Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Videogame Soundtrack Special - WipEout Series (PlayStation)

The music of WipEout

The impact the original Sony PlayStation had back in 1995 is simply astounding. Not only were the 3D visuals absolutely mind blowing, but the games had a darker, grittier edge that separated them from their 16-bit forbears. These were games aimed at adults (well, twenty-somethings and up anyway). Gone were the charming and twee chiptune tracks from previous console generations, replaced with CD quality audio featuring well known rave and dance acts. Suddenly, games were extremely cool, even making appearances in nightclubs at the time. I remember seeing WipEout being demonstrated on a large screen in a GAME store back in the day. There were large crowds standing around gazing up in awe at the visual spectacle on-screen. It was like nothing we had seen before and the air was electric with excitement. For me, it was love at first sight, and I knew then and there that I simply had to own a PlayStation as soon a humanly possible. Since that fateful day, I have had a long term relationship with the WipEout games. To me, they are the PlayStation brand and, along with Ridge Racer and Tekken, are the games that keep the spirit of the original 32-bit machine alive and kicking with each new machine released.

Along with my love of games, I also have a, possibly even greater, love for music. Since the very first time I heard my Commodore 64's SID chip playing one of the many excellent and still-popular chiptune tracks, I have been obsessed with electronic music. I would go through many phases in my younger days, from rave and old skool hardcore, through jungle and drum & bass, to trance and house, experimental electronica and beyond. These days I produce deep, musical drum & bass under my ActRaiser alias, with many releases on popular record labels, but have also released progressive house, trip-hop, electronica, funky breaks and dubstep music. I still hold a special place in my heart for videogame music to this day, regularly listening to NES or C64 music, remixes of videogame classics such as Mega Man, Zelda and Castlevania, to the wonderful music being produced today for indie games - the scores to Hotline Miami, Shatter, Soul Brother, Double Dragon Neon and TxK deserve special mention.

Here I want to talk about the soundtracks to the WipEout series. Each installment has provided a pounding selection of dance tracks to snake through those roller coaster style courses at a million miles per hour. From the original OST that was mostly the work of one man, Tim Wright, to the more recent entries which use licensed music from popular record labels of various genres - a practice now commonplace in games, especially those of the racing variety, with the Motorstorm and Forza games reaching out to popular dance labels to supply their energetic soundtracks. But WipEout was a pioneer in this respect, and still manages to stay ahead of the game by using familiar artists and remixes of songs featured in earlier games. 

I have included links to my personal favourites from each soundtrack, just click on the song title, turn up your speakers and enjoy! 

WipEout (Psygnosis, 1995)

Exclusive to UK PAL PlayStation release:
Exclusive to Sega Saturn release:
  • Rob Lord & Mark Bandola - Brick Bat (Exclusive to Sega Saturn release)
  • Rob Lord & Mark Bandola - Planet Nine (Exclusive to Sega Saturn release)
  • Rob Lord & Mark Bandola - Poison (Exclusive to Sega Saturn release)

The very first WipEout game, released in 1994, featured some storming tunes from Tim Wright (under his Cold Storage alias). Up until then, Tim was best known for his excellent Amiga soundtracks, such as Shadow of the Beast, Lemmings and Agony - but for the futuristic racing of WipEout, he turned his hand to trance and rave music, something new to him. He did his homework on the genre by visiting nightclubs and observing the crowds reaction to the buildups and drops of the music. He then took this insight back to the studio and created some exemplary pieces of electronic music that flirted between genres such as trance, techno and breakbeat, often comprising of several different sections that could easily have been individual tracks in their own right.

My favourite Cold Storage track in WipEout is the stunning, Messij, which is still one of my favourite driving tunes to this day. Other tracks by Tim include Cairodome - featuring some haunting ethnic chants to go alongside the psytrance beats and acid basslines, and Doh-T, which hosts some frantic trance arps and squelchy synths. All of the tracks match the style and pace of the game to a tee and, in hindsight, it's impossible to imagine WipEout without these brilliant tunes. The UK Pal release also included some exclusive tracks from well known underground dance acts such as Leftfield, Orbital and The Chemical Brothers, whose Chemical Beats track was a perfect accompaniment to the futuristic racing.

WipEout 2097 / XL (Psygnosis, 1996)


Saturn / PC
  • Cold Storage - Canada
  • Cold Storage - Body in Motion
  • Cold Storage - KinKong
  • Cold Storage - Plasticity
  • Cold Storage - Messij Xtnd
  • Cold Storage - Tenation
  • Cold Storage - Surgeon
  • Cold Storage - Hakapik Murder
  • Cold Storage - Messij Revisited
  • Cold Storage - Body Plus (Exclusive to Sega Saturn release)

The sequel, WipEout 2097 would also feature music from Cold Storage, though only two of his tracks would make it into the PlayStation incarnation - the rest of that soundtrack comprising of tracks from popular underground dance acts such as The Prodigy (Firestarter), Fluke (Atom Bomb and V Six), The Future Sound of London (We Have Explosive and Landmass), Photek (The Third Sequence) and Underworld (Tin There). However, the Sega Saturn and PC versions of the game featured soundtracks made up entirely of Cold Storage tunes. While not in the same league as his efforts for the first game - lacking the pulse-quickening tempos and catchy melodies of the original WipEout score - they are still well suited slices of trance and techno music, with the two follow up tracks to Messij being the highlights for me. 

