Hovercraft, headbanging-music and explosive weaponry – welcome to the future of racing, ladies and gentlemen! British studio Psygnosis released Wipeout in 1995 to an unexpected gaming audience, and the title was all about speeding through race tracks as catchy electronica tunes blasted out in the background. A sequel was released a year later, improving the original game in practically every way, but only to moderate extent. In retrospect, Wipeout 2097 was a light package, despite is fabulous contents.
There eight race tracks in total, varying in difficulty and complexity (i.e. jumps, tight turns, and the like). Compared to the previous game, the level design is certainly more memorable. The tougher tracks have tighter turns and steep drops, which may irritate some players (the “Spilskinanke” track is an utter joke – implementing 90-degree turns in a racing game is an unjustifiable sin).
Time trials are available for solo pursuits, while the standard race will put you against fifteen CPU-controlled ships. Split-screen multiplayer is not a feature, meaning another console, a spare copy of the game, and an extra TV are required for a two-player race. Too much hassle, really. Beyond these, there are two bonus challenges where you race around set tracks against speedier opponents, but these are hardly game-changers.
Sadly, there is no deathmatch mode, or the like. Even a mirror mode would have effectively doubled the game in size, though nothing of the sort exists. Once you swipe gold medals in each and every stage, there is not much else to do, beyond replaying them over and over until you get bored. The core gameplay itself is still good fun, mind you – it just lacks longevity.
New to the series is an energy meter. Take too much damage, and you’re out of the race – this was a game-changer, as weapons only disorientated and stunned opponents in the previous game. On each track are ‘star’ pads, which will give you a random power-up. Some can be used to batter enemy shields or slow them down, while others will help you finish the race quicker and in one piece. These can range from homing rockets and an auto-pilot mode to a ‘quake disruptor’ that flicks the track ahead like a carpet, devastating enemy ships in the coolest way possible.
Destroying the other racers is a possibility, but there won’t be enough time to bump them all off before the race ends. Regardless, zipping along the self-repair road around the starting point will repair your shields, but may allow racers to overtake you. A difficult split-decision, indeed. Plus-points go to Wipeout 2097’s awesome robotic announcer that warns you about enemy attacks, or when you’ve blown up a ship. All in all, more carnage makes the game oodles more fun.
Four ships are available from the get-go: the obligatory slow-and-steady ship for beginners, the speed-demon with sloppy steering, an average all-rounder, and a smooth-rider with poor shields. In honesty, they feel like a pretty standard line-up. It would have been nice if Psygnosis were able to create duplicate ships with alternate paint jobs and slightly tweaked stats for a bit more variation.
Electronica fans will be in for a treat once again. Exclusive to the PlayStation port of Wipeout 2097 are some fantastic songs from the likes of The Future Sound of London, Fluke, and many other Brit-bands that’ll pump you up during each lap. The pace of the game goes hand-in-hand with head-banging tracks like the instrumental version of The Prodigy’s magnum opus “Firestarter”, or even the in-house tracks made by CoLD SToRAGE, which are still a cracking listen.
After over two decades, Wipeout 2097 is still a cracking racing game. Its lightning-fast gameplay gels perfectly with the quick-tempo soundtrack. The weapons and energy meter makes each race feel a lot more competitive, and there are some very fun race tracks thrown to the mix, despite the small selection on offer. Overall, the title’s new content is pretty much a straight-up improvement over the previous title in near-enough every way. Alas, so much more could have been packed into the game to increase its longevity. Skilful players could pretty much win top marks on all maps with enough attempts. The palsy amount of ships and game modes is particularly disappointing, since they could have offered so much more with what limited space the developers had to work with. Wipeout 2097 is still heaps of fun to this day, but it couldn’t wipe out the competition.