Ah, Wipeout HD... Speed, finesse, technical mastery, the most banging of soundtracks... The game has it all as futuristic racers go, right?
Well actually no. Another game had all of those things years ago, and frankly, it did them all better. That game is F-Zero GX, released in 2003 on the Gamecube. I'll forgive you if you haven't played it yet. It was after all, released on the Gamecube. But note that I ended that last sentence with "yet".
"But why Dave?", you may be asking, or at least thinking, as talking to your monitor would probably make you look crazy. "Why bring up a five year old racer now when we have lovely HD face-meltery to be getting on with?" Well the reason is simple. F-Zero pretty much invented the high-speed future racing genre back on the SNES, and the release of the PS3's shiny new Wipeout - which I'd like to point out that I play and love, before we go any further - has had me drawing some major comparisons to F-Zero's definitive entry. And I've found Captain Falcon's outing to be still the superior game. So stick with me on this one and read on as I compare the two and break down exactly why you owe it to yourself to own a copy.
Both Wipeout and F-Zero are notorious for blasting along like nitrus-injected lightning on an ice rink, but for all of Wipeout's reputation, F-Zero GX has the edge in speed and therefor exhilaration. And exhilaration is what we play racers like this for, let's face it. Take the following video as evidence.
Neither game is exactly a slouch, but as you can see from this video and the rest in this story, F-Zero starts at mach 14 and then only gets faster. Note how we missed most of the speed boosters too.
Winner: F-Zero GX
Wipeout pioneered the twisty turny rollercoaster racetrack, and without doubt beat the pants off the original F-Zero's Mode 7 pancakes in that area. But with a proper 3D engine behind it, F-Zero GX took back its territory like a marauding viking.
Developed by Sega's AV team, the same guys who made Super Monkeyball, GX took that game's approach to terrain design, pumped it full of cocaine and MDMA, and then threw all concept of gravity laughingly out of a train window. You'll meet right-angle bends at 900 miles per hour. You'll meet sheer walls and drive straight up them. Loops, corkscrews, track splits and half-mile jumps come as standard at even the game's most mundane moments.
And most importantly, every track in F-Zero GX has a level of personality and imagination that shames every other racer out there. We get pipe tunnels that almost span entire laps and we get to race over their entire surfaces at every angle. We get half-pipes to launch ourselves out of. We race along the outside of magnetic tubes over lava flows. And the AV boys completely explored these concepts to squeeze every last drop of gameplay out of them. Those pipe and tube tracks in particular force immensely fast reactions and tactical planning in order to reach their speed bonuses and avoid the heinously placed track obstacles while still keeping the inside racing line on bends. At certain points they'll even kill you outright if you're on the wrong side at the wrong time.
F-Zero GX has the most hardcore track design in any racing game yet made. No arguments. For its first few hours, it'll beat your face off and love every second. But once you up your game and master the beast, it'll be your friend for life. And no game will ever make you feel more badass.
No disrespect to Wipeout HD's tracks. They're bloody marvelous and take a hell of a lot of skill to master in their own right. But while their sharply banked turns, loops and whooshes are certainly a crazy delight, F-Zero GX's thrills are batshit insane. Almost impossibly, they manage the feat of making Wipeout feel a bit bland, and I promise you there's no word of an exaggeration to that statement.
Winner: F-Zero GX