"Huh. This is a bit different, eh?"
Three races into Fusion, I found myself uncertain about the essence of the experience. Over time, it seemed more like Wipeout in name alone, and not in substance.
"This is a bit of a shame," I'd tell myself, and go back to playing Gran Turismo 3.
Fusion had the potential to succeed. It was a household name, even drawing admiration from Mama Kernaghan in our household.
Drawing from the team's rich history, the potential was there. But that rich history was shoved aside for an exclusive PS2 experience.
Fusion came at a time when the hype for PS2 was still in maximum overdrive. Two years after the PS2 launched in the UK, Fusion had the potential to deliver so much, yet is often remembered as an outlier in the series.
In the grand lineage of the Wipeout series, Fusion steps into the scene with some admiration but mostly raised eyebrows.
A bold attempt to reinvigorate the then 7-year-old franchise, creating something entirely different yet a product that doesn't deviate too far from the essence of the original.
Except, for most fans, it did deviate too far.
You don't even need to be a massive Wipeout fan to know just how impactful the first three releases were on the PlayStation.
Lord knows I've talked about this enough.
The first three have etched their places in gaming history, celebrated for their sleek design, futuristic aesthetic, frantic gameplay and heady beats.
Technically, Fusion should still be the most playable to this day, but have a guess which games fans go back to time and time again.
Sorry, Fusion. While it seems that I'm out to get you, it's a damn shame this one missed the mark.
The earlier entries excelled in delivering a unique anti-gravity racing experience, with tracks that seamlessly blended challenging turns and adrenaline-pumping straights.
Wipeout on PlayStation was memorable. Distinctive, even. This was not.
Fusion chose a different path.
While attempting to retain the essence of its predecessors, it stumbled on a few fronts. The antigravity physics, although fast-paced, lacked the finesse that made the previous titles feel like a smooth dance of precision and speed.
The previous titles were all the harder for it, but they were also infinitely more rewarding if you adapted to its difficulty curve.
The "on-rails" experience, a departure from the freedom of control seen in Wipeout 1/2/3, left some players yearning for the dynamic manoeuvrability that defined the earlier games.
Track design, once a hallmark of the series, took a different turn in Fusion as well.
The introduction of challenging twisty sections, while a bold move, felt less intuitive compared to the well-crafted tracks of earlier entries.
The strategic element embedded in the twists and turns of the predecessors seemed somewhat lost in Fusion's attempt to modernise the experience.
We Do Not Pitch For Jobs
Most impactful of all was a lack of involvement from The Designers Republic, which ultimately, made Fusion feel like an entirely different game for all the wrong reasons.
I think that Wipeout isn't Wipeout without that TDR influence, and as such, felt too grand a departure from everything that made Wipeout the iconic gaming experience it once was.
Once a tightly crafted package radiating coolness, the series now felt generic when compared to other titles on store shelves.
This would also mark an end to an iconic relationship between Sony and TDR.
Sony asked the graphic design powerhouse to "pitch" their work to them, something I imagine was unusual given their previous work together.
Wipeoutzone.com user infoxicated said, "The Designers Republic chose not to pitch for the Wipeout Fusion project. They were asked to pitch and replied with words to the effect of 'We do not pitch for jobs, we either do them or we do not.'"
While there's little to confirm this, it is a good explanation for the lack of TDR work within Fusion. That was the end of that, then. A huge blow which would push the team at Sony to handle in-world graphic design and UI on their own.
A valiant attempt, but incomparable.
It's Not All Bad
I don't want to come across like I'm completely shitting on the Fusion experience. A team of people worked on this, and I respect the work they did.
In its own right, Fusion brings its quirks and strengths.
The soundtrack remains a standout feature, and the superweapons maintain their flair, adding an element of excitement to the races.
It stands as a different flavour within the Wipeout series, more forgiving for newcomers, with a unique blend of highs and lows, making it a distinctive, if not entirely seamless, chapter in the celebrated franchise.
I want to stress that Wipeout Fusion wasn't a bad game as such, it just didn't resonate with the fans of earlier entries.
On its own, it's a perfectly reasonable if somewhat flawed futuristic racing game - but that's all it ever really will be.