The 1996 sequel to the original WipEout, WipEout 2097 was released as WipEout XL in North America and Japan, but I’m sticking with the name that the developers intended – not what the US marketing dingbats decided they would call it… WipEout 2097 was not initially intended to be a sequel to WipEout, but an add-on pack, but this was later changed as the game approached its release date.
WipEout 2097 is set four decades after the first WipEout and introduces the player to the much faster, more competitive, and more dangerous F5000 AG (Anti-Gravity) Racing League. Unlike in the first WipEout you only participate in single races, rather than in a championship, and the aim is to beat the courses in ‘arcade’ mode to unlock more tracks. The gameplay is more or less the same as the first WipEout, except that in this you can eliminate opponent vehicles by shooting them with weapons that you pick up as you drive around. WipEout 2097 introduces the “Quake Disruptor” weapon, which when used creates a rippling earthquake effect that throws cars into the air, and has become a signature of the WipEout series ever since. And of course there are more standard weapons like missiles, and bombs that you can drop in a trail behind you. There are also defensive power-ups, including the very useful ‘autopilot’ power-up that will drive for you for a short time.
There are four different race classes in WipEout 2097; three to begin with (Vector, Venom and Rapier), and another (Phantom) that must be unlocked by winning races. Initially each class only has two tracks, but more are unlocked when you come first in the available races. If you manage to come first in all the classes a unique hidden car, called The Piranha, is unlocked.
Controlling vehicles is easier in WipEout 2097, and the use of air brakes also makes fast cornering possible too. The collision code has been completely overhauled in this game, so bumping into opponents isn’t as annoying as it was in the first game, which makes it more enjoyable to play overall. Hitting the track walls still causes havoc, though. WipEout 2097 is definitely more playable than the first WipeEout. Which is probably why it was as successful as it was – selling over a million copies in its first year of release.
Graphically, WipEout 2097 is also a step up from the first WipEout. Vehicles now have engine trails, which makes duels more dynamic as you can see opponent cars more easily. There are additional weather effects too. The soundtrack is more of the same: techno beats, with the occasional licensed track from established artists (including The Prodigy, Underworld, Fluke and The Chemical Brothers). WipEout 2097 also features prominent product placement of the then emergent Red Bull energy drink brand throughout the game.
Overall, WipEout 2097 is an improvement over the first WipEout in terms of accessibility, although the lack of a championship mode is puzzling. And once again: the lack of a split screen multiplayer option also limits the game’s longevity. You can play two-player games, but you once again have to use a link cable to connect two PlayStations together.