At one time, there were those within Psygnosis who were unsure that Wipeout would return to the PlayStation, because it wasn't clear whether anything more could be done within the confines of the aging platform. But the advent of the analog controller, SCE's PlayStation code optimization utilities, and a few new imaginative ideas on the part of Psygnosis have all combined to make the series a trilogy. (Yes, let's just decide right here and now to forget Wipeout 64 entirely.)
Futuristic racing is the rule of the day in all the Wipeout games. You compete in a series of winding courses that can only be raced by the sleekest of antigravity hovercraft. You gain boosts in velocity by flying over speed pads and acquire offensive capabilities by going over the weapon pads. Each vehicle is equipped with shields, which are worn down by enemy fire and by bumping into track walls, and are recharged by entering each course's pit lane. W3 introduces a new element that drains the shield energy: the hyper-thrust. By hitting the R1 button, your craft can achieve incredible speeds, but it is then much more open to crashing or being blown up by opponents. The tightrope walk of balancing thrust and shields is the first main difference between Wipeout 3 and its predecessors.
The first tournament (not the only mode in the game, but its meat and potatoes) is incredibly easy. You can beat it without using the hyper-thrust, a single offensive power-up, or the air brakes, which help you coax your machine around corners. But the tournament mode then goes from very easy to unbelievably hard, as the courses in the second tournament are so difficult that it's hard to place in any of them, let alone all in a row. The first two tracks - Sampa Run and Hi-Fumi - are very challenging, but you can master them after playing them for an hour to an hour and a half each, while the third track - P-Mar Project - is so snaky that it's evil that the developers didn't save it for later. There is no middle ground in W3. The learning curve in the first two games was gradual and fun to play, but this one is surprisingly severe. You'll have to hit the hyper-thrust on the straight-aways, aim into the pit or steal shield energy from opponents by using the energy-drain power-up (one of several new weapons), and use the air brake to shimmy around every corner just to place at all. It calls to mind hopping around while trying to balance a plate at the end of a stick from the tip of your nose, two index fingers, big toe, and knee. It can be that tough, but if you give it enough time - a lot of time - it actually becomes almost second nature.
Since you'll find the tournament nigh impossible to beat at first, you'll end up checking out the game's challenge mode, which is made up of tasks in race, weapon, and time categories. Race lets you hone your skills against other opponents, one track at a time. The super-difficult tournament courses can eventually be unlocked, and while they take more than an hour of practice to beat, they are fun to play singly, and they prepare you for the eventual return to the tournament. The weapon mode requires you to destroy a varying number of enemies within a varying number of passes on progressively tougher courses, and time trial sets a time by which you have to finish. These challenges are like the practice mode in House of the Dead 2; they're almost more enjoyable than the main game, and they help you master all the skills you'll need to win.The other main addition to Wipeout on the PlayStation is the split-screen two-player mode. If you wanted to compete against a friend in Wipeout XL, you had to use the PlayStation link cable and set up two TVs with two PlayStations right next to each other. Not only do you not have to put that much work into it anymore, you now have two modes designed to work well with two players. The two-player tournament is a fantastic addition that gives the game a huge amount of replay value. The challenge presented by the single-player tournament is immense, and just imagine it with the addition of a real-live human opponent added to the mix. It's exactly the sort of thing players have been requesting for years, and with it, Psygnosis has set a new standard for console racing games. There's another mode, called elimination, which is similar to the weapon challenge - you compete for the highest number of ships destroyed - but since you fight race-by-race instead of in an elimination tournament, you probably won't return to it very often. It also exists in the single-player side, where it's even more aimless.
Graphics and music have always been especially important to Wipeout, and in W3, they're still quite impressive. The game's techno soundtrack comprises songs from Underworld, Chemical Brothers, and Propellerheads, and while the tracks aren't quite as strong as those in Wipeout XL (the WXL soundtrack was likely the best in any home game, so it's hard to beat), they're still very, very good. The graphics look a little grainy this time out, but pop-up is nonexistent in single-player and not too rough in the multiplayer. Essentially, W3 looks and sounds the way you'd expect it to: great.. It could be said that the series has lost some of its arcade racing-game appeal. It's always been a smart arcade racer, and now it's positively brainy, for better and worse. You'll have to memorize where you want to come out around every corner of every track, just like in Wipeout XL, but now you just have several other things to think about at the same time. W3 should appeal to longtime fans of the series who are looking for a new challenge and perhaps to folks who didn't find the license tests of Gran Turismo too frustrating. It is, however, sure to turn off many new players because of its high level of difficulty. Its pluses far outweigh its flaws, though, and while it doesn't steal the title belt from Wipeout XL as the best futuristic racing game of all time, it's a worthy sequel.