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Wipeout 64

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Reviewed by Raymond Almeda When Psygnosis announced it was creating Wipeout for the Nintendo 64, the development turned a lot of industry heads. After all, Psygnosis is owned by Sony, and Wipeout is one of the company's key franchises. Why would a Sony company make games for N64? Maybe it's simply because they wanted to make a great PSX game even better. In the case of Wipeout 64, that's exactly what Psygnosis has done. The original Wipeout and Wipeout XL have been rightly hailed as PSX and PC classics for their tight control, solid graphics, and killer techno soundtrack. Wipeout 64 has taken everything that made those original Wipeouts so much fun, and improved the game for Nintendo 64. The result is a thrilling futuristic racer that stands tall even next to Nintendo's own F-Zero X. Like the F-Zero series, the Wipeout franchise involves a futuristic high-speed race of sleek hovercraft. The races take place in a variety of cool tracks that are loaded with electronic speed boosts and weapon power-ups. Maneuvering the hovercraft over a speed boost propells it forward at an accelarated velocity. Mastering the tracks is largely dependent on learning where all of these speed boosts are located, and making sure you take advantage of every one. And did someone say weapons? In many ways, the Wipeout series represents an extension (and arguably an improvement) upon the concepts of F-Zero. Sure, Psygnosis was clearly inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto's 16-bit classic. But Psygnosis did not merely clone F-Zero; rather, it added it own spice to the already delicious mix in the form of hovercraft weapons. There are a total of 15 weapons in Wipeout 64. These range from heat-seeking missiles and land mines to a cool "autopilot" feature. When the autopilot is engaged, your craft controls itself for a few seconds - allowing you to take a much-needed breather! Wipeout 64 adds some new twists to the series in the form of craft-exclusive weapons. That is, some hovercrafts are armed with appropriately named "super-weapons" that are most effective in taking opponents permanently out of the race. And you'll want to take out all the opponents you can, since the tracks can have some 15 opposing hovercraft on them at once. While this number is only half of F-Zero's remarkable 30 simultaneous cars, it is nevertheless quite impressive - especially in light of Wipeout 64's remarkable graphics. As has been widely reported, F-Zero X makes some visual sacrifices to achieve 30 simultaneous cars at its phenomenal 60 frames per second rate. But whereas F-Zero's tracks are notably devoid of any significant background scenery, Wipeout 64's tracks are loaded with eye candy. The tracks of Wipeout 64 are full of exciting twists, turns, futuristic buildings and signs, and assorted cool stuff. Unfortunately, the graphics of Wipeout 64 are not without graphic pop-in. There are times that large sections of track will instantaneously appear in front of your eyes; it's an annoyance, but a forgivable one considering this game's sensation of speed. Indeed, perhaps most impressive about Wipeout 64 is the game's dramatic sensation of speed. Despite lots of environmental effects (ie. cool background art, lighting effects, etc.), Wipeout 64 looks and plays quite fast - arguably faster than F-Zero X. Sure, F-Zero X moves along at a phenomenal 60 fps clip, but the barren nature of that game's tracks hinder the overall sensation of rapid movement. With Wipeout 64, on the other hand, we are treated to one of the N64's fastest racers yet. The game moves along at a very healthy frame rate in solo play. While technically the game may boast a speed of 30fps, it actually feels at least as fast as F-Zero X. In multiplay, there is some slowdown in the three and four- player modes; but head-to-head dual split screen play is quite satisfying. The weapons of Wipeout 64 add a fun element to multiplay that F-Zero X cannot claim. The variety of race circuits from which to choose in Wipeout 64 is somewhat less impressive. The game contains seven massive tracks (including one hidden track), each of which is very well designed. There are five cars to choose from , with a hidden car (the Piranha) lurking to be discovered. These numbers obviously pale in comparison to F-Zero X's massive offerings in both departments. The hidden tracks and car help the longevity of the game, but I wish Psygnosis had been more ambitious with the variety. Thankfully, Psygnosis was ambitious with the game's audio. The soundtrack of Wipeout 64 is top notch, one of the best yet to grace any N64 game. Rather than whip together its own in-house techno sludge, Psygnosis went out and licensed the real thing. Wipeout 64 contains excellent MIDI versions of original compositions by electronic maters Propellerheads and Fluke. Rounding out the mix are some original tracks from the music development house named PC Music. Critics of the N64's cartridge format must once again sit down and enjoy the music, as Wipeout 64 delivers some of the best around. It should be noted that Wipeout 64 benefits from what might be called "killer context." That is, the creators of the game obviously had a clear vision of what they were trying to accomplish - right down to the cool, futuristic font that runs throughout. Maybe that's an obvious point, but when compared to sad rip-offs like Aero Gauge, the quality of Wipeout 64 becomes apparent. Every corner of the game oozes quality and creativity and attitude, and that's what makes this game so interesting. When I first heard that Psygnosis was developing this game for N64, I was frankly skeptical. I doubted that the company could make a competitive run against Nintendo's own F-Zero X with its debut N64 game. Too many good developers (see, generally, EA Sports) have seen their N64 debuts fall a bit short of expectations. So I'm happy to report that this is not the case with Wipeout 64. Indeed, with this game Psygnosis has exceeded expectations to produce a thrilling N64 debut. With new tracks, new weapons, and new music, Wipeout 64 is the best Wipeout yet. Is the game better than F-Zero X? That's truly difficult to say, since each game excels in different departments. With its unlimited tracks, 30 cars, and outstanding multiplayer support, F-Zero X is the undisputed king of replay value. But with its fantastic soundtrack, outstanding visuals, cool weapons, and equally precise control, Wipeout 64 is not to be underestimated. Both F-Zero X and Wipeout 64 make solid purchases. You really can't go wrong with either game. If graphics and audio are of top priority to you, then Wipeout 64 is probably your best choice. If you prefer long term replay value and multiplay, then F-Zero X is the game for you. But perhaps the best choice is this battle of the futuristic racers is to do what we do: get both! In this competition, N64 owners are the real winners.

Overall 9.0 out of 10

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