It was a sad day when Sony closed down Studio Liverpool in 2012, the games developer who had produced highly regarded titles such as the early to mid 2000s Formula One games (but not the abomination that was F1 Grand Prix for PSP) and the WipEout series. The WipEout games were futuristic hovercraft racing games, where players piloted anti-gravity (AG) craft around a variety of challenging circuits. The games were particularly unique for their electronic soundtracks and superb visual design that extended to AG craft sponsors and advertising around tracks. For me the portrayal of the future in the WipEout series was alluring , the racing was frenetic, and to this day WipEout Pure remains my favourite video game of all time.
The closure of SL means that there are no more installments in the WipEout series. In its place similar games such as BallisticNG or RedOut have been released. Joining them is Formula Fusion. Formula Fusion makes a convincing claim to assume the mantle of spiritual successor to the WipEout series; R8 Games has ex-Studio Liverpool staff and The Designers Republic was involved with the graphic design. While it has been in development for a while and I have been playing the early-access version for a few months already, June 1 marked the release of the full version. Below, I’ll list my impressions of the game, starting with the positives:
- The graphics are superb, the craft and track assets are very well resolved (I’m playing with “high” settings). The sense of speed is immense as surroundings whizz by when I boost down the straights of Midtown at 600 km/h. I also enjoy the glare when I exit the tunnel in Niagara.
- The ships have very different personalities. The Vixen is a good all rounder, with predictable turning behaviour, the Sabre feels more “pointy” and I can dart it about to get onto speed-up/pick-up pads. The Python is very floaty and slow to respond, so forward planning is needed to keep it out of the wall. Such diversity in ship handling is good, it allows players to work with a ship that suits them and introduces an element of strategy where ship benefits and drawbacks need to be weighed against each other.
- Customisation. The ship skins can be changed (without any microtransactions, take note Frontier) and modifications can be made to make the ships faster, handle better or give them superior offensive/defensive capabilities.
- Race results. This was a weak part of the WipEout games that I played. You never got to see the results at the end. This is addressed in Formula Fusion, the results are given in real time and at the end of the race. Furthermore, the lap times of each AG-craft are displayed in bar-graph form making it easy to identify how I compare to my opponents.
- Replays. These can be set to auto-save and can be viewed under the “Records” section. When viewing the replay, you can switch between the AG-craft and camera views. You can even change the zoom and orientation of the camera in one of the modes. This feature is great for making videos to share online, or reliving past glories.
- Game Modes: The elimination mode isn’t anywhere near as fun as the similarly named mode in WipEout Pulse, which was all about racking up kills. Here it is the more traditional “last place is eliminated each lap” approach. The endurance mode is interesting. The shield/health drains at an increasing rate as the laps go by, the challenge is to go as far as possible before the ship explodes. This requires a balance between outright speed and collecting shield pick-ups to prolong your time on the track.
- Double Boosting. Fly between two adjacent speed-up pads and you can get twice the boost compared to going over a single pad. This feature is useful for speed runs, race strategy and improving the precision of one’s piloting.
Now for some negative aspects:
- The game isn’t as smooth as it should be. There are jitters in the frame rate, which is an issue when precise movements are needed. This was improved by a patch released not long after the release of the game, but it still isn’t perfect.
- The music seems quite dull and repetitive. More variety in this area would make things more interesting.
- There was a cockpit view during early-access, but this isn’t in the game now. While I wouldn’t use it, it was nice to have the option. From what I can tell, it will be back in a later update.
All-in-all, Formula Fusion is a welcome addition to my SSD. I don’t bring out the PSP to play WipEout much anymore, so it’s great to have something that can run on my PC. From a graphic design and lore point of view, it offers a fresh break while demonstrating the same attention to detail that endeared the WipEout franchise to me. The ships are great fun to pilot and the tracks are well-designed and very rewarding to fly when one gets everything right. That feeling and new content including free tracks and craft will keep me coming back to Formula Fusion for a long time to come.
Here’s a video of what it’s like to play: