Once a mainstay of a console generation, championed by the hardware manufacturers and developed in house, anti-gravity racers have taken a back seat in recent years. Nintendo have seemingly decided to leave the F-Zero series by the wayside after the GameCube game, while Sony’s decision to shutter Studio Liverpool shortly after the release of Wipeout 2048 on PS Vita seemingly rang the death knell on a series that has been synonymous with PlayStation since the original console’s debut.
While Sony are reviving Wipeout once more in a manner not too dissimilar to Dr. Frankenstein bringing his monster to life, with Wipeout Omega Collection made up of content that spans the last decade of the series, there are now many pretenders to Wipeout’s throne that are looking to recapture the magic of those games. Formula Fusion is one such game, with R8 Games a small studio, but one that’s made up primarily of ex-Psygnosis and Studio Liverpool staff, and those from the series’ PS1 heyday in particular.
A big part of the game is getting the aesthetic right, which is bolstered by the partnership with The Designers Republic. There’s also a real effort to get a certain grittiness in the level design, harking back to the earlier Wipeout games, and it really shows in the screenshots. There’s definitely that grounded and plausible look to the futuristic raceways and the locations they pass through. They’ll be passed in the blink of an eye, but the texture work see the metallic surfaces you race across covered in grime, scuffs and scratches.
Of course, none of that matters if the racing isn’t up to snuff and the handling doesn’t live up to the idle daydreams of fans of the genre, and Formula Fusion feels to me like it’s on the right track. It’s the familiar blend of racing that is just that bit too fast for me to be particularly good at, with even the few tracks that I tried scratching that itch for technical racing that Fast RMX didn’t manage for me on Switch. There’s twists and turns that will absolutely demand you master the air brakes in order to avoid grazing the walls.
One interesting point is that gravity actually comes into play, despite this being an anti-gravity racer, so when the Atlas Torres track starts off with a sharp 90º ramp to the vertical, your ship slows down as though you’re climbing to the first drop on a rollercoaster. In some ways you are.
True to form, there’s both defensive and offensive weapons to pick up and unleash upon your opponents, with hits draining first your craft’s shields that can be refilled via pick ups, and then its underlying health. It’s an unusual two stage distinction to make in my mind, but the boost system is much simpler. So long as you’re not crawling along the walls, your boost meter charges over time until you can let loose in one burst.
Exploring the menus, I was also delighted to see the sheer volume of options available. There’s everything from straight up races and time trails through to Elimination, Destruction, Speed Lap, Endurance, and more. Additionally, a patch in the last week has added reverse versions of tracks and the ability to race at night as well.
There also promises to be an amount of customisation possible for your craft. There’s some pleasing variety to the craft design to start with, each team having a different design philosophy and style, but you can take that further, changing the livery and tweaking certain parts of the vehicle, such as how weapons behave,
With the game currently available in Early Access on Steam, leading toward a release planned for later this year that will see it come to console, R8 have got an eye on the future. DLC for this game will be free, following the business model set out by Rocket League that continues to support the game with cosmetic purchases, but there’s also the hope that the game can break into esports in some way.
Tournament features will be added, to let people bring competitions together. Truth be told, what they have in mind is rather interesting, with team play at the heart of this and different players taking on different roles, such as being the blocker that helps to protect your lead racer. It’s something that sounds more brutal science fiction Tour de France than futuristic Formula 1, and I’m genuinely curious to see where R8 can take that idea.
It’s all too easy to put the cart before the horse in that regard, but R8 are making all the right noises are with Formula Fusion – speaking of which, the sound design is pretty good, too. This is a game that looks to capture the essence of Wipeout, and perhaps bring a few ideas of its own to the starting grid as well. It might just be the closest attempt yet.