Wipeout was one of the early hits for Sony's Playstation when it launched in 1995. It was released in November 1995 in North America and set the mood for Sony's entrance into gaming. Video games were no longer for kids and nerds, but now mainstream entertainment.
A couple weeks ago I was browsing through the used game section at a local store and spotted Wipeout... for the Saturn. Prior to this, I had always thought this was a Playstation exclusive. The Sega Saturn version was released 4 months after the Playstation version in March of 1996. Psygnosis tweaked things a bit, and added music tracks from Rob Lord & Mark Bandola.
Wipeout is a futuristic racing game set in 2052 featuring the F-3600 (like F-zero, another play on F1 I assume) anti-gravity racing league. There are 4 teams to choose from, each with it's own strengths and weaknesses. The crafts are rated on acceleration, top speed, mass, and turning circle. The ships themselves look similar, looking like wedges with little wings sticking out.
The main meat of Wipeout is the Championship mode. Initially, you have access to the Venom class. There are six futuristic tracks in this championship ranging from an ice style track to mountain style tracks. You must finish in the top 3 to move onto the next course in the championship. You have 3 attempts to place in the top 3 on each track or it's game over. If you manage to finish first in the championship, you unlock the Rapier class, which is more of the same, just harder.
Let me first talk about what I like about Wipeout. The soundtrack is excellent. The game features electronica/club style music that fits the futuristic theme of the game well. Hook your Sega Saturn up to a sound system and your sub-woofers are in for a real workout. I'm not the biggest fan of this style of music, but it really is quite enjoyable. The sound effects are pretty poor. For the most part, all you hear is music. The engine noise is a barely audible droning sound. The weapon and crash sound effects are generic at best.
Graphically, Wipeout is good. You get a real sensation of speed as your cruise around the roller coaster style tracks. The textures are decent and it's easy to tell what everything is supposed to be. There is some draw-in in the distance but nothing too bad. The frame rate is also solid, and Wipeout never gets choppy no matter what is going on. Some things were lost in the Sega Saturn port. The game lacks the particle and transparency effects features in the Playstation version. Like many Saturn games, dithered sprites are used to simulate transparencies and effects. The shield power-up is the worst offender, surround your craft in a bright looking checkered pattern.
The track design is a mixed bag. I really like the roller coaster style tracks that put a lot of emphasis on the vertical axis. It's exciting to race down giant declines and speed around high banked turns. The tracks are littered with power-ups and speed boosts. When going up a hill you need to hover over the speed boosts to stop yourself from losing too much momentum. Sometimes speed bursts are placed right before a tight turn, which launches you right into a wall. Annoying.
Wipeout does feature power-ups, including a speed burst, a shield, and an array of projectiles. They are all a bit useless however. With the exception of the missiles (which lock-on to enemies) it's impossible to hit your opponents. It's too bad the weapons system is so under utilized. As it stands, it feels tacked on rather than an integral part of the experience.
Moving on to my least favorite aspects of Wipeout is the controls. My single biggest gripe is the brakes. The left shoulder button controls the left brake and the right shoulder controls the right brake. If you want to slow down, you must press both shoulder buttons. You can also use just a single brake to help get around tight turns. However, it just doesn't work that well. It's incredibly awkward to press two buttons to slow down your craft, even more so with the Sega Saturn's controller. Getting through the tighter turns is an exercise in frustration.
The steering is less than precise as well, and feels very sluggish no matter what car you choose. The awkward brakes and steering suck a lot of fun out of Wipeout. One area where Wipeout surpasses the Playstation version is the collisions with the wall. In the Playstation version, bumping the wall slowed your craft to a halt, thankfully Psygnosis tweaked things a bit for the Saturn release. Hitting the wall still kills some speed and momentum, but hitting the wall won't ruin your race. The collision detection with your opponents is awful. You seem to virtually bump into them even when there appears to be a good craft length distance between you. Having never played a Wipeout game before, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. Sadly, I just never had that much fun.
Rounding out the options is a time trial option, for practicing the tracks, and a single race mode, which is what it sounds like. Wipeout does save your best lap times, but you have to remember to go into the options menu and press the save game icon. There is no auto save feature.
Overall, Wipeout is a mixed bag. The soundtrack is outstanding, especially if your audio setup includes sub-woofers. The graphics are decent for a Saturn game, and feature a great futuristic style. I wanted to like Wipeout, but at the end of the day, the awkward controls killed all of the excitement. Wipeout is all style, lacking in substance, and just isn't that fun to play.
Graphics 6/10 - Better than average
Sound 7/10 - All music no effects
Game play 4/10 - Flawed controls
Overall 5/10 - Very very average