Still Playing: F-Zero GX

Playing F-Zero GX so soon after the demise of SCE Studio Liverpool feels like finding a new lover before the bed is even cold. But if Sony’s oddly self-effacing decision has taught me something, it’s that the history of Wipeout was always more addictive to me than its future. A symbolic link to Psygnosis and the games of my youth, Wipeout and I had something which no new studio – assuming the series even gets one – can code back in.

Also, now I’m being honest with myself, it’s taught me how much I resented having to gamble on two Sony handhelds to keep that flame alive. The first three Wipeouts required just one PlayStation; the last three required one PlayStation each. What the hell, Wipeout? This split has gone from amicable to acrimonious in the space of a single paragraph.

F-Zero isn’t a ‘new’ lover at all, of course, but actually one of my first. It was in Hong Kong’s Golden Market (think Akihabara crossed with The Raid) that its rising jet engines soared above thousands of inane, squabbling gadgets, not to mention Neo-Geos, and ended up sneaking through UK customs in a suitcase. It was the audio, more than even the Mode 7 pseudo-3D, that really put the super in Super Famicom.

Until I sat down again recently with F-Zero GX, I couldn’t say why AX, its arcade counterpart, didn’t grab me in the same way. Maybe the owner of my local Sega Park just had the volume down too low; or maybe it was that the ricocheting, Doppler-shifting sounds of the Wipeouts, interleaved with Orbital’s Petrol and the Future Sound Of London, made F-Zero’s seem chintzy and superficial.

But I get it now. At a nosebleed-inducing 1,500kph, I’m figuring that it was really all about gravity. For a ‘Zero-Gravity Racing League’, Wipeout is actually defined by weight rather than weightlessness. There’s a realism to it – a thump as you hit the ground, a screech as you grind a wall, an inertia to be surfed in between – that for a decade after 1995 was irresistibly ‘PlayStation’. Wipeout was the game that made you want it so much you almost forgot to want anything else.

F-Zero GX was quite the opposite and, for some, I’m guessing, irresistibly not PlayStation. When you rocket into a jump on Cosmo Terminal, a winding space elevator, there’s a point where you think you’ll just keep on flying into the meteor shower around it. As you corkscrew along the wraparound maglevs of Port Town or Fire Fields, losing all sense of what’s up or down, you wonder when those magnets might lose their grip. Where most racing games have corners, this one has slingshots to the edges of oblivion.

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