surprise, considering the game requires hardware acceleration. The game moves incredibly well, and looks fantastic in the process. There is still a little bit of pop-up in the distance, and the ships' shadows look more than a little weird at times, but everything else, from the long blue engine trails to each track's unique scenery, is top-notch.
Wipeout XL plays like most other racing games. Checkpoints are spread throughout the tracks, and passing one replenishes your timer. The ships' shields can be replenished in a pit area near the beginning of each track. How do the shields get depleted? Aside from the normal collisions and bad steering decisions, there are a number of one-shot weapons that can be picked up by running over large X's on the track. Some of the weapons are simple missiles and mines, but there are also electric bolts that short-circuit opponents, and a huge earthquake missile that sends a rippling wave up the track, heavily damaging anything within its range. The best Wipeout XL players are those who not only race very well, but can also effectively use the various weapons to eliminate their enemies.
The music in Wipeout XL is good, but pales in comparison to the original PlayStation soundtrack, which was filled with amazing tracks from then up-and-comers such as the Chemical Brothers, Future Sounds of London, and The Prodigy. These tracks helped make the PlayStation version's music one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. In June, Psygnosis made it public that the music would be missing due to the technical complexity involved in translating the game from its original PlayStation incarnation, which would lead one to believe that the PC version would either make use of a MIDI soundtrack, or contain no music at all. But the PC version's music is on the disc in full redbook audio, which presumably means that Psygnosis couldn't regain the license to the original soundtrack. It's really a shame, because while the new music is competent, it doesn't approach the roller coaster ride delivered by the previous music.
All in all, Wipeout XL is a good racing game that makes great use of the Direct3D API. It delivers the kind of fast moving gameplay that until recently was only available on console systems. Game-starved 3-D accelerator owners should definitely check it out.