Racing to 31 – 31 Racing game greats: #22 Wipeout 2097 (1996)

It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, counting down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!

WipEout2097BoxIn a lot of ways the Wipeout series is my moment of realisation a lot of people had with Super Mario Bros way back in 1985.   When I first set eyes on Wipeout it felt like the future of video games, not just because the game looked technically and thematically way ahead of its time, but also because of what it brought to the table in terms of legitimising video games as a thoroughly artistic medium.  The Wipeout series  weren’t just brilliant games, they busted the idea that games were pixelated messes designed and destined to be played by kids, which in some ways is why games like Mortal Kombat and DOOM received such public backlash about ‘what it was doing to our kids’.  But Wipeout in some ways changed that perception by being a game that any adult could look at and appreciate its artistic value.   Back in August I wrote about that very topic, saying that:

“…Wipeout was quite simply the coolest game that I had ever seen.  Everything about it oozed a sense of style that most games that had come before it could only dream of.  Wipeout took the first steps toward games as art, with everything that padded the simple act of interacting with the screen, feeling like it had come from the advertising campaign for only the hippest of brands.”

But while the first Wipeout was indeed an excellent game in its own right, it wasn’t until Wipeout 2097 that I think the game got momentum as the truly trailblazing racing game series it is now considered to be.  Most of the changes to the original were minor and on paper don’t amount to much, being refinements more than great leaps forward.  The track design was better, and really seemed to embrace the way the craft handled, and the added sparking effect when you ship brushes the side of the track not only looked cool but gave just enough feedback to make shaving split seconds off your time that little bit easier.  My first experience with 2097 was on a Demo One disc which featured one track – Gare d’Europa – that seemed purpose built to show off just the slight changes developer Psygnosis made to how the ships felt on the track.  I must’ve played that demo a thousand times, and it was the first time I understood the pure joy or perfecting a track’s racing line in pursuit of a best lap time, and a joy that Psygnosis well and truly ‘got’ with its fine tuning from the first game.

Gare d Europa

But alongside plenty of minor changes were the big changes that stuck with the game from that point forward.  The grid size was upped from a meagre four to an impressive 12, and much like every other futuristic racer since, the change was made to allow for opponents to be destroyed with weapons rather than just hampered.  They may not seem like much, but these changes effectively cemented in our expectations for what a futuristic racer could and should be, and while future games would improve on Wipeout 2097, it was the 1996 classic that laid the solid foundation for what was to come.  As I’ve written before:

Wipeout was more than just a technical step forward, it was a serious step forward toward legitimising video games as a pastime, and one that as a brand left its mark on generation after generation of players.

And raise your hand if Wipeout 2097 was the first time you’d ever heard of Red Bull

Tell us your futuristic racing memories in the comments, and be sure to check out earlier games in the countdown at the links below!

#31: Stunt Car Racer   #30: Badlands   #29: RVF Honda  #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge  #27: Nitro  #26: Super Grand Prix  #25 Super Cars II  #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally  #22 Wipeout 2097  #21 Micro Machines V3  #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes  #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0  #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge  #15 Project Gotham Racing 2  #14 F-Zero GX  #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown  #11 Ridge Racer  #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2  #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift  #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles  #6 Dirt 2  #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit  #4 Shift 2: Unleashed  #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed  #2 Forza Horizon  #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition

Wipeout2097Screen Shot