Wipeout is cool. Wipeout has always been cool. This is a hard thing to do for twenty two years.
Wipeout was cool in 1995 when it followed the launch of the original PlayStation. Psygnosis’ futuristic speedster took F-Zero’s approach to hovercraft racing and Super Mario Kart’s fondness for chaotic weaponry and produced a unified vision of an anti-gravity racing league (Wipeout was cool again in 1995 when a beta version cameoed in Hackers).
Its sequel, Wipeout XL, was cool in 1996 when it introduced most of the United States to The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, and The Future Sound of London. Those artists, part of Britain’s emerging wave of electronic music, outfitted Wipeout XL with a sound fundamentally unique in its medium. No one else was making games that looked or sounded like this.
Wipeout was still cool when Wipeout 3 debuted in 1999. It made the PlayStation 2 cool with the understated Wipeout Fusion in 2002. Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse made the PlayStation Portable cool in 2005 and 2007. Despite peculiar appearances on the Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64, Wipeout’s presence has been synonymous with every member of the PlayStation brand. Those slick team logos, that intimidating omnipresent announcer, the polygonally svelte craft designs, those fonts — it’s all fixed on the horizon of the future and fundamental to Wipeout’s aura of taste and sophistication.
Wipeout Omega Collection is a compilation of Wipeout’s three most-recent entries. 2008’s Wipeout HD and its downloadable content, Wipeout HD Fury—both of which repurposed and upgraded different pieces of Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse—are accounted for, as is the PlayStation Vita launch title, Wipeout 2048. Each campaign exists (largely) as it did at the time of original release, and the entire package is supported with a host of Omega Collection-specific customization options.
At its core, Wipeout Omega Collection is three very similar games spread across three different campaigns. Each vehicle has different attributes, but all share the same rules. Throttle, left and right air brakes, and a weapon ability compose mechanics. Depending on the game mode, you’re able to burn item-pickups and restore health as necessary. Wipeout’s never been a complicated game, but it also doesn’t revel in simplicity. Maintaining performance on the harder difficulties, with faster and more aggressive AI, is among the more demanding challenges across medium, and few have the patience and dexterity necessary to master each course at phantom speeds.
A modest collection tracks is offset by variance in speed. A shortcut for difficulty, progressing through classes brings an increase in top speed and a reset in personal timing. Tracks that were presumed solved are suddenly impossible as you find yourself slamming into walls at perilous velocity. With proficiency comes reactive shortcuts—playing Wipeout for long enough builds an autonomous response to boost pads and sharp corners—but the margin of error only shrinks. It’s never erased.
With that in mind, here’s a brief overview of each piece of Wipeout Omega Collection:
Wipeout’s introduction to the high-definition systems couldn’t have come at a better time. The PlayStation 3 was reeling from gobs of problems in 2008 and SCE Studio Liverpool’s (formerly Psygnosis) Wipeout HD, with its sixty frames-per-second and full 1080p resolution, was a much needed shot in the arm. The nature of racing games always creates a visual showcase for any piece of hardware, but Wipeout HD’s unique style and blistering pace made it stand out from any of its peers, especially when F-Zero went missing after 2004.
The tracks were the star of the show. Moa Therma perfectly demonstrated the aesthetic of the year 2197’s architecture. Sol 2’s literal wings elevated it into the sky and provided damaging consequences with its lack of course walls. Even tracks that specialized in tight quarters, like Anulpha Pass and Ubermall, made space for a future-chic mixture of neon lights and shiny concrete.
Zone mode returned from Wipeout Fusion. Visually, this would replace every track texture with a fluctuating set of shaded neon color. Mechanically, it makes speed automatic and challenges the player to progress through zones at different speed increments. Think of Zone mode as trying to run the gamut of the complete Wipeout experience all in the same race. There are no set laps; you just last as long as you can.
Two different sets of Time Attack modes round out the basic campaign. Speed Lap demands a certain lap time and allows a considerable number of repeats to try and achieve it. Time Trial is the same concept spread across an entire three (or more) lap race. These are…basic additions to Wipeout’s standard style of racing, and fine for a downloadable title in the early days of the previous generation.
Wipeout HD Fury
HD Fury provided fresh support a year later. With it were four new tracks; Talon’s Junction, The Amphiseum, and Tech De Ra from Wipeout Pulse and Modesto Heights from Wipeout Pure. With it were four dedicated Zone tracks from both games. In a time when downloadable content wasn’t well defined—especially for a game that was downloadable to begin with, a prospect that seems insanely obvious in 2017—HD Fury was a meaningful update.
HD Fury copied Wipeout HD’s campaign format but augmented it with brand new events. Eliminator returned from Wipeout 3 and shifted the standard race model into a more combat-oriented direction. Acquiring weapons are a priority and successful hits score points. Outright destroying an opponent brings an even higher score. Eliminator also granted the ability to flip your ship 180 degrees, which was great for getting out ahead and firing potshots at the poor fools travelling behind you.
Zone Battle was another new mode. Effectively, you’re racing opponents in Zone mode, which isn’t a traditional race, which gets pretty weird. Going over boosts to reach the required Zone quicker, along with managing your Zone Gauge to push the process along faster, creates a more strategic element inside the tradition Zone interface.
