Team Assegai

September 9th, 2009

Team Assegai

Ah, Wipeout.  It's only been ten years since the last proper release from the series game on home consoles.

The first Wipeout was an excellent game for the original PlayStation, but Wipeout XL (1996) refined an already good game into something of a cultural phenomenon.  People bought consoles just to play this game, as many did with Final Fantasy VII.

Wipeout 3 came along in 1999, and while it wasn't quite as groundbreaking as its predecessors, it was still up to the standards of the series.  Then Psygnosis was absorbed by Sony, and the series went into limbo.

Wipeout Fusion was released for the PS2.  It was good, but the odd sterile garishness that defined previous entries in the series was largely missing.  The Designer's Republic (of Warp records fame) had departed the series, as had almost all the original creative parties.  It wasn't a bad game by any stretch; it's just that it didn't feel like a Wipeout game.

Presumably to offset this change, Fusion gave names and faces to the drivers, and it just felt odd.  Sure, somebody drove these cars, but previously, we never saw them, and we didn't need to.  Nor did we need to follow cliched backstories: Wipeout is a game about machines, not the people driving them.

Two installments followed for the PSP, in which the design and feel of the series returned to some semblance of what it once was, and now we've got an installment for next-gen consoles.

'Bout time.

Wipeout HD, as the name implies, runs in 1080p.  In short, it looks great.  The frame count is just as solid as it's ever been, and the environments are breathtaking at times.  More to the point, the game seems to have remembered its roots.  Though the Designer's Republic has since closed up shop, one could easily mistake the menu and interface visuals for their work.

The models look and handle as I remember, though they're far more detailed, as are the tracks.  There are several new game modes, as well as options for online matches (which I've not yet braved).  The music is the weak link, being a bit bland and sounding like something from 1995 or so, but this is easily rectified since the game allows for custom soundtracks.

What's important is that the white-knuckle, lip biting feeling of suffering a near aneurysm by the finish line is still there, and beatifully presented.  That's really not an easy thing to convey.

In short, this is the Wipeout us thirtysomethings fondly remember, just better.

The game has not been released to retail, but can be downloaded for $20 over the PlayStation network.

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