The year of our Gaming Lord is 1995. And here you are, frothing at the mouth, dancing yourself into hyper-limbed oblivion to Bobby Brown’s 2 Can Play That Game in some sweat pit of a nightclub at 3:34am. Blurry-eyed, you look past the hive of raving turquoise shell suits to see a crummy CRT telly on the wall, beaming the first dose of PS1 directly into your eyeballs. The future of the racer… no, the future of gaming is upon you. Welcome to WipEout, perspiring ‘90s clubber. You’ve just been introduced to PlayStation.
Psygnosis’ futurist speedster wasn’t merely a visionary first-wave title for Sony’s debut console: it was a perfect storm of a game. Encapsulating the mood of a generation of young Brits better than any title before or since, it brought gaming to the mainstream, hung a sharp airbrake to the right, then dove straight into the underground. For the first time since Space Invaders, video games were cool again.
WipEout was an adult game aimed at an adult market. Where the 16-bit consoles had been obsessed with cartoon mascots, Sony was sending gaming screeching into the late ‘90s with a batch of software that wasn’t saturated by kid-friendly design. Yes, the game has power-ups – seriously, how good is sending a shockwave directly up Qirex’s circa 2052 tailpipe? Yet WipEout is a muscular, punch-you-in-the-face kind of racer positioned lightyears away from karting territory.
Despite garnering mainstream attention and opening PS1 up to a market consoles had never stepped into before, this is a fiercely uncompromising game. WipEout doesn’t feel pity. Or remorse. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you’re dea… uh, until you’ve vapourised your FEISAR craft into tiny, sad pieces on Altima VII’s horribly shallow right-left chicane. Airbraking is a constant, delicate balancing act, where a keen sense of momentum is needed to negotiate even the most gentle of corners.
The game’s ferocious brand of futuristic racing has looks of steel, but a fleshy, beating heart at its core. Whether conquering the crisp winter hills of Karbonis V with Auricom’s Arial Tetsuo or surviving the bubbling beauty of Firestar’s magma pits, WipEout redefined the look of sci-fi in games with a more lived-in, human palette. Eh, just maybe crunch your eyes up a bit if you’re diving back into the world of AG Systems in 2014. Damn that’s some properly awful pop-up.
Time may make a simpering fool of PS1 textures, but it can’t detract from what was one of the most ingeniously marketed games in PlayStation history. Aimed at club goers, WipEout’s packaging was drawn up to mimic a dance LP, and was designed by Sheffield-based graphic studio The Designers Republic, whose work had already spanned many record covers. Sony also had PS1s installed in various trendy, rave-loving watering holes, while simultaneously developing a range of *shudder* WipEout ‘clubwear’. Don’t worry, we hear spacecraft-branded orange bomber jackets are about to make a comeback any second now.
More than anything – well, apart from being a brilliant racer – the game is remembered for the sweet, sweet music it made. With a then cutting-edge soundtrack developed by Lemmings composer Tim Wright (aka CoLD SToRAGE), WipEout’s soundtrack infused the electronica stylings of The Chemical Brothers with the Welsh musician’s pulsating tracks.
And that’s what WipEout was all about: living on the cutting-edge. Playing, sounding and looking like nothing you’d ever experienced before, it broke all manner of boundaries as PlayStation went on to conquer the gaming world.