If any of you are at all like me, you probably remember first hearing about Wipeout Fusion, the PS2s highly anticipated sequel to the popular franchise, way back in 2000. You also probably remember the agony that went along with each announcement of the games delayed release date. Finally though, the game was released in Europe in early February, to enormous critical praise and retail success. Surprisingly though, Sony Europe still had yet to announce a North American release. Thankfully, the good folks at Bam! Entertainment, hungry for great new titles to publish, stepped up to the plate and took the reigns to localize the game here. Despite a peculiarly long localization and the 2-year delay, the glory that is Wipeout Fusion is finally ours.
Ive noticed that most critics havent been too impressed with Wipeout Fusions visuals. While I do agree that due to the delays they are slightly dated, overall I have to strongly disagree, as Fusion is very much a gorgeous game. Not surprising is its HUGE leap above the old PSone versions, with blocky visuals and low detailing a thing of the past. The course graphics and detail are phenomenal, as are the weather effects that accompany them. Slowdown rarely (I stress rarely) occurs during play, only lasting a couple of seconds when it does. Mid-race draw-in or pop-up is also completely nonexistent, even with the large size of the tracks. The crafts all look great, sporting hi-res texturing, reflection mapping and (very cool) visible damage. All the weapon effects are equally impressive (the classic Quake weapon will make your jaw drop repeatedly!) and its really exhilarating to see 10 competitors all firing weapons on-screen at once. There are a couple minor glitches and some (very rare) track tearing, but with the exception of Gran Turismo 3, Fusion is easily the prettiest racer on the PS2.
Now despite the extent of Fusions graphical leap, it cant even compare to the added refinement of its gameplay. While Fusion doesnt bring a whole lot of innovation to the series, it stands as the definitive Wipeout. Everything is spot-on and tweaked to near flawlessness, as seen in particularly in the improved control. Boasting more defined physics, the crafts now handle more realistically, allowing you to gracefully zip around the tracks at even the most insane of speeds. While it will take some Wipeout vets time to adjust to, after awhile its easy to see how much of an improvement it really is. One addition I loved is how the handling progressively worsens the more damage your craft receives. Another major adjustment to the Wipeout formula is the widened tracks, which has dramatically decreased the amount of times you hit the sides, perfect for newcomers. The combat has also been fine-tuned (and plays a slightly larger role), now acting more like an integral part of Wipeout, instead of just feeling tacked on. The course designs are really well done (especially Alca Vexus) and sufficiently varied, and dont consist of as many drastic turns as before, allowing for more fluid races. The ship designs are very cool as well, returning favorites (Feisar, Auricom, etc.) and newcomers (G-Tech, Tigron, etc.) alike. The new designing team Good Technology (while not up to par with Designers Republic, the old team) gets the job done well, and got the feel of Wipeout while still staying unique. The addition of the AG League mode is ingenious, as upgrading each ships look and statistics (which thankfully actually makes a difference) is a blast. The new Challenge mode is also great fun, offering up a different experience than the normal modes. The last new mode, Zone, is great fun as well, but the insanely crazy speeds will likely turn off casual gamers. All in all Fusions gameplay is almost near perfection, and epitomizes the thrill of futuristic anti-grav racing.
The original Wipeouts (namely the first and XL) revolutionized soundtracks in video games. Their licensed electronic scores from leading UK DJs was as much Wipeout as its gameplay. Fusion easily approaches this level, but doesnt really come close to surpassing it either. While the soundtrack is quite excellent, its not as well rounded and varied as the others. Fusion however, does boast much improved sound effects, from the weapons to the low hum of the grav engines. I was pleased that the game retained the male announcer who states Contender Eliminated! every time a ship is destroyed. For some reason though, the default sound volumes are way off, with the effects being much too low and the music too high. I recommend you turn music down to half while putting the effects to full. Once again, Wipeout is an aural treat.
Im proud to be able to say (and not be lying) that Fusion is worth its entire asking price. With 42 different tracks on 7 courses, there is plenty of racing to be had before any boredom sets in. The AG League will have you hooked for weeks, and the Challenge and Zone modes are a very welcome addition. The ability to create your own league after completing all of the included also helps to heighten the games value. The leagues difficulty level isnt too tough, but there is never any point when wins are guaranteed. Ive played over 20 hours and have still yet to complete 100%, which for any racing game not titled Gran Turismo is pretty damn good. To top it all off, the developers have included a progression chart, displaying how much of the game youve completed and just how much you have left.
To tell you the truth, I was actually surprised at how good Wipeout Fusion turned out to be. With all its delays and misfortunes I was really starting to worry about how it would turn out, if at all. After thoroughly playing it through though, I can now say its not only one of my favorite games of the year, but one of my favorite PS2 games ever. It clearly stands as the best Wipeout to date, and is a testament to the commitment of the guys over at Sony Studio Liverpool (it must be said too that newcomer Bam! did a fantastic job in localization). I cant recommend this game enough, and anyone who doesnt try it is really missing out on a great racing experience. Racing fan or not, buy this game (or at the very least, rent it) immediately, trust me, you wont regret it. This is one of the best games on the PS2 to date. I just love it.