My adrenaline levels are just beginning to settle back to normal. Just now I was about to cross the line in third place ona really tricky track. Then I crashed into a wall and blew up about a second before I would have completed the race and won a bronze medal. I let out the breath that I'd been holding for longer than is strictly healthy at the same time as an equally unhealthy expletive. A fine gaming moment, despite my angst at losing the race.
Make no mistake about it, wipEout is a game and half. Oh yes, and did I mention that I was playing it on an Amiga?
A MESSY START
When the disc arrived in the office, there was a good deal of ooohing and aaahing, and with good reason, after all we've been anticipating this game for a good while. At the World of Amiga show back in July we saw a rolling demo of it, and we were impressed, and that was some months ago now.
This is something of a landmark, being the first PPC-only game. Add to that the fact that it already has legendary status on the PlayStation, and that I was recently bemoaning the lack of decent 3D racing games on the Amiga and you can begin to see the reason for our enthusiasm.
Imagine our disappointment then as we crowded around Rich's PPC-powered A4000 only to see the game run at something like two frames per second. Then we discovered that the game crashed every time a race attempt failed. On top of all that, there was serious glitching everywhere. We were not happy bunnies. Then Rich did his techy stuff, twiddled and tweaked and suddenly we had a game that was not only playable, but nigh on un-putdownable. Warp3D had to be re-installed, and some of the game parameters fiddled with but everything began to look much rosier.
When wipEout arrived in the office there was lots of ooohing and aaahing - after all we've been anticipating this for quite a while
But let's get this straight right away, the game still doesn't run perfectly. The machine that we're using is equipped with a CyberVision 3D, and we could really do with a better graphics card. Also, we're running CyberGraphX 3 and the game would prefer version 4
The upshot of this is that the game will run pretty damn fast at a resolution of 320x240 (roughly the same as a PlayStation), but there is still some minor glitching. At higher resolutions the game will still run, and it looks fabulous, but there is considerable slow-down. It is possible to disable certain features (such as they sky, the trails that the ships leave behind, fogging, etc.) to speed things up. The sad fact remains that in order to get an exhilarating ride on our setup, we really have to limit the resolution. Bad news over. The glitching really doesn't matter when you're so damned involved in winning the race.
So what makes this such a fine game? Well, for those of you who haven't yet seen or played it on the PlayStation or PC, a brief explanation is required. The basic concept is the same as most arcade racing games - the race against the clock to reach checkpoints while at the same time competing against other drivers. It is a formula that has worked ever since Pole Position. While wipEout contains these classic elements, it also adds a lot more.
The most obvious difference is that you don't drive a car, you control a sleek craft that hovers a few feet from the ground. They're nippy little critters, and with the aid of air brakes can handle some quite incredible cornering. They only have a limited amount of shield energy and the game ends if you run out of time, finish a race or run out of energy. Which brings us on to the next big difference from most racing games - the addition of weapons and powerups (see box-out). The idea is to win at the expense of the competition - even if it means wiping them out, hence the title.
With such a variety of weapons and pickups available a degree of strategy is involved in the gameplay. Should you, for example, save that autopilot for the really mean chicane coming up, or discard it in the hope that you will get something that will inflict some damage on the enemy? A plasma bolt, if used well, can give a big advantage. But it is tricky to get right, and you could easily end up holding on to it for a whole lap waiting for the right moment, only to let it off to n effect. And in the meantime you hae missed other pickups. Do not forget that the other competitors are out there trying to get you, and they can be pretty evil, let me tell you.
This game is exhilarating, challenging and quite dangerously addictive. The six courses are well designed, offering three levels of difficulty (although bonus courses are available). The graphics are superb, the excellent soundtrack and effects generate more atmosphere and a sense of pace. That is what makes this game great - pace. It is the sense of speed that gets the adrenaline pumping. The Amiga version also offers much higher resolutions than the PlayStation and is more adaptable. Normally I would never award an AFGold to any title that glitches the way this game has done but I am firmly convinced that this won't affect everybody and that it is our setup that is at fault.
The fact remains that even with these problems, this is a game that deserves to be applauded. If you have got a PPC and a 3D card get this game, it is just what you have been waiting for.