The licensed tracks used in the PlayStation version are all excellent and, in some ways, are the tunes that most remind me of the WipEout brand. Coming from established producers, the rave-meets-techno tracks from F.S.O.L and Fluke, along with the Earth-shaking beats and bass of The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers offerings sound far more polished than the Cold Storage productions that sit alongside them, and shows that going down the licensed music route was probably a wise decision by Sony / Psygnosis.

Wip3out (Psygnosis, 1999)


For WipEout 3 - sorry, Wip3out - Cold Storage stepped aside, allowing a selection of varied compositions from commercially known acts such as MKL, Paul Van Dyk and Propellerheads to accompany the action. Six tracks came from legendary progressive house producer, Sasha. These six tracks - named after the racing teams featured in the game - are the highlight of the soundtrack, with a mixture of pounding, progressive breaks tunes and more straight up 4x4 trance tunes that have a similar vibe to the Cold Storage tracks from previous installments. 

Special bonus points are awarded to Wip3out for featuring Sasha's Xpander, one of the most beautiful and hypnotic progressive trance tunes of all time (in my humble opinion). Series favourites The Chemical Brothers and Orbital would both reappear with new tracks - the pounding techno sounds of Under The Influence, and the synth-heavy, psychedelic electronic breaks of Know Where to Run, respectively - while Underworld returned with Kittens, a heavy techno track with almost-military style marching drums.

WipEout Fusion (Sony Studio Liverpool, 2002)


Leaving the original PlayStation behind, the next game in the series, WipEout Fusion, came to the consoles successor - the imaginatively titled, PlayStation 2 - in 2002, leaving behind the 90's rave sound in favour of more contemporary sounds. This would be the first WipEout soundtrack to comprise entirely of licensed tracks from a variety of artists of differing genres. The music would primarily focus on the breakbeat sound, from the big beat stylings of Cut La Roc (Bassheads), to the more dance floor electronic breaks of Blades, Plump DJs, Elite Force, Brainiac, Humanoid and Utah Saints, with only a couple of 4x4 techno tracks from Timo Maas and Bob Brazil

The standout track, Hybrid's remix of The Future Sound Of London's seminal rave classic Papua New Guinea is an absolutely stunning reworking, but unfortunately is ill suited to WipEout's short and frantic races. This is due to the track not dropping into the main section until nearly three and a half minutes in, by which time the race is usually almost over. It's a shame that a WipEout specific edit was not created, something that would be a recurring feature in later titles. WipEout Fusion's soundtrack is a bit disappointing after the work that has come before, and some of the choices, while excellent tracks in their own right, are a bit unsuited to a frantic racing game.

WipEout Pure (Sony Studio Liverpool, 2005)


Three years later another WipEout titled appeared, this time on Sony's new handheld console, the PSP. WipEout Pure, was extremely impressive and a worthy addition to the series. Cold Storage made a welcome return, though with only one track, Onyx, which was a great throwback to the classic trance-meets-rave sound of his previous work for the series. Musical mentalist Aphex Twin would contribute a predictably insane slice of acid electronica with Naks Acid, and further, more palatable breaks tunes would be provided by respected breakbeat producers such as Elite Force, Drumattic Twins, FreQ Nasty, Plump DJs, Rennie Pilgrem and Orbital's Paul Hartnoll

Acid techno would be brought to the table by Jay Tripwire and industry veterans, Way Out West, while trance don Tiesto provides a thumping techno tune that really hits the spot. Drum & bass fans would be catered for by the return of Photek with C-Note - an aggressive bassbin shaker that really gets the blood flowing - and T Power bringing the summer reggae stylings with his amen track, The SystemWipEout Pulse's soundtrack features a strong selection of tunes and is a wonderful step back to form after the slightly disappointing Fusion playlist, with a good variety of different sounds and many tracks that still sound fresh today.

WipEout Pulse (Sony Studio Liverpool, 2007)


The next game in the franchise, 2007's WipEout Pulse, would be another PSP title, with a PS2 port released two years later. It featured another breakbeat-sentric soundtrack, with more music from Rennie Pilgrem, Aphex Twin and Stanton Warriors, with additional material from bone-shaking bass masters Noisia (Seven Stitches) and Mason, with an exclusive edit of their popular electro club track Exceeder. One of the best tracks in the playlist is also one of the most chilled out - Shlomi Aber and Guy Gerber's, Sea of Sound is an incredibly hypnotic progressive house tune which works surprisingly well with the onscreen action. 

