It’s Time For Another WipEout Game
WipEout is one of the most iconic racing games ever made. One of the few launch titles on the original PlayStation, the hard as nails rave racer from Studio Liverpool was distinctly a product of the time and place it was developed. Every game takes references from developers’ lives and experiences to some extent, but WipEout was forged in raves at Liverpool’s infamous nightclub Cream and some of its finest ideas came to fruition during a pint session in a pub just across the water.
People argue that this is precisely the reason why the WipEout series didn’t survive and developer Studio Liverpool (formerly Psygnosis) was closed down. Even some of the game’s own developers think this. Neil Thompson, lead artist at the studio, said the same to Eurogamer in its exhaustive investigation of the studio’s closure.
"What I would have liked to have seen – and I don't know whether the business would have supported it – was WipEout to evolve in its look and its music and its fashion, because it was still harking back to [iconic ‘90s counterculture design label] The Designers Republic thing,” he says. “That's the past. That was my youth, not the youth of today. What are they into? You want to write that game with the twenty-somethings who are writing games now, and say, 'Right, you take it.' Call it WipEout. That's the dynamic. But what's the aesthetic? What's the soundtrack? What's the look? What's the design ethic?”
It’s good reasoning. After the original game in 1995 and WipEout 2097 the year after, future instalments failed to capture the same ‘90s club culture vibe. They still had the same fast-paced, ruthless gameplay, but the tone felt off. The excitement of WipEout had gone stale. It had been done before.
So why is now the right time for a reboot of the iconic series? And why should it, in my opinion, attempt to recapture that ‘90s counterculture rather than appeal to the kids of today?
For starters, the ‘90s is back in fashion. WipEout was more than an aesthetic – it encapsulated a lifestyle – but this well-passed-his-club-days millennial writer thinks the youth of today would gel with a WipEout revival in all its now-retro glory. As far as I can tell, zoomer fashion is all about wide-legged jeans and tiny sunglasses, look at Billie Eilish and Post Malone.
While a soundtrack and aesthetic directly featuring these modern artists could work too, going back to the fashion and musical roots of ‘90s culture would offer something different for a modern audience who weren’t around to experience it.
Besides, Volition just tried to bring Saints Row up to date with modern youth culture and missed the mark quite spectacularly. Older developers don’t get it. As Thompson told Eurogamer seven years ago, you need “twenty-somethings who are writing games now” to appeal to their own demographic successfully. But on some level, I think the young people getting sweaty in their Cream equivalents these days – I’m assuming the gentrified warehouses of the Baltic Triangle house this sort of thing now – would love an authentic racer embodying the aesthetics that they’re recycling, by the people who were there the first time around.
Some people also believe that WipEout was just too hard to be successful, but that doesn’t track any more. It leaned into the intense difficulty in part as a way to differentiate itself from F-Zero, but some people believe this tough approach put players off, and contributed to the death of the series. We’re now in the era of Soulsbornes, though; Elden Ring practically had Game of the Year wrapped up in February. A racing game with a cool aesthetic, banging soundtrack, and intense difficulty would slot right into an unfilled niche in the modern gaming landscape. WipEout HD ran beautifully at 60fps, so imagine what it would feel like on the PS5’s 120.
It pains me to call the ‘90s retro – that’s the decade I was born in for Christ’s sake – but it’s time to face the music, and race to the death as those retro beats pump into our ears and futuristic races fill our bloodstreams with adrenaline once again.
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