Alright fellas, who here doesn’t know about WipEout? If you do, please skip this paragraph, if you don’t, it’s story time:
In 1995, the british software house Psygnosis, already known for…well…unique games such as Microcosm and the Lemmings saga, decided to try and make a game that combined high-speed racing, combat aircrafts and techno-trance music, with the artistic direction of The Designers Republic (a british design firm that made the logos of most of the stuff you own, probably): a fun little experiment that first got advertised in the movie Hackers (1995), with not many expectations from its makers. Surprise surprise, it was an astronomical commercial success, and became a bestseller both in Europe AND America in two months. After that came seven games and two re-releases, and the franchise grew to be one of the most respected racing games of all time, thanks to its pretty steep learning curve, blood-pumping music that, from the Tim Wright & Orbital soundtrack of WipEout 1, came to include tracks from artists like The Prodigy, Aphex Twins and Daft Punk, and captivating visual design that reached its perfection in Wip3out. In 2014 though, Psygnosis (now renamed Studio Liverpool) was disbanded by Sony Entertainment, of which it was a subsidiary, and with it the perspective of a new WipEout after the stellar 2048 for the PS Vita became unlikely.
Anti-Gravity Racing Reborn
Enter R8 Games, a middlesbourgh based studio that in 2015 came out with quite a big statement: “we’re gonna resurrect AG Racing”, claiming to be what was left of Psygnosis after the disbandment.
AG fans rejoiced, and promptly donated to the Kickstarter campaign that, after two months, reached 175.000 dollars: the funding goal was reached, the lights were green. 3…2…1…Nope, not yet. Sadly, after the release of two Early Access alpha builds on Steam, the team went silent for a year, and most of the crowd that waited and donated left in bitterness, thinking they got scammed by some band of Con Artists, or that the game was not gonna be worth the cash anyway…until February 19th 2016.
A new track, Niagara GP, got added to the one track-one speed class build, and with it a whole lot handling and general updates, aiming to achieve WipEout 1’s ship handling model: what resulted wasn’t the best, of course, but the updates kept (and keep) coming in a steady stream since then, up to the current build, that now includes two speed classes (F4000 and F3000) and three tracks (MannaHatta, Niagara GP and Atlas Torres).
Welcome, to the World of Tomorrow!
As Ian Anderson of The Designers Republic (which are also on board with the project) explained in an interview, this time the setting of the game is a lot more near futuristic, sometimes borderlining cyberpunk, that distances himself from the pure sci-fi of most AG racing games and feels more “grounded”, and even though the tracks are still being refined and reworked, what we got right now is pretty convincing: MannaHatta, a street circuit coated in fog and cloudy weather, with his shining neon signs and animated billboard looks straight out of a William Gibson novel, all it’s missing is a big Coca-Cola LED panel on the side of a buiding. Niagara GP, a flooded industrial compound turned into racing track, is a blending of ruined architecture and overgrowing vegetation, a stark contrast with the cutting-edge and immaculate crafts that blaze through it. The last for now is Atlas Torres, the one in the picture above, which is incredibly reminiscent of WipEout 2048, and with its solid light bridges and “F-Zero X” tunnel at the start is meant to show the spectacular, reckless direction AG competitions are taking in this racing-dependent world.
As of now, Niagara GP is the next track receiving a reskin, that will probably feature in the next update.
The Art of Branding
By being not so far in the future, the setting actually helps with the designing of in-game branding: like in the original WipEout games, the tracks are filled with beautiful digital billboards designed by TdR and from the real world itself, like the british high-end computer building company Chillblast, the game developing engine Unreal Engine 4 (that powers the game, by the way) and THE Electronic Sports League (ESL), which will host professional tournaments after the full release. The in-game branding was one of the most captivating aspects of WipEout’s visual design, since made the tracks feel alive and vibrant, and gave the players a little insight of how the world turned out in that semi-dystopian future. Yeah, it’s stuff that’s mostly irrelevant in a racing game, but having always been part of the originals’ charm, i figured mentioning it would have been appropriate.
And finally we talk gameplay! As far as the vehicle choice goes, you have a different ship for each speed class, going from the subsonic F4000, to the dual hulled F3000s, to the soon-to-be released F2000, the equivalent of WipEout’s Rapier Class and theoretically the fastest class, since there seem to be no plans for a “Phantom” class like in the last WipEout games. As of now, sadly, there is no craft customization outside of weapon and team choice (skin) before a race, but apparently is going to be added a Doom 2016-like system, where completing “extra” challenges mid-race (go at a certain speed for a certain period of time, for example) will unlock mods to Weapon Systems, Outer Shields, Propulsion System and all sorts of technological goodies, that will reset for each team, making the “Loyalty System” from the last WipEouts actually useful, so yeah, for balancing purposes gone are the days of the mario kart-ish weapon pickups mid-race, replaced by shield regenerators and “ammo pickups”, a la Unreal Tournament. Unchanged are the boost pads though, that now come with a little camera shake after each consecutive boost, and a “sonic barrier” effect after passing over four of them in rapid succession.
The controls are pretty similar to, again, WipEout’s, with acceleration, two airbrakes that allow better control in tight corners, and a *moderately* variable vertical pitch of the craft’s nose, but they’re still a bit off in comparison, even if the updates did their job. A particular quirk of the current build is the camera, that being fixed to the center of the track (behind your craft) sometimes makes your ship look like its steering by itself, a minor visual problem that can be solved in a couple of races, but that sometimes can be annoying.
About the races, there are currently three modes: Practice Run, Time Trial and Quick Race, all offline for now, and…yeah, there’s not much to say that’s not in their names. What IS there to say is the splendid job R8 Games did in keeping the community competitive without online modes, with monthly Time Trial Competitions where the first to place in the community leaderboard of a certain track chosen by the devs can win an exclusive and extremely sleek looking crystal trophy, depicted below.
Beats To Drop
Does this game have any? Sadly, it’s the weakest part of the game at this state. The current OST is made out of three tracks, chosen between a pool of community-made ones, and it’ll probably stay like this until the “proper” artists that were promised in the Kickstarter will be contacted. These are the tracks mentioned above:
Kraedt – Homebound
Seledrex – Ultraviolet
Silva Hound – Cool Friends (Veschel & Murtagh Mix)
And about what was promised in the Kickstarter, R8 Games dropped names like DUB FX, The Prodigy and Tim Wright (CoLD SToRAGE), who also composed most of the music for the first three WipEout games. Don’t get me wrong, the current music is fine, but when names like those show up it’s fairly hard to compete with them. So, again, as of now this game has 7/10 beats to drop, but it’ll probably go up from here.
What are those devs cooking?
To wrap it up, those devs are cooking a breath of fresh air in the racing genre, that will still need some time to shape up as intended, but that if everything goes as planned will end up being an instant classic and a long waited return of AG Racing in the eSports scene.
The game is on Steam Early Access, if you liked what you read, go ahead and try it out!
Steam link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/389670/
I hope you found this article entertaining and somewhat insightful, this is The 3rd Runner, signing off.