Success, regardless how you look at it, is a two-edged sword. The WipEout franchise stands as a perfect example of a legacy at risk among a dedicated fanbase, now that its former developer (Psygnosis) is no longer behind the wheel. Save for an extensive spiel as to how long I've followed the series, recap its history, etcetera, etcetera; (by now, you've heard it all before, so I am not going there). Chances are, you're among the myriad of fans, be it a hardcore enthusiast, or the casual statistic that's been mildly curious as to what the fourth installment is all about. So let's cut to the chase, (sans the PR fluff and hyperbole) as to whether you're going to give WipEout Fusion the time of day, or scurry back to XL and pretend it was all just a bad dream that you want to go away.
Even before its release, Fusion has been the target of scrutiny and skepticism. Early reports highlighted a glitchy engine and quirky gameplay elements that left a bad impression among many fans. After the first few minutes spent with the game, I could see why. Fusion is an entirely different package compared to previous editions; one which fans will accept for better or worse. The controls, style, and features have all been entirely redefined to a degree that you'll either learn to love or hate. To be honest, I wasn't too thrilled with the changes myself. The combat aspect of the game has been emphasized a bit too much for my liking and the AI is relentless (especially after you've unlocked the Super Weapons). The air brakes and handling aren't as tight compared to XL or Wipeout 3…too loose for my tastes (was it the developers' aim to make this engine more user friendly or not?) Plus, the music is more ambient this time around, less bass and drums…not nearly as dynamic like before.
It's ironic that the game, which looks somewhat dated, was originally planned for release as a first-generation launch title. But you know what? It still looks like a first-generation launch title. Fusion isn't quite the polished product that it should be. In terms of graphic integrity, Fusion, unlike the current PS2 titles on the market, doesn't make use of any "tricks of the trade". So we end up with a game that's glitchy, lacks anti-aliasing, and suffers from pop-up and occasional framerate issues (to its credit however, the game runs virtually smooth at 60 frames per second). It's enough to compel any consumer to demand their money back. So the question remains - why would anyone want to play it? Because beyond the minor graphic faults, design and sound alterations, lies a game that's one of the most exciting editions in the franchise to date.
Fusion features eleven game modes in total (five of which, are designed specifically for multiplayer). In the beginning, the only modes you get to enjoy are Arcade, AG League, and Challenge. But gradual progression throughout the game will allow you to access other modes like Time Trial and the Zone, a brand new addition to the franchise (more on that later). Up until now, I've always been disappointed with the limited number of tracks, but that's all in the past as Fusion features 45 new tracks (divided into 7 circuits). At the risk of sounding cliché, these new generation of tracks are bigger and better, comprised of desert roads, underground caverns, and trigger pads which unlock new sections. Plus, the circuits can also be raced in reverse, ala Ridge Racer. Several new racing teams such as Xios and Van-Uber are introduced to the F9000 circuit, joining the pioneers (respectively, Feisar, Auricom, G-Tech - formerly AG Systems, and Piranha) of the WipEout legacy; each with their own unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. Plus, a feature that harkens back to the original WipEout, each team consists of two pilots (one is immediately available in the beginning, the second becomes accessible after upgrading your crafts through the AG League).
Another addition introduced in Fusion, includes the ability to upgrade your ship, improving its characteristics such as its lateral stability, shield strength, and top speed. Earning money through the AG League will allow you to upgrade your selected craft as you see fit. Studio Liverpool gets a nod of approval for integrating this visual perk; however I wonder where some of their inspiration came from. Overall, the ship designs are impressive, but a few, (notably when they've been fully upgraded), seem like something pulled right out of the pod scene in Episode One. Which is great if you've wanted that sort of thing in a WipEeout game, (just don't expect the majority of fans to agree with you).