With Age of Wonders III just around the corner, I thought it would be nice to go back to the series’ roots before jumping into the latest instalment.
The early years of the PlayStation were a heady mix of excitement and innovation. The beginnings of what would prove to be the explosion of gaming in the modern era, the PlayStation’s early days were something unlike anything seen since, a big step into a brave new world of interactive entertainment; a world in which never-before-seen games were a regular occurrence. While the current generation of consoles have been defined (thus far) by a distinct lack of anything but safety-first, proven IPs, the PlayStation was host to a vast number of new concepts, from the bizarre to the sublime.
Today’s entry falls somewhere between the two. Released just after the PlayStation in September 1995 by developers Psygnosis, Wipeout (or wipE’out” as it was marketed at the time) was a futuristic racing title in which the player took the helm of an F3600 anti-gravity ship to compete in races against other similar ships. The player is given the choice of 8 ships, split across 4 different teams, each having differing ratings for mass, acceleration, turning radius and top speed, as I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear. While nothing ground-breaking, it did set something of a precedent for racing game son the console, setting the bar for a certain level of variety if nothing else. The track number totals in at six in the main game, which, while not massive, does provide a modicum of variety, with a seventh, hidden, track based on Mars further expanding this upon completion. During the course of a race the player could collect both offensive and defensive weapons with which to alter the course of the race. These were divided into the offensive weapons; Shock Waves, Missiles & Shockwaves; and defensive boosts; Shields, Turbo-Boosts & Mines. While these are pretty standard fare, they provide a layer of strategy and tactics to an otherwise fairly standard affair.
Think of a cross between Mario Kart and TOCA Touring Car with added rocket boosters and you’ll not go far wrong.
The game distanced itself from games such as Mario Kart with its much more serious tone, with the visuals having a much more distinctly urban and techno feel than the cartoon-style of Nintendo’s opus. Indeed, the feel of the game fit in well with the PlayStation’s more mature target demographic. The electronica soundtrack, composed by Tim Wright (under the name Cold Storage) gained the title a prominent following amongst the club scene of the day. Indeed, various lines of Wipeout-themed club merchandise were produced to exploit this popularity and it was not unknown for clubs to have PlayStations set up for patrons to play. Considering the now well-known widespread recreation drug use in the late 90s club scene, it must have been quite an experience for the people playing!
The game is obviously reminiscent of predecessors such as F-Zero, but the game itself manages to differentiate itself from not so much stylistically, but mainly due to its timing. The game itself was not stellar in and of itself. Being, at its core, an amalgamation of aspects drawn from existing popular titles, such as the aforementioned Mario Kart and F-Zero, Wipeout had no one thing that players hadn’t seen and played before. What it was, however, in the right place at the right time. The PlayStation was an unknown quantity; the first console from Sony and a newcomer to the industry, that promised to revolutionise the genre. Wipeout was the first racing title available and just by the grace of that gained significant attention. Combine with that a visual style that distinguished it from its peers at that point and its link to the ‘cool’ club scene at the time and you had all the ingredients for a cult hit above and beyond its merits as an actual game experience, something proven by the steady decline in sales of its successors.
Wipeout was not a memorable game for its gameplay, not by a long shot. However, it does deserve to be remembered as the racing game that helped consolidate the PlayStation as a viable console in the market. While I’m not saying it was responsible on its own, obviously not, what it did do, along with other popular titles of the time, was prove that the PlayStation was a console to be reckoned with and gave it credibility in the industry as a whole.
In its own little way Wipeout helped shape the course of gaming as a whole, allowing Sony to consolidate a large portion of the market that it still holds today. What would the games industry look like today if the PlayStation had wiped out all those years ago?
We’ll never really know and that’s, in part, down to games like Wipeout.
As we proceed onward with our Ultima series retrospective we find ourselves for the first time outside of the main series proper as we look at spin-off title Ultima Underworld.
Deviating from the standard structure of the games up to that point, Ultima Underworld was an entirely different beast to that of its siblings, while at the same time being something of a throwback to the older titles in the series.
The game, full title Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, sees the Avatar protagonist return to the world of Britannia, summoned by the ghost of a wizard who claims his brother is enacting a plot which will see the world end. You know, the usual. The Avatar returns at the moment a baron’s daughter is kidnapped and he gets framed for the crime. The baron, who doesn’t recognise the Avatar (the most famous and iconic person in the world of Britannia mind, but suspend that disbelief!) and tasks him with retrieving the girl from where she has been taken; the eponymous Stygian Abyss.
May 2011 saw the release of one of the most interesting titles of recent years; Brink. On paper, this should have been something brand new, different and exciting. Bethesda and developers Splash Damage created The Ark; an exquisitely rendered man made floating island in the mid-21st century. The gameplay was a first person shooter, but with the added twist of free running parkour abilities thrown in. Following that you had the allure of being able to choose to join the security or the resistance, with the incentive of having two separate but intertwining plot lines. And then, on top of all this you had a campaign set out to encourage cooperative class based multiplayer, which ran well with either real friends or the AI bots. It sounds in many ways to be the perfect game, so why are we not all playing Brink whilst Call of Duty sits in its lonely case?
There aren’t that many games of a movie which have proved to be a success. The problem is you’re likely to buy a game if you love the film, and if you’ve seen the film the plot isn’t a surprise, and it’s somehow just not quite as enjoyable when shoehorned into a game’s campaign mode. Those that are actually successful in their own right are the ones who choose a different path; those who keep the films plot and story line in ear shot, but at the same time go their own way. The Godfather 1 and 2 are prime examples of this, checking back in at key points of the films story. My favourite example of this however is King Kong, the game of a remake of a classic, which is somehow able to stay fresh and exciting.