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WipeOut 64 Preview

Publisher - Psygnosis
Developer - Psygnosis
Platform - N64
Release Date - June
Type - Racing

After months of rumors, Sony-owned Psygnosis finally confirmed with its E3 lineup that it has all intentions to stay a multiplatform developer and bring many of its hit games to Nintendo 64.

The first of many N64 projects, WipeOut 64 follows in the contrail of its popular PlayStation predecessors to deliver some of the fastest racing action on the console.

The Game
The concept is simple: Steer a floating racer down seven twisting and turning tracks and come in first, leaving the competition behind. Of course, this is easier said than done. You see, the tracks are not your regular rally or street race tracks -- and your opponents are far from your friendly neighborhood VW Golf drivers. With the help of on-track power-ups, players lay mines, shield themselves against attacks and blast each other sky-high with rockets, missiles and plasma bolts.

Gameplay-wise, WipeOut 64 seems almost like a mixture between WipeOut and WipeOut XL. Unlike the original WipeOut, the 64-bit version is a bit more forgiving when hitting walls (you won't always come to a dead stop) and Psygnosis promises heavily tweaked and more balanced weapons as well.

Although the final word is still out on what's in and what not, here's a list of the power-ups that could make it into the game:

*Mines: Mines drop from the back of the craft and cause damage to ships that fly into them. They can be destroyed with a thunder bomb
*E-Pak: Boosts your shield enemy
*Autopilot: Switch to autopilot and fly under automatic control for a short period
*Tubo Boost: When fired, a Turbo Boos speeds up the craft very quickly
*Rockets: Fire in bursts of three from the front of the craft and drain shield energy
*Missiles: Heat-seeking rockets that drain shield energy on impact. Lock-on to enemies both in front and behind you
*Electro Bolt: Causes ship to stall and become difficult to control for a brief period of time
*Thunder Bomb: A smart bomb that drains energy from all visible craft
*Shield: Protects you from enemy fire
*Plasma Bolt: Charge before
*firing: Destroys ships on impact
*Quake Disruptor: Kaboooooom. You get the picture.

Psygnosis is also working on secret, N64-specific weapons.

Like in Nintendo's grand-daddy of cyberracers, F-Zero, success hinges on correct use of speed-up zones, which can be found on the tracks in the form of blue arrows. Whenever a player's shield levels hits a dangerous low, optional pit lanes offer the ability to replenish and repair damage -- but they also cost the player valuable time.

The Teams
Before partaking in any of the races, players select their cars from a number racing teams:

*Feisar: This European consortium opt for ease of control above speed, although their craft accelerate well. Best for beginners
*AG Systems: A Japanese team with highly controllable craft suitable for beginners. Shield energy is a bit on the weak side
*Auricom Research: American Auricom has some of the fastest ships around. Beginners might find the ships too tricky to handle, but intermediate players will love them
*Qirex: Russian team with fast, power-hungry ships. Difficult to control, but unbeatable in the hands of expert drivers

Like most racers, WipeOut 64 has the obligatory Championship and Time Trial modes -- but the N64 version takes the series one step further with split-screen races for up to four players at the same time. Considering the fun you can have blasting computer-controlled opponents in the PlayStation version, we can only imagine what happens with four human scumbuckets on one track...

Unfortunately, WipeOut 64 won't feature most of the music of the original (The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, etc), partially due to the limitations of the cartridge format, but Psygnosis is working with popular techno bands to create a N64-specific soundtrack. Let's just hope Psygnosis doesn't take the easy route and go for mono-samples.

When Psygnosis showed WipeOut 64 for the first time at E3, it still lacked all the glitz and effects -- but we were able to take a look at a more recent burn, and we have to say we're impressed. While the framerate is still not as smooth as in the PSX version, the visual punch is already there. Surprising for a first-time N64 developer, Psygnosis seems to have no problem with the dreaded texture-cache, either. WipeOut 64 is delivering sharp, detailed textures and plenty of roadside graphics. If Psygnosis can pull off good stereo (or even surround) sound and give us the same responsive controls as in XL, we're sold.

Currently slated for release winter '98, WipeOut 64 has plenty of competition to worry about: Acclaim's Extreme-G 2, Ubi's SCARS, and even Nintendo's own F-Zero X. Judging from Psygnosis' PlayStation pedigree, it's hard to see how WipeOut 64 could turn out to be anything less than the best of its genre.