Wipeout 2048 (PlayStation Vita)
Developed/Published by: Studio Liverpool / Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: February 22nd, 2012
Completed: 15th April, 2014
Completion: Finished the single-player campaign with all elite passes, played one section of the online campaign, and played a few chunks of the Wipeout HD/Fury campaigns.
Trophies / Achievements: 34%
With Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 5th twenty years ago generally considered to line up with the birth of Britpop—as if his head exploded into a bloom of English roses—it’s fairly fitting that I found myself digging into the last outing of the Wipeout franchise while the British press felt the timing was right to masturbate itself silly with retrospectives of a romanticised past.
Wipeout was a PlayStation UK launch title on the 29th of September, 1995, so right at the height of Britpop-mania; Wonderwall was released just two weeks earlier. It’s hard not to feel pangs of horror that a series that once felt so futuristic (by way of The Designer’s Republic) is now nineteen years old, but as with Britpop, Wipeout’s place is to line up as an example of what was once British exceptionalism. When I think of this period of post-Cobain US, I layer a sickly, orange television-transmission filter over a country spinning its wheels culturally while it waited for nu metal to be invented. Twisted Metal defined the “extreme” angle of the PlayStation’s marketing in the US, still locked into the “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” mindset; ugly, nihilistic car combat with evil clown iconography. Like nu metal, the only thing that could make it seem cool is that your parents might confiscate it.
Wipeout, however, was something different. For whatever reason, Sony managed something in the nineties that it didn’t manage to quite keep up as the world got smaller—PlayStation in the UK was “cool.” Lara Croft on the cover of The Face, Wipeout demo pods at legendary club Cream. Wipeout wasn’t about chugging Mountain Dew and yelling at your mom to stay out of your room, Wipeout was about running a few laps while you waited for your mates to come round after TFI Friday finished so you could go down the pub and “have it large.”
Honestly, if you asked me to visualise a copy of Wipeout for PlayStation, it’s actually impossible to do it without seeing it lying on a pile of copies of Select magazine next to a packet of Rizlas, probably dusted with left-over cannabis resin.
(And if that doesn’t make any sense at all, well, you weren’t in the UK in the nineties.)
But, of course, I have a complicated relationship with Britpop. I said English roses for a reason; for after all, on the world stage, Britain is England, and Britpop was an English movement that, fair or foul, the rest of the UK was tugged along with. It was never really my movement, and when it came down to it, my key memories aren’t playing Wipeout and listening to Suede, it’s playing Wave Race 64 and listening to Arab Strap.
So when I return to these things, there’s a familiarity, yet a distance. An understanding of what the promise was—Britpop is gonna save us from the indignity of either America’s miserabilism or its manufactured pop / games are finally going to be cool—but too much knowledge that it was never going to come true.
And yet, I have a fondness for Britpop—and Wipeout—because it did try. It might not have been fighting my battle, but there was an inherent optimism I respect. And like the reunion of a Britpop band from twenty years ago, with Wipeout 2048 you can definitely tell what it was they were trying for originally… except it doesn’t look quite the same.
Wipeout 2048 was sadly the last game Studio Liverpool (née Psygnosis) would ship, and one does have to wonder if the changing face of what PlayStation is and was led to a game like Wipeout 2048, which lost all the swagger and self-belief of the Designers Republic and European dance as the years passed, ending up here, with generic futurism and bland EDM.
Underneath that, however, it’s still Wipeout. I remember playing Wipeout 2097 at its height and being utterly frustrated by just how difficult it was, because when you’re dealing with floating racers all the things that you expect about vehicles (how they turn, what happens when they hit walls, what braking means) are all out of the window. I never learned how to play it, and I could never find anyone to explain how you play it either. So let me inform you if you don’t know: Wipeout is a proper racing sim that just happens to have, uh, weapon-equipped floating vehicles. You’re trying to get around the tracks by maintaining a proper racing line, braking early and accelerating properly. You can use air brakes to slow on turns, but they don’t help you drift or anything (well, there’s this “side-shift” thing, but I never got much use out of it). You don’t want to hit walls, but they don’t slow you down as much as you might think (you know, like Gran Tusimo). It’s actually weird to realise years later that the Wipeout series is as serious as Gran Turismo despite its trappings. It’s a series you have to dedicate yourself to—for at least a while—and I was surprised that I dedicated myself to Wipeout 2048 enough to get the “elite pass” in every part of the campaign (definitely helped by the fact they were all single races—no tedious tournaments—although I really hate the “Zone” mode introduced with Wipeout Fusion.)
One you learn it, the game does feel good, even if the level design and campaign never really seems to live up to it (combat events are a nadir.) You can see what people liked about it. It’s just that, like Britpop, it had its time, you know? You can’t play the same songs, just older and uglier, and still expect to stand above.
Will I ever play it again? No. There are loads of levels left in the Wipeout HD/Fury campaigns but I actually found them much less inspiring than Wipeout 2048’s main campaign so I won’t bother.
Final Thought: According to BBC 6 Music, the best Britpop song was voted to be Common People by Pulp. A band who I don’t think ever deserved to be called it, there’s something insidious about marketing a movement such that a song as clear-eyed and angry as Common People was seen at the time and still is seen as a shouty sort of pub sing-a-long, ripe for jokey karaoke covers by William Shatner. I heard it recently and it made me think about Cart Life again. When I think of what Cart Life is lacking, it’s that conviction in Jarvis Cocker’s voice when he screams about exactly how it feels to be a “common person”—simultaneously derided and romanticised for what they are thought to be, never considered truly as who they are.
“You will never understand / how it feels to live your life / with no meaning or control / and with nowhere left to go / you are amazed that they exist / and they burn so bright / whilst you can only wonder why.”
They cut that bit from the single.
In a couple of weeks of Britpop retro stuff, this writing about the band reunion of the period post-club game of choice struck me as pretty timely.