Review: Wipeout 2097 1.2.1
Developer: Virtual Programming, Freeverse Software
Requirements: 333 MHz G3 processor, Mac OS 9.1.
Wipeout 2097 is a futuristic racing game where players pilot zero-gravity craft around a handful of tracks. Personally, I’m a huge fan of this genre of gaming, going back to the early 90s when I wasted many hours at my friends’ houses playing F-Zero on their Super Nintendos. F-Zero was one of my favorite games, so the quality bar was set fairly high when I started playing Wipeout 2097.
You install Wipeout 2097 by simply dragging a folder to your hard drive. However, there have been several major upgrades to the game since it was released, so you should make sure you’re using the latest version. The original version of Wipeout 2097 wasn’t Carbonized, so it would only run on OS X under the Classic environment. The copy I received from Freeverse was version 1.1. It was Carbonized, but it didn’t support network play and the mouse cursor remained on the screen at all times. Version 1.2.1, which is available from the Freeverse Web site, addresses both of those issues and appears generally solid.
Additionally, the Wipeout 2097 CD includes nine tracks from Cold Storage, the techno group that provides the soundtrack for the game. However, if you have iTunes set to automatically import any audio CD you insert, it will slow down game play (as I learned when I started reviewing the game).
Wipeout 2097 offers most of the standard racing game options: a selection of tracks, a selection of vehicles, and a choice between time trial and arcade racing modes. Additionally, the crafts in Wipeout 2097 have shields, weapons, and power-ups. These items aren’t common to all racing games, but they do show up from time to time, depending on the type of game.
Shields are analogous to the amount of damage your craft has taken over the course of a race. Once your shields are depleted, the game is over. Your shields get depleted through bumping into walls or other drivers and getting hit by weaponry from other players.
There are a variety of weapons in the game. Most fall into the categories of missiles or electrical bolts—items you shoot from your ship with the goal of hitting an opponent. Other weapons include mines; the Thunder Bomb, which affects all visible opponents; and the Quake Disruptor, which sends a shockwave through the track in front of you.
The power-ups are fairly standard fare: shields, auto-pilot, and turbo boost.
As you would expect from the name, Time Trial mode is where you race against the clock to get your best time on the available tracks. This mode lets you practice on the different tracks without worrying about other racers trying to bump you out of the way.
Arcade mode is what will interest most people: you compete against other racers to win gold. Wipeout 2097 features six tracks split into three different difficulty levels. If you manage to finish first on all six tracks, you unlock the Arcade Challenge, which brings a new set of more difficult maps. Finish lower than third more than three times, and you lose.
You can control your craft in Wipeout 2097 via the keyboard, the mouse, or a gamepad. When I first launched the game, I tried using the keyboard. To anybody who’s thinking about doing this, don’t bother. It’s nearly impossible to handle the sharp turns using the arrow keys. I dug out my old Gravis GamePad and installed USB Overdrive. Since Wipeout 2097 has very few keyboard controls, I was able to not only program ship control onto the gamepad but also the key command for toggling your view from inside to outside the craft.
This improved the control a great deal. Instead of having my ship die from failed shields, I was able to complete and win several races. The controls were still a bit rough, though. I hope they would be better if I’d been using a modern gamepad with OS X drivers and analog control.
Although Wipeout 2097 is an enjoyable game, it’s not without its shortcomings. Some of these are due to the game’s age (it was originally released for Windows in 1997) and others have to do with the game’s design.
The first thing I noticed when I launched Wipeout is that there is no mouse control with the menus. You can only navigate with the arrow keys and the Return and Escape keys. This was even more annoying before I updated to version 1.2.1, since the mouse cursor was on the screen all the time.
In the name of full disclosure, I wasn’t able to win on all the tracks in Arcade mode, so I wasn’t able to try the Arcade Challenge. From what I’ve read, it sounds like this is an elimination situation where you advance from race to race with each victory. This means that Wipeout 2097 is lacking any sort of championship, or circuit mode. I’m referring to a set of six or so races where the same drivers compete in every race to try to have the best “season.”
Another disappointment is the limited selection of crafts. At the start of the game, there are three available. The manual hints that a fourth car is made available at some point in the Arcade Challenge. Compared to other games, this is a fairly small number.
Finally, when you launch the game, you are greeted with a configuration screen that lets you set the resolution, the frame rate, the sound type, and whether you want to play a single-player game or a multi-player game. These settings belong in the game, not in a dialog you have to dismiss every time you launch the game.
Ideally, the resolution and audio type should be set in the preferences, the frame rate should be the maximum your computer can support, and the game type should be set at the main screen—there’s no reason you should have to quit the game if you decide you want to play against friends. At the very least, you should have an option of not displaying this box at startup, since three of the four settings will almost never change. If I remember correctly, Warcraft had a dialog like this that contained a checkbox that read “Always show at startup.” If you chose not to automatically see the dialog, you could display it by holding down the Command key at launch.
Although there are certainly things I think could have been done differently, Wipeout 2097 is a very enjoyable game. Once I plugged in my gamepad, the game became extremely enjoyable and I had a hard time pulling myself away to write this review. It doesn’t seem as fun as I remember F-Zero being—and you can’t just pick it up off the shelf to play without having a gamepad—but if you like fantasy-style racing games, you’ll likely enjoy Wipeout 2097.
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