Like Matt, I'm also no great fan of the racing genre, yet I've always made an exception for the WipEout series. Why? Because of the weapons, plain and simple. Wreaking havoc on my opponents with bombs and missiles appeals to my more primal instincts, and frankly it's a mystery why more racing games don't feature weapons. Sure, crossing the finish line is exciting and everything, but crossing the finish line after sending a Plasma Bolt up my rival's tailpipe and leaving him burning by the roadsidewell, that's priceless.
The WipEout series has always been about aggression and finesse—racing with finesse, fighting with aggression—and WipEout Fusion doesn't stray terribly far from that formula. The wasteland milieu, roller coaster tracks, superb techno soundtrack—all hallmarks of the series—are present and accounted for. What sets WipEout Fusion apart from its predecessors is the more combat-centric gameplay. In other words, fighting my opponents has now become more important than racing them. They're hell-bent on destroying me, and usually the only way to win is to be equally hell-bent on destroying them. This is no small task, since the incredibly aggressive enemy artificial intelligence (A.I.) always fires missiles with great accuracy and bad intentions. Once they've "wounded" my ship, they pursue me the way a shark pursues prey, peppering me with everything they've got. And when the lead starts to fly—and trust me, in the later races it flies fast and furious—I couldn't help but giggle as I bobbed and weaved my way through the seemingly never-ending barrage of explosions.
WipEout Fusion manages to distinguish itself from its predecessors in more subtle ways, too. The game is a bit less esoteric, and less self-consciously arty than previous installments. Gone is the faux advertising aesthetic from WipEout 3; the more blue-collar WipEout Fusion doesn't have time for that sort of funny business. The game is also darker and grittier than ever before. Even the "Ready…Go!" voice at the start of each race has become ominous and menacing, sounding very much like a cross between Darth Vader and a vengeful Greek god.
WipEout Fusion isn't without its fair share of flaws. The lengthy load times routinely tested my patience. The graphics, particularly in the darker levels, are muddied. And a few of the weapons, like the Proton Cannon, are a nuisance; never once was I thrilled to pick up the Proton Cannon, and I always quickly dumped it (the game, as always, allows me to drop unwanted weapons). WipEout Fusion can also be painfully frustrating at times, partly due to those falling-through-the-track bugs that Matt mentioned, and partly because my opponents simply overwhelmed me at times. Getting hit not only damages my shields but also causes my ship to stall out, making me a sitting duck in the middle of the track. As my opponents whizzed by, they had a free chance to pot-shot me, and I'd find myself getting bombarded not once, not twice, but three times in a row, with Quakes and Super Missiles and Gravity Bombs, my ship spinning helplessly, my shields being drained, and me screaming like an insane person at the TV screen.
Yet, no matter how badly I got beaten, I always regrouped, always restarted, and always got back in there, anxious to make another run at it, anxious to see if this time I'd be the one dishing out the pain. Despite its flaws, WipEout Fusion is an addictive, dynamic gaming experience, and it's still the very best weapons-based racing game available.