When I think of Wipeout, I'm transported to the almost-claustrophobic tubular tracks of 1996's Wipeout XL. Blazing through those neon-tinged loops, there was a singular constant: British club music thumping in the background—the likes of Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, in-house composer CoLD SToRAGE.
Wipeout has always been a series that is synonymous with its electronic music, and how it perfectly captures its particular era of the British clubbing scene. As time went on, Wipeout felt like it was less on the trendy path, and more like a relic of that long-lost era. Where the series envisioned a world built around a genre of music that's changed to the point of hardly recognizing it anymore, and has left its 1990s self in the dust.
Tomorrow, in the U.S., marks the release of the Wipeout Omega Collection on Playstation 4. The HD collection contains the three most recent games from the series: the Playstation 3 title Wipeout HD from 2008 (and the game's expansion HD Fury), alongside the once 2012 Playstation Vita title Wipeout 2048. The three have been spruced to a pristine 4K shine. They run gloriously with no hitches or frame-rate dips on the modern console. It has a photo mode, because it's 2017 and every game on a modern console has a photo mode now. And most importantly, the games are just as we remember them: fast as hell.
Wipeout got its start in 1995 on Playstation and MS-DOS-running PCs (and later, Sega Saturn as well). The game was unlike anything else at the time. It had licensed electronic music and a slick neo-futuristic style. It outfitted familiar Formula 1 cars into hover vehicles, and slapped guns on them for kicks. Wipeout wasn't a game just about being the fastest, but destroying and inconveniencing your opponents along the way. The early games' marketing leaned heavily on the side of its cultural relevance, squaring on the music and scene around it that elevated it beyond just another racing game.
"Wipeout's not an aesthetic. It's a time capsule," lead artist at Studio Liverpool (once known as Psygnosis) Neil Thompson told Eurogamer in 2014. Earlier, in 2012, Sony shuttered Studio Liverpool unexpectedly. Wipeout's nail in the coffin, according to Thompson, was likely the series' aversion to reinventing itself for a new generation, alienating its audience in the process. Wipeout, from its mid-1990s releases to the late-2000s, were always games that proudly pulsed with the rhythm of warehouse-bound raves in 1990s Britain. As the years went on, there were Wipeout's core fans, with little to reach to beyond that initial dedicated base.
"Born Slippy," a track from British electronic group Underworld, encapsulates that music scene in one swoop. It begins dreamy, almost transcendent, before floating away into a repetitive beat endlessly. The full song is nearly ten minutes long. Even though Wipeout's never featured the licensed track (that honor goes to the drug-infused film Trainspotting), it matches the electronic formula every step of the way.
Wipeout, like a Trackmania or Trials game, is one that bodes best upon repetition. Racing (or shooting) in order to get the best score. The music goes and goes, seemingly infinitely. In the early Wipeout games, the tracks are dark and dim, with hints of neon lighting the way. The tracks greater represented the dingy clubs that Psygnosis themselves raved within, loved, and sought to emulate. Yet as the series went on, the games' techno-future only grew larger, bolder, and shinier. Chrome painted the cityscapes instead of lo-res textures. Hypercolorful (or desaturated) "Zone" tracks did their darndest to recapture the feeling of the early games. Nevertheless, the music from its once-timely era always remained. And so did its spirit.
There was never a Wipeout with different European waves of electronic music. There was never a bloghouse reinvention, when the artists within Ed Banger Records ruled the world in the mid-to-late 2000s, and every sweaty club within it. There was never a witch house revisioning years later, as Crystal Castles and even non-British electronic acts leaned on chopped and screwed hip-hop and noise to get people dancing. And now: what would a reimagined Wipeout look like today? (I hope not mainstream EDM, that's for sure.) Wipeout was doomed to fail eventually, as Liverpool Studios themselves surmised to Eurogamer years later in a retrospective, because of its inability to represent a modern era of ravers.
As I race through familiar and unfamiliar tracks (I never played Wipeout 2048, so the experience was fresh for me), all these ideas swam through my mind. What would a modern, wholly reimagined Wipeout even look like, when the series itself technically takes place in a future where the only music that exists is of the 90s' clubbing variety?
In critic Dan Solberg's essay "Tunnel Visions," from issue two of the web zine Heterotopias, he wrote that Wipeout XL "transported players to a place that might not address its locative disconnections, but does merge collective memory with the sensation that our techno future has already arrived." Wipeout told players that we already lived in the future, clued in by then's music in it. The music, the sweat, the speed, the intensity of clubbing and its soundtracked electronic beats was all there. The only thing missing, really, are combat-ready hover cars.
Hours accidentally slipped by as I played the Omega Collection. I wondered about the 2000s Wipeouts that could have been, if the series ventured further beyond its established sensibilities. Or even now, would the light of frat boy Chainsmokers-inspired EDM send the Wipeout name to ruin, or would more underground (and of course, more British) electronic music instead revitalize the series? I failed again and again (playing the Omega Collection has reminded me that I'm frankly terrible at Wipeout, probably always have been and always will be), and I realized, while there needs new life to be breathed into the series should it ever officially return, maybe the series has just plain run its course. With the classics before it to remind us of its heyday, and bait us to scavenge Spotify for that one fated Chemical Brothers track once more.
This story originally incorrectly noted that Wipeout 2048 was entitled Wipeout 2084. This has been amended. We regret the error.