Category Archives: Psygnosis

#52: Wipeout 2097

Format: Playstation Genre: Racing Released: 1996 Developer: Psygnosis

This is a kind of an embarrassing thing to admit now, but when I first played Wipeout 2097 it seemed one of the most achingly cool things I had ever seen. But I bet many of you felt the same way when you first played it back in the heady days of 1996/97.

The original Wipeout game was a landmark release for the Playstation. It was the first non-Japanese game for the console. It was amazingly popular, going to number 1 in all format charts. Most importantly though, it was a game that was not for children. It was squarely aimed at an older, fashionable, ‘buying the latest Chemical Brothers album and clubbing at weekends’ audience. Wipeout was developed with that kind of person in mind. It was even promoted in nightclubs! Imagine!

Nowadays of course we’re used to video games aiming for such markets, but back then, along with Playstation’s whole marketing strategy, it felt like a breath of fresh idea and that video games were finally growing up. Wipeout 2097 stuck to the same formula. Of course in hindsight some of those ads and games now look painfully adolescent and end up looking faintly childish, but hey, in 1996 I was an adolescent and easily impressed.

In 1996 we were enjoying the height of Britpop, TFI Friday was allowing us to pretend we were hanging out in a showbiz pub with Danny Baker, we had a young, fashionable, handsome man called Tony Blair who was almost certainly going to be Prime Minister next year and the Playstation had established itself firmly as part of UK youth and popular culture, with Wipeout 2097 as the jewel in its trendy crown. If you wanted an image to symbolise the 90s, it would be a pre-election victory Tony Blair playing 2097 against Ginger Spice in her Union Jack dress, while Chris Evans and Liam Gallagher look on, downing pints.

The cars ran on blue future power.

It had a soundtrack featuring artists like Orbital, The Prodigy, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and many more. You could even pop the game CD into a normal player and just listen to the music. Gosh it was cool.

The game itself was pretty fun too. 2097 was a definite improvement on the first game. The cars handled so much better and there was a weight to the weapons and cars which didn’t really exist in the first one. The courses were crazier and graphics much more impressive. And you could actually destroy other racers. Hah!

Although 2097 was also available on the Sega Saturn and PC it was seen firmly as a Playstation game. Indeed 2097, along with many other games, showed the graphical limitations of the Saturn and helped to seal its tragic, but deserved, fate.

Even though I’m no longer a teenager, not so easily impressed and can recognise cynical marketing campaigns when I see them, there is still part of me that thinks you can’t get any more cooler than the beginning of a race in Wipeout 2097, Firestarter pounding on the sound track and the robot voice counting down the start ‘3… 2… 1… GO’.

Ian

A Wipeout 2097 t-shirt. No, I didn't own it. Even I wasn't that taken in by the marketing.

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Filed under 1996, Playstation, Psygnosis, Racing

#50: Colony Wars

Format: Playstation Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1997 Developer: Psygnosis

Plot or story seems to be seen by many developers as the most unimportant aspect of a video game. How many games can you think of with a well thought out, interesting and gripping plot? Cut scenes that you don’t skip but actually enjoy watching? Characters that act in a believable and convincing way considering the environment they are in? Not many is it? Even games which I love like, well, the C&C series or the Resident Evil games… You may enjoy them but the stories don’t really make sense.

Colony Wars Box Art

I’m sure there are others but right now the only game plots I can remember actually enjoying are the first Spider-Man game on the Playstation (a story which could have come straight out of the comics) and the game I’m here to talk about today – Colony Wars.

Now I’m not suggesting Colony Wars had the most original of plots. Indeed the ‘Colonies breaking away from the despotic Earth Empire – it’s like the American War of Independence, but in space’ thing has been done a thousand times. But what Colony Wars did do was invest time in building it’s universe.

The developers had obviously sat down and carefully thought about the look, feel and history of the universe they had created. There was an in game database which went into detail about the Earth Empire, the League of Free Worlds, the spacecraft in the game and the various star systems and worlds that you come across while playing. In fact there were even histories of worlds you didn’t come into contact with. You didn’t need to know any of this information to play, but just having it there helped sell the story. References to the ‘Battle of Bennay’, the colonisation of Alpha Centauri and so on really enriched the playing experience.

She cannae take much more o' this cap'n!

The story also changed depending on how well you did in the game. There wasn’t one path to victory and there were multiple endings, everything from the League being totally crushed by the Earth Empire, to an uneasy truce, to the League conquering Earth. Not only did this offer lots of opportunity for replay, but you felt that your actions were having a tangible impact on this universe.

In terms of game play it was good fun, though could get a bit samey. This is why a good plot helped so much. I was willing to plow through the occasional dull level as I was eager to see the next cut scene! Imagine that.

While playing you would receive various radio transmissions and updates which made you feel part of a larger force.

Colony Wars had two sequels, the first being Colony Wars Vengeance, with player as a pilot for the defeated Earth Empire. Again, a great, a very dark plot with a similar ‘multiple paths/endings’ structure. The last game, Colony Wars Red Sun, was ok. It had some good ideas but it illustrated how important the stories were to the previous games, as Red Sun’s story didn’t work as well (I certainly can’t remember it now).

So yes, an underrated classic in my opinion. And the Emperor of Earth called himself the Tsar. How cool is that?

Ian

P.S. Apologies for the German video below, it’s the only one I could find of in game footage.

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Filed under 1997, Playstation, Psygnosis, Space Combat Simulator