There were more energy-fueled drum & bass tracks by extremely well regarded artists in the field of 175bpm music. Ed Rush, Optical and Matrix collaboration Frontline is a rip-roaring ride through twisted bass, fast beats and almost rock-like synths snaking in and out of the mix. MIST (a pairing of Marcus Intalex and S.T. Files) gave us Smart Systems, an incredibly futuristic sounding slice of widescreen drum & bass music, with a growling reese bassline, haunting vocal samples, sparkly synths and rave-esque stabs. It's an absolute belter of a track and the highlight of the album. Bad Company's DJ Fresh gave us one of his solo productions, X Project (a nod to the Amiga shoot-em-up, Project X, perhaps?), a fairly bonkers synth-heavy cheesefest that I wouldn't be caught listening to in my own time, but as an accompaniment to hover ships hurtling through twisting race courses at a million miles an hour, it is spot on. WipEout Pulse also tweaked many of the tracks in its playlist to make them more suitable, cutting down intros and lengthy buildups in order to get to the drop of the tune more rapidly. While shorter and less varied than Pure's effort, Pulse's soundtrack is still a strong selection.

WipEout HD + Fury (Sony Studio Liverpool, 2008 / 2009)

Fury Expansion Pack

2008 would bring the WipEout universe to Sony's PS3 console. WipEout HD was exactly that, a high definition race through some of the most gorgeous backdrops yet seen in videogames. Disappointingly, this fresh new addition to the franchise featured a soundtrack made up entirely of tracks from Pulse, with no exclusive tracks whatsoever - making it the worst WipEout soundtrack by sheer lack of effort alone. The DLC pack, WipEout Fury, would, however, bring six fresh tunes to the table, including music from US breakbeat act, The Crystal Method and another track from Noisia. Unfortunately, these six tracks are fairly poor, consisting of some ear-piercing, screechy electro breaks that have you heading to the menu to skip to the next song. 

Thankfully, WipEout HD offers players the option of playing their own custom soundtracks during the game, as long as the music files are on the PS3's hard drive. I took this opportunity to copy all the music from previous WipEout games onto my PS3 and found it improved the game tenfold. Speeding through the spellbinding courses of HD and Fury to the sounds of Cold Storage's earlier work really is the icing on the cake. 

Speaking of Cold Storage, Tim took it upon himself to produce an unofficial soundtrack to the game, entitled Cold Storage HD. It features six tracks that capture the spirit of his work for the original PlayStation titles, with a modern touch of polish to the production. It can be purchased from his site, and comes highly recommended. * At time of writing the Cold Storage website is on hold while improvements take place. In the meantime, you can listen to the whole LP on Grooveshark, or follow the links below.

Cold Storage HD

WipEout 2048 (Sony Studio Liverpool, 2012)


The latest title in the long running series is another handheld title, this time on Sony's wonderful Vita system. Wipeout 2048 is set before any of the other games, hence the 2048 in the title. But rather than use this as an opportunity to go back to the rave sounds used in the PS1 games, Sony opted for a varied selection of fresh tunes of varying genres, as well as a wealth of remixes of tracks used on the official soundtracks that were released alongside the original games (yet were not actually included in the games themselves). So, we have modern reworkings of Orbital's P.E.T.R.O.L and Future Sound Of London's We Have Explosive as well as The Chemical Brother's Electronic Battle Weapon 3 - a tweaked version of their Under The Influence track from Wip3out - and Underworld's Kittens - also from Wip3out. It is a real trip down memory lane hearing these tunes, and adds a wonderful level of nostalgia for those of us who grew up with the PS1.

Representing the drum & bass side of things are a selection of tracks licensed from the always dependable Hospital Records: Anile's Change of Direction is a mesmerizing slice of deep amen goodness, and Camo and Krooked come correct with Breezeblock, a bouncy electro number aimed squarely at the dance floor. DJ Fresh is back again with another track, the chart-bothering and Lukozade advertising Louder, here remixed by Drumsound & Bassline Smith in their usual peak time, dance floor manner. Rockwell offers up a glitchy track featuring crazy bass sounds and speak-and-spell vocals, while Noisia return with an unsurprisingly heavy and grimy offering that will have anyone of a sensitive nature running for cover being the sofa.

Popular mask wearing electro superstar, Deadmau5 is on hand to provide some peak time electro house that will be familiar to anyone who has heard his sound, with Dirtyloud dishing up a similar slice of hands-in-the-air electro madness. And legendary German synth-pop legends Kraftwerk give us some chilled out menu screen music in the shape of Tour De France 2003 (Etape 2)WipEout 2048's soundtrack is one of the best since the original, feeling intensely modern, highly polished, extremely well edited for maximum suitability, and possessing an intensely invigorating vibe that's the perfect match to what's going on in the game. 

The WipEout games have always provided cutting edge music, and part of the excitement I feel when awaiting a new entry in the series is down to which selection of electronic music they will opt for. Maybe the next installment is just around the corner, either for Vita or, more likely, the PS4. Whichever platform it hits, it is a certainty that it will possess a thumpingly good soundtrack of energy-infused electronic dance music that will sit comfortably alongside the futuristic, sci-fi imagery of the game world.

The preachy bit

If you enjoy the music featured in this article, please support the artists involved by purchasing the songs. Many official soundtracks can be purchased very cheaply from Amazon, or can be ripped to WAV / MP3 via the game disc itself. For later entries in the franchise, the licensed tