7th Aug 2011 | 16:30
What is WipEout? It's a zero-gravity racer where chunky-vector hoverships fly through a titanium future at certain death speeds to a pumping tech soundtrack. It's also a massive PlayStation icon, having been part of Sony's gaming revolution since the very beginning, leading the charge into unexplored areas of popularity and cool.
The formula is simple - extraordinary velocity, sharp post-industrial design, smooth gameplay - and has hardly changed from the 1995 original to this year's stunning WipEout HD. And why should it? As our history shows, the only time the series has suffered is when it's veered every so slightly off course - and going at these kind of speeds, that's madness.
Format: (PSone, 1995)
A launch title for the original PlayStation which set the tone for much of the advertising and image of the new console. That tone being: cool flashy lights, pumping electronica and pointy futuristic ships that go really, really fast.
WipEout was the thin end of the wedge that Sony drove into the mainstream before pouring games into the hole. With art created in collaboration with The Designers Republic (who also forged the look of mid-90s superclub Gatecrasher) the game hooked into clubbing culture and crossed over in a big way. It played nicely too.
Format: (PSone, 1996)
A standard spit and polish sequel. Races now featured up to 12 ships rather than the original's four, six new tracks were added, and several new weapons appeared (including the heat-seeking missile and quake attacks which are still there in HD). It also featured the ability to pit your ship for repairs, which was a bit rubbish because it slowed you down when the whole point of WipEout is to go faster than your mind can take. Most importantly, it understood why the first game had been a success and gave us more, with a soundtrack.
Format: (PS2, 2002)
By this point PSone had been replaced by the black PS2 obelisk. Perhaps aware of the repetition creeping into the series, WipEout had changed too, though mostly not for the better. The Designers Republic were replaced by crayon cowboys Good Technology, whose menu screens and logos were sad and unfamiliar. New race layouts saw the introduction of multiple tracks created from the same environment, which left races feeling repetitive. At least there was the introduction of Zone mode, in which brakeless players fly faster and faster through a dream of fl ashing neon and curved steel.
Format: (PSP, 2005)
Benched for the rest of PS2's lifetime, WipEout was pulled out of retirement to showcase the processing punch of Sony's new handheld. As the game's subtitle suggests, Pure was an attempt to return to the heart of the series, and smart decisions were in evidence all over. Pit stops were out, as were nonsense open tracks. Back came the post-industrial futurist design, the ace Zone mode and a heap of online and multi-player modes - eight player races, downloadable tracks - made possible by the PSP's wi-fi connectivity. Pure felt urgent and sharp, and took us back to WipEout's best.
Format: (PSP, 2007)
The most polished and rounded WipEout game available when it was released last year, Pulse featured reversible tracks, new magnet strip sections for lurching upside-down courses, and a new way of playing through the various types of events (standard, tournament, elimination, time trial, zone) on a gradually unlocked grid system. And, just like a pretty girl on Facebook, it loved taking pictures of itself - a new pause menu photo option let players screen grab the action at any time during any race they wanted. Pulse totally cemented the series' return to form. It also featured some nice online options.
Format: (PSN, 2008)
It doesn't do anything to dispel the notion that WipEout hasn't really changed since its fi rst appearance over a decade ago. But by repackaging the best bits from PSP offerings Pure and Pulse and shining them up to a glorious 60 frames per second at 1080p, WipEout HD reminded everybody of two important things: 1) That the series' industrial futurist design is still awesomely pretty, and 2) Playing WipEout on the TV is really, really good fun. If this was a test run for a full PS3 update next year. Now we just want to make next year happen faster.