Detonator was HD Fury’s final contribution. Closer to a survival game than a standard race, it outfits a Zone course with pockets of bombs and provides the player with infinite 16-round clips of ammunition. The idea is to carefully ration your clips to clear a path and score points, and save reloads for brief moments of respite.
The entirety of Wipeout HD and HD Fury’s two campaigns are governed by a simple and effective difficulty system. Each group within the campaign stops makes the speed class higher, but within each challenge are different specifications for bronze, silver, and gold medals. Time attack requirements, Eliminator point totals, and the tenacity of opponents in standard races are all adjusted for novice, skilled, and elite medals. This isn’t used to measure progress, getting a gold medal in novice will move you as far along as a gold medal in elite, which allows these two campaigns to scale neatly.
2012’s Wipeout 2048, as the name implies, paid close attention to Wipeout’s latent continuity. The original Wipeout took place in 2052 and Pulse extended all the way to 2198. Wipeout 2048 was positioned as the origin point for antigravity racing, and demonstrated it through its organic assembly of vehicles and courses. Polymer compound race tracks and immaculate, clean structures were replaced by ground-level, retrofitted asphalt and only slightly futuristic urban areas. For the first time in two decades, Wipeout was gritty. Playing into Wipeout’s history was a wonderful conceit and a proper genesis for the beginning of the sport. What was old was suddenly new.
For the first time in the series, 2048 also brought Wipeout a persistent player level. Sixty events are spread across the 2048, 2049, and 2050 seasons. Competing in events earns experience points. Winning events earns even more. With experience comes Wipeout’s requisite series of unlocks; few vehicles are available at the start, but different teams and different styles quickly open up. The usual suspects compose each season’s events. Races, tournaments, time trials, point-based combat, and Zone are accounted for. Progression isn’t as rigid as past games, with some races only demanding a fifth-place finish or better to continue forward.
Track design also endured a few changes. More of an emphasis was placed on branching paths and finding obscure shortcuts buried in the courses. Not the flying-off-course methods of past games, but rather deliberate and skilled-demanding offshoots essential to grabbing first place. Boost pads also seem to stand out less and exhibit a fondness for successive placement, making them both harder to find and more necessary to utilize. Course memorization, which was always precious, is now required.
Bringing Wipeout 2048 to a proper console, not to mention scaling it all the way to 4K for Pro owners, is a dream come true. When it launched it certainly didn’t look bad on the PlayStation Vita’s gorgeous OLED, but its 30 frames-per-second cap and low(er) resolution made it feel like a step down from Wipeout HD. I don’t know the level of texture work involved in transitioning Wipeout 2048 to the PlayStation 4, but when the game is humming—when I’m barreling whatever hundred miles-per-hour down Rockway Stadium—it felt like this was the last racing game I would ever need. It’s not (obviously) but it’s easy to get lost in Wipeout 2048’s splendor, submit to hyperbole, and wonder why anyone would bother with anything else.
Racebox is a fast and tested way to practice any course from the entire package. It also houses Wipeout Omega Collection’s multiplayer options. Eight player online races (and an encompassing ranking system) bend more toward applied chaos than measured skill. Split-screen local multiplayer is also available, which is a huge plus when practically nothing is anymore.
Bleeding Wipeout Omega Collection’s soundtrack across each game cheapens its impact. Nostalgia corrupts this observation—that early version of Firestarter pulsing across Wipeout XL’s courses left a permanent mark in my brain—but Wipeout Omega Collection’s 28 tracks don’t create a comparable impact. Sure, there’s a (eight year old) song from The Prodigy and Boys Noize provides a modern contemporary but Omega Collection’s songs obeys the rules, it doesn’t break them. There’s also the bizarre absence of a custom soundtrack support. I understand that you can play your own file from the PlayStation 4’s OS, or even stream Spotify, but then it’s not woven into the proper game. Music won’t start and shift with every new challenge. It’s an overlay, not integration.
There’s a downside to playing forty hours of Wipeout in just under a week; the discovery that it’s all kind of the same game. A base level of competency is good enough to work your way through each piece, and even more so if you turn on the finicky but effective driver assist in the options menu. Beyond that, most courses kind of have the same twists and turns. There’s an unyielding feeling of sameness and, barring Wipeout 2048’s branching courses, you’d be hard pressed to find one that demands a totally unique approach. This is true of any racing game with two dozen courses, but it’s weird in the context of three (technically) different games. Wipeout Omega Collection probably wasn’t meant to be mainlined like this.
On a meta level, the existence of Wipeout Omega Collection finds the series at a strange point in time. Sony Studio Liverpool was shut down in 2012 after shepherding Wipeout for nearly twenty years. Furthermore, Wipeout’s style and performance isn’t especially friendly to what’s expected of modern racers. A series enraptured by the future, ironically, may not have one beyond this point. Why this collection even exists is its own curiosity, other than a barometer for a potential prospects and/or an indulgent checkbox to get Wipeout on every iteration of Sony’s hardware. Whatever the case, Wipeout Omega Collection presents ample opportunity to appreciate the second half of a true industry classic.
Wipeout persists as a utopian phantom consumed with aesthetic elegance and driven to exhibit a vivid sensation of speed. The nature of this package’s identity—Wipeout Omega Collection is three different but very similar experiences—may nudge against a wall of homogeneity, but it’s easy to overlook when you’re going too fast to focus on anything in the periphery.