Recently, Gaming Nexus was fortunate enough to be invited to an exclusive look at some of Activision’s biggest titles for 2011. While everyone in attendance came to the event excited to finally get a closer look at the likes of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, X-Men: Destiny, and Spiderman: Edge of Time, what we didn’t know was that there would be somewhat of an unknown “gem” in the midst of the games on display. Also on display at the event was Activision’s upcoming Wipeout: In the Zone for the Xbox 360. I am one of those guys who has no problem taking the first step out of a crowd and in this case, I was the first person to step up to the plate and potentially embarrass myself by stepping in front of the (Kinect) camera and take my chance in the Wipeout zone. It was me against one of the game’s producers, Matt Hohl, one on one. Little did I know, I was about to spend an extended amount of time not only making a complete fool of myself in front of a large crowd of my fellow gaming press but also completely enjoying myself.
I had absolutely zero expectations going into Wipeout. Sure, I had seen the television show on numerous occasions but never really thought about how it would translate into the gaming universe. Once I put some thought(s) into it, the combination of the two makes perfect sense... and it works just as perfectly as well. The game serves as a very accurate representation of the hit game show; up to 4 players are challenged with taking part in actual episodes of the show, featuring the various qualifying rounds and the final, Wipeout Zone. From a “presentation” standpoint, Activision has absolutely nailed the look and feel of the show. The game features all of the settings and characters fans will know from the show, including the colorful set, both John’s in the broadcast booth, and even Jill Wagner interviewing and interacting with the contestants on the course. The actual actors from the show did all of the voice over work for the game which really adds to the experience. Jill and the John’s look a little different though as the game uses Microsoft’s Xbox Live Avatars to portray everyone. It works perfectly; you won’t find more accurate Avatars than the ones used in Wipeout.
When you step into the zone, you will control your own personal avatar that you have created for your Xbox Live profile. If you don’t want to play as your own, the developers also included a variety of over-the-top characters similar to what you see each week on the show. You remember that crazy, overly-athletic grandma in her night gown that you saw once on the show... present and accounted for; that ecstatic cheerleader from the West Coast... ready and willing to run through the Zone. Players will also be able to unlock a variety of additional characters by completing in the various events and episodes presented in the experience.
If you have ever watched the show, you can probably guess “what” you will be doing in front of the Kinect camera. The game requires players to proceed through an ever-changing and incredible difficult (at times) obstacle course that will undoubtedly have you breaking a sweat before the end of the first round. The episode that I played through started players off by running them through the “Fling Set”; in this section, you have to jog / run in place in order to get your player moving on the screen. Things start off pretty slowly by challenging you to jump over and duck under objects swinging by you, trying to knock you into the water below. Once you make it through the Fling Set, you have to cross through the “Sucker Punch” portion of the stage. In this area players stand on a platform which moves from left to right across the screen, dodging giant, boxing gloves that protrude from the wall behind you. You have to move yourself left and right within the confines of the moving platform and duck on occasion.
The next section is the show’s (in)famous Big Balls section. Once you leap out onto the first giant, red ball you will be launched into the air; in order to move yourself around the screen you have to lean left and right and let the gravity and momentum carry you in the direction that you desire. It takes some work, but the goal here is to successfully bounce yourself from ball to ball across the section and land “safely” on the other side. If you are hesitant to start the process, you will be thrown into the mix thanks to a “gentle push” from the Motivator, a giant, swinging hammer that will thrust you into play at the start of the section. The final section that I played through was the Log Roll, which challenged me to walk across a spinning log, while balancing myself with my arms out to my side.
The gameplay mechanics featured in the game aren’t groundbreaking, but were easily among the most responsive and accurate that I have seen in any Kinect titles to date. You still have to deal with the slight delay of the Kinect camera but it is minimal enough that it doesn’t hinder the fun of the experience. The running motions required aren’t just a matter of making a slight “jogging” motion; you have to really get your legs moving and pump them up and down in order to get your Avatar moving on the screen. If you get moving too fast, you simply need to extend your arms in front of you completely in order to halt your forward momentum. You have three chances to pass each section of the qualifying race; being knocked off will result in a 3-take replay showing your “wipeout” and start you back at the beginning of the individual sections. If things ever get too frustrating for you, all that you have to do is simply raise both arms into the air for a few seconds and the game will progress you to the next section, with a time penalty added on of course.
The name of the game is time. You need to try your best to get through the various qualifying courses in the shortest amount of time as possible in order to improve your overall rank. A new feature included in the game that isn’t in the actual show is the inclusion of time rings, which are scattered throughout the course. Reaching out and grabbing a hold of these rings will deduce your overall time by a few seconds, giving you a slight advantage over the competition. These serve as a nice extra to the gameplay and give you something to work towards as they aren’t always in the most convenient places on the course. Even though only one person can “run” the course at a time, other players are given the chance to get in on the action from the couch using the standard Xbox 360 controllers. During certain sections of the course, the other players will be given a chance to pilot small rocket ships in the background and launch balls at the player, complicating their progress on the balance-based events. Direct hits with the balls can easily send the player(s) plummeting into the water below and cost them a lot of time on their completion ranking.
The second round that I played through against Matt put us on the Sweeper. In case you haven’t seen the show, the Sweeper puts players on platforms set high above the pool below; while balancing on the platforms, players are charged with jumping over and ducking under a series of mechanic arms that swing by at faster and faster paces. If you manage to make it through the initial passes, you will find yourself jumping into the air and crouching onto the floor repeatedly in succession. The last man standing wins and while I managed to give Matt a run for his money, he still stood tall in the end. It is this portion of the game where the Kinect’s delay is perhaps the most noticeable. Thankfully, the developers realize this and have incorporated a color coding system on the arms of the Sweeper in order to help you judge the delay necessary to avoid the incoming arms. You are given a window of about a half-second, during which the Sweeper’s arms will turn bright green rather than their standard red to either jump or duck. It takes a few seconds to get used to but once things get going, you will quickly learn the pacing of the game and be able to react to the necessary delay(s) with ease.
The final round of our episode put us in the heart of the Wipeout Zone, complete with all of the laser lights and fire from the show. Just like the initial qualifying round, this event was all about completing the presented obstacle course with the shortest time. Many of the obstacles are reminiscent of the original rounds, requiring you to jump and duck swinging objects and machines while also avoiding the onslaught of projectiles from your competition.
I think that the thing that impressed me the most about Wipeout: In the Zone is how perfect it seemed to represent the Wipeout experience. That game is a ton of fun, which really caught me by surprise. I wasn’t the only person who expressed that feeling at the event as once I broke the ice of getting involved with the demo, a line quickly formed with those interested in trying it out for their selves. This could easily turn into one of the best party-style games of the year and rightfully so. Activision has done a phenomenal job in merging the Wipeout experience with the world of Xbox Live Avatars as well as put the Kinect technology to good use. The final game will allow players to experience multiple episodes of the show with more events and courses; it won’t be the same experience over and over either as they are including multiple themed events and shows as well as special events featured in some of the hallmark episodes of the show including Bruiseball.
If you have a Kinect set up in your house and enjoy a good multiplayer game amongst friends, Wipeout: In the Zone is easily one of the best options available for you on the platform. The game’s attention to detail and “perfection” of the Kinect technology make it one of the must-have games to show off just what the device is capable of; I would have no problem putting this game up alongside Dance Central as the marquee titles for Kinect. You can check it out for your self when Wiepout: In the Zone launches on June 14, 2011.