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REVIEW: Retrospective – Wipeout Fusion (PS2)

WipEout Fusion is the PS2 update of one of the PS One’s most successful and quality series. Although all the groups that contributed in the making of the three 32-bit games appear to have had no involvement in making Fusion, SCEE Team Liverpool have done an admirable job in creating the best game of the series, and what is in my view, the most shining first party piece of software for the PS2 to date. While WipEout Fusion retains many elements that made the PS1 versions awesome, it also seems to be a welcome remake in many ways so that it can compete with other 128-bit racers, as despite the fact that one can feel that it is WipEout they are playing, it also feels like a different game in certain ways thanks to the many improvements, alterations, innovations, and other additions. So it is a without doubt a WipEout, but it is a changed WipEout. And changed for the better too. WipEout Fusion is a brilliant game.

Although Fusion was one of the first PS2 games to be announced for it, graphically the game is stunning. Its visuals are colourful, clean, polished, and imaginative. Despite being outshined overall by several other PS2 racer, it still looks ace, and I daresay that none of those other games could aesthetically match Team Liverpool’s baby if they’re games featured cars that travelled on average over 1000kph. Indeed, compared with the PS2’s only other two current futuristic racers with wildly speedy cars- Extreme G3 (Acclaim) and G-Surfers (Midas)- WipEout Fusion is in a world of its own in terms of appearance.

There are few frame rate difficulties, with a general smooth performance, and the only problems encountered seemed to be when really big amounts of activity was occurring, and even when that takes place, it doesn’t particularly make playing uncomfortable.

When it comes to visual style WipEout Fusion contains a mixture of the approaches used by the three predecessors. The slick futuristic presentation of WipEout/WipEout 2097 is definitely evident in places, especially present on the Russian and Moon tracks, which remind me of several of the courses in 2097. However, the more conventional and brighter image of Wip3out has also had some influence as well, such as on the game’s menu screens and the USA/Australia tracks. The ‘fusion’ (no pun intended) of these presentation methods suits me perfectly. This is because I liked the creative styles made by the Designers republic for number one and two in the series and the one Psygnosis Leeds formulated for three, but I did feel 2097’s look was slightly geeky and Wip3out’s a bit casual. With them amalgamated together, the negative points of both have been reduced, thus leaving Fusion impeccably presented.
Other positively notable graphical elements include the brilliantly varied track and Anti-grav ship designs.
In sound terms, there is little that differentiates Fusion and its prequels. This is hardly a problem though, as aurally, WipEout games have always been quite dominant. The sound effects are good enough, and the game features nineteen licensed music tracks, from artists such as Utah Saints, The Future Sound Of London, and Orbital. Not my personal cup of tea, but it is pristine stuff for dance fans, and since WipEout games have always had dance-based soundtracks, one cannot complain that the developers decided to carry on this tradition. Besides, I actually kind of like the songs by BT and Humanoid.

So far then, so good. But how about the actual racing? Well the first thing to note is how much more expansive Fusion is compared to the PS1 games There are now 32 different models of ships, 16 individual pilots, 45 racing tracks derived from seven great courses, 6 one-player modes (Arcade, AG league, Challenge, Zone, Time Trial, and Custom League), and 3 multiplayer modes (Arcade AG League, Custom League- all have a horizontal/vertical split screen option). Very impressively, a racer can now wreak even more havoc with there being 22 different armaments that can be used to annihilate opposition. This shows that there is a huge amount of content in Fusion. Of course, much of this isn’t available right away, and layers must unlock otherwise inaccessible options, tracks ships etc by going through the game and performing well. This does make the game have long-term appeal, as it will take even an exceptionally skilled player a significant amount of time to reach the 100% completion mark.
As said before, Fusion contains a lot of tracks. The 42 come from there being 7 courses with three races on each of these, and there is a mirror mode option for each of these tracks. Now, it is known that reverse tracks are sometimes really bad additions, but not so here, as they actually seem to be rather like wholly different tracks to the originals they are based on, and they haven’t been lazily made- you won’t for example see any pathetic reversed adverts and scoreboards or anything else similar that has blighted these modes in other racing games (Saturn Sega Rally springs to mind).

There is a large variety of anti-grav craft to choose from, each with differing strengths and weaknesses in terms of velocity, acceleration, armour, braking, as well as others. Although one can at first only exploit the use of the Feisar, G-Tech and Van-Uber ships, which are all fairly basic craft, players who progress through the challenges encountered in the AG League mode will receive the opportunity to get their hands on the more advanced craft, which are pretty essential if one is contemplating completing the AG League. Even more enticing is the ability to use money earned from races to boost the capabilities of your ships to give yourself an even greater edge in the adrenalin loaded action. Of course, the feature is not as comprehensive as it is in Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, but this comparison is largely invalid as WipEout Fusion is a significantly different game, with it being far more futuristic and combat based as well as not trying to be anywhere near as realistic, and as a result Fusion doesn’t require as many customisable options as the PS2’s flagship racer.

My favourite two modes are arcade and AG League. Arcade gives the player the chance to gain access to every racetrack via winning gild medals in every single one. It is quite demanding (as well as hugely enjoyable), but is ultimately far easier than the league. This involves racing in many different racing leagues that become increasingly more taxing, and attempting to end number one at the end in the table to reach the next league. It does get incredibly hard later on, but perseverance pays off as you manage to unlock new content as you go on. It’s marvellous. The other modes are all entertaining as well, particularly the two-player options, as trying to violently cause a human opponent’s anti-gravity car to explode and/or crash is always devilishly satisfying.

It has therefore been established that the amount of content in WipEout has been significantly multiplied on Fusion over past ventures into the world of anti-gravity racing. Changes in the game mechanic, for the better, have been implemented too. Handling has been altered to a degree. Perhaps the easiest way to describe how its changed is to quote ps2.ign who said the ships now control more like ‘rally cars’. This may alarm some traditionalists, but this reviewer welcomes the modification, as it has resulted in giving players more fluid and accurate control and movement than that present in the PS One games.

Maybe the most pleasing adjustment is in the inter-vehicular fighting. Weaponry and combat have always played a big role in the series’ proceedings and allowing it to be differentiated from other racers. However, in the older games, the fighting as never hugely intense, and skilful drivers could still be victorious in races even if they totally neglected the potential arsenal of missiles, bombs, lasers, and mines. In Fusion, attacking enemy ship and trying to bring them down has more emphasis placed on it. Battles can usually be much more extreme, with up to twelve or thirteen of the sixteen competitors in some races being forced to retire due to the ferocious nature of the warfare in this game. Using weapons is now almost essential to progress now and those who choose to race as a pacifist will find it a very tough struggle to make inroads. Also, there is now an extra incentive to shoot down rivals in the Ag League mode. In the races in this mode, players are rewarded a precious two points for each craft you cause to blow up (bar your own!). Therefore, this can help players win the league, and it can regularly be a deciding factor in determining your place at the end of the league. Combat has always been my favourite part about the WipEout games, and now that it has been vastly upgraded, it really does make me feel that Fusion is without doubt the strongest of the series, and ensure WipEout will be my firm racer of choice for the foreseeable future.

Overall then, WipEout Fusion is one of the premier games on PS2, and is up there with GT3 as being one of the PS2’s finest racing games  (and the BEST in my opinion). It took a long time coming, but all the enhancements made the wait really worthwhile. The game feels familiar, while remaining brilliantly fresh. One knows it is WipEout, but it is WipEout in a form not known before in many ways. It will keep one entertained for many hours, and like GT3, comes highly recommended.

Price: £5, second-hand.
Score: 5 out of 5.

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