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Wipeout: The Game

(Activision; US: 22 Jun 2010)

Wipeout is the reality television show that takes over-excited, usually out of shape Americans and puts them in an obstacle course where they will most likely “wipeout”, much to the enjoyment of its onlookers.  Wipeout The Game takes the same approach as the television show but replaces the fun, its voyeuristic pleasure.  The pleasure of the show is in being disconnected from such embarrassing situations.  The game, of course, puts you in the shoes of the contestant.


Of the two gameplay modes available, “Play the Show” attempts to give you that television experience.  Due to what I would assume to be a technical limitation, there is only the possibility of four player co-op or working with three A.I. controlled characters.  After picking the amount of players involved, the player confronts a character selection screen that allows for “complex” customization options like choosing between three categories of weight—super skinny, a medium build, or really fat.  Of course, the size that you pick will determine attributes that may help or hinder your approach to the game (the skinnier characters are quicker while the fatter characters are stronger). 


It is a little disheartening to see that a game that hinges on building an immersive experience doesn’t allow any type of character editing tools.  The developers even went so far as to exclude choosing a name for your character, relegating personalities to summaries of personas, such as the fat female named “Party Girl” or the well built male known as “Most Likely to Succeed”.  This type of labeling is reminiscent of high school yearbooks where the clothing and personality of a teenager seem to determine their future contributions to the world.  In the same vein, these summaries seem to be determined strictly by physical or material characteristics, simplifying personalities in a typically “game show” sort of way. 


You end up not wanting to actually “be” any of these characters because they stand as a representation and little else.  The player doesn’t want to know what “Party Girl’s” ambitions are because we can tell they will be contrived in a manner that parallels the absurd label they have given her in the first place.  While this may seem like an odd criticism of a typical game show trope, as a result of this, the culmination of the developer’s character selection efforts ends up alienating the player more than pulling them into the experience.  By not allowing any type of personalization to the character selection process, Wipeout fails to immerse a player (who isn’t merely watching) into the game, which could have potentially made for a richer experience, especially with friends and family. 


Before actually entering the “Wipeout Zone” there are three rounds that you have to compete in.  These rounds have predetermined obstacle courses based upon the difficulty that you choose.  In these rounds, you will be timed and given three chances to beat each obstacle course.  Each attempt will add to your time and will determine your place on the leader board.  Most of the sections are broken down into straightforward two-dimensional platforming where you need to time each jump in order to reach the end.  When it is your turn to attempt an obstacle, the other players are provided a reticule on the screen that they can use to shoot what looks like tennis balls, kick balls, volleyballs, and sometimes luggage at you.  This is potentially where the fat players in the game will have some sort of an advantage because their “strength” allows for their course to not be as easily altered if they are hit by these objects.  The only problem with this gameplay device is that the aiming is sporadic and only seems to hit when the game decides the time is right.  The only times these shooting segments seem to have an effect on the course is when another player hits one of the many bull’s eyes spread throughout each obstacle, actually altering the patterns that they are usually relegated to (for example, hitting a bull’s eye near a ball that you have to run over causes it to start moving faster).  The obstacles seem to closely resemble those seen on television as well as the instability of the players traversing over them.


While each obstacle has its own pattern that you need to figure out in order to complete it, frustration sets in because of the lack of control you seem to have.  And while it is fun seeing your pixilated body go limp after getting thrown out of a car or sniped from another area code, there shouldn’t be a place for such rag doll physics when they directly conflict with gameplay intentions.  Wipeout forces you into obstacles that sometimes demand pinpoint accuracy in platforming, but the geometry of the world around you gives an unrealistic sense of the games world.  There were too many times to count when the character that I was attempting to control would suddenly start to crumple as if life itself just got ripped from them, even while on a flat surface. 


When you move to the “Challenging” difficulty, there are obstacles that take a fair amount of time to complete, and when you have almost reached the top only to be rewarded with another rag doll glitch, it takes the fun out of accomplishing anything away.  Being paralyzed mid jump, falling off an obstacle, and forcing the player to restart or lose that round is a less than satisfying experience.  Besides the aforementioned random death sentences, there is also a lack of responsiveness on the part of the controller (at times, a character would just stand there as I attempted to have them face another direction).  However, if you ever do find yourself finishing a game of “Play the Show” or the “Challenge Mode”, you will receive a reward in the form of medals, new characters, difficulties, or outfits.


There is fun to be had in Wipeout, but it only happens when you aren’t playing the game.  Just like the television show, the game becomes fun when you can take on the role of the voyeur.  When you can watch someone continually get frustrated over such a simplistic game, where they are forced to see constant replays of their follies, it parallels the whole reason that we like game shows.  Most game shows like this one are set up with an obvious intention of finding ways for most people to not succeed and this allows us to comment or laugh at their stupidity.  These same tendencies are part of the reason that Facebook and YouTube have become so popular.  We don’t want to be the ones being laughed at so we enter another person’s world in order to abstractly interact with their miseries or societal misfires.  The key to this kind of fun through detachment is that we know that we aren’t active participants, which unfortunately counters the objective of a game.


Wipeout tries to put you in the shoes of a contestant from its reality show, but the lack of control in both the personalization of your experience and the responsiveness of the characters on screen makes for a short sighted attempt.  Part of the fun that comes from watching a show like Wipeout is that we don’t have to participate in an obstacle course that is determined to make you look as stupid as possible.  What makes a fun game is giving a player an obstacle that they can conquer once they have come to terms with the world around them and learning how exactly it manipulates you or how you can manipulate it.  Perhaps this is why Wipeout never lives up to being a good game: it is an attempt to create a game that is worth playing, which may conflict with the intentions of the show it is mimicking.

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Eric Kravcik is a recent English graduate facing an economy many of his elders say he should be terrified of. Horror stories aside, he initially enrolled in the Computer Science field and it took him three years to find out he didn't like writing code before switching to the aforementioned field of study. He believes we are at a very interesting moment in video game history where a rift is forming between the big budget titles, casual audiences and the independent scene. While searching for a stable career he takes time to enjoy this new shift in the industry and can't help but be excited for the future.


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