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Wipeout 3 (PSX) Review


The Wipeout series has been one of the Playstation's success stories. Set in a futuristic environment, its combination of speed, spectacular tracks, techno-rock music, and weaponry remains distinctive. For those who can't get enough of whipping around turns, tracking down foes, or dodging competitors, Psygnosis offers its third version of the game for 32-bit race fans (owners of N64s should consider picking up the version of the title for their own consoles). Does the newest member of the family live up to the reputation of the series?

Presentation/Graphics : 85
Wipeout 3 lives up to the series' reputation for colorful and sharp graphics, complete with a hint that perhaps the racers live in a world with an all-too-evident dark side. The frame rate and the high-res graphics make for a racer that is fast as it feels. Play the game from the open cockpit view, and get some sense of the world whipping by you; choose the camera that imposes the cockpit framework, however, and you'll feel trapped and claustrophobic. Yes, there's a look-back button, but who would dare use it at such speeds? Wait for the replay to see what happened.

Oddly enough, perhaps one sign of the series' success is that players have become accustomed to the visual treats and unusual tracks. The latter contain few surprises or breath-taking, vertigo-inducing stretches, and explosions are understated; more impressive are the trailing jetsteams from each craft. The font size used on the data screens is simply too small (although these screens serve as an excellent eye chart). The in-race display could use some work as well. I want to be able to recognize shield strength and available turbo immediately; the whites and grays that are used to represent such information are hard to pick up and interpret at a glance, and a glance is all you can afford.

Frankly, despite the tracks and the craft, Wipeout3 suffers from so-so graphics in the menu screens and in the on-screen displays, which take away from both visual enjoyment and gameplay.

Presentation/Audio : 83
The Wipeout series has always been distinctive for its use of techno-rock that suits the futuristic environment in which the tracks are set, and this game is no exception. The eight cuts add greatly to the feeling that one is in a different world, even if some sound just a bit off or strained. On the other hand, aside from the scraping of craft against track curb, the race and craft sounds are acceptable but not spectacular; a voice identifies weapons, assists you in their use, and warns of an imminent attack. If the designers thought as much about these audio effects as they do about the music, the result would be a better game.

Interface/Options : 85
The menus are presented in a series of rather simple black/white/taupe screens; some people will find the fonts in line with the game's futuristic theme, while other players will squint, a slightly puzzled look crossing their faces, as they decipher what they see. Somewhat more annoying is the decision to print the manual with robin's egg blue for the typeface and the illustrations (a big mistake in the latter case, since the color choice wipes out contrast, making it hard to make much of the images). Perhaps Psygnosis has gone too far in an effort to appear quirky and cool (even more than in previous editions of the game).

There are eight tracks in the game and eight teams. Not all are available at first, as usual. The advanced tracks contain enough turns to frustrate even skilled players, while even earlier tracks contain branches, creating multiple routes. The racers vary in shield strength, speed, acceleration, and handling; I'd like to see a build-your-own racer, complete with the possibility for improvement based upon performance. You may choose from time trials, circuits, single races, or a series of challenges involving weapons use, time limits, or eliminating opponents.

And then there are the weapons. Returning are the mines, autopilot, plasma bolt, shield, and quake disruptor (which causes the track to ripple); somewhat modified are the rockets and missiles. Gone from Wipeout XL are the thunderbomb, electrobolt, turbo boost, and e-pak. There's a cloak (makes it impossible for others to target you), reflectors (which turn an attack back on the enemy), force wall (which will bring your foes to a screeching halt) and energy drain (take from others and give to yourself). As Wipeout fans know, playing the game with weapons (you do have the choice of toggling them off) adds a different dimension to the game (although I'd argue that it's just fine as a pure racer).

Oh, yes--one can now play a two-player game without resorting to link play. Hurray!

Gameplay : 84
While Wipeout 3 clearly has much in common with its predecessors, it is distinctive in feel. The craft are easier to control (the game makes use of analog control, although even on digital one notices improved handling), and at first one will blaze along the opening tracks. In time, however, the tracks become more challenging and punishing, and one will have to put the improved control to use. There are more turns and crooked stretches here than in preceding titles; some darker sections of track are dark indeed. Successful racers will have to maximize use of accelerator icons distributed along the course as well as the weapons, which are acquired and used one at a time.

One wonders, however, whether on the advanced tracks the designers have overreached themselves and fashioned courses that are simply too difficult for the average racer. This is not a case of struggling to win; it's a case of struggling to finish. I suspect that things have gone a bit far for most of us.

Replay Value: 87
Between time trials, racing circuits, the desire to open new tracks and teams, the series of in-game challenges, and advancing difficulty, there's more than enough here to keep hovercraft pilots racing for some time. A few tracks will prove taxing for all but the most dedicated and talented pilot. The handling characteristics of the various craft call for different approaches to racing--as does the non-weapons option. Or just input some cheats and blaze away at the highest levels. I find the tracks themselves reason enough to return for another race.

Overall : 85
Wipeout 3 maintains the strong track record (pun intended) of its predecessors. The graphics are sharp, colorful, and create a mood; so does the music. Some segments of the courses are breathtaking; others are merely impressive (and make you curious about the world in which the game takes place). If you have Wipeout and Wipeout XL (and Wipeout 64), you already know what the buzz is all about, and you probably have the game in hand; if not, you might want to check out what all the fuss is about anyway. It's a solid racing title distinguished for its graphics, sense of speed, and combat features.

By: Brooks Simpson 12/14/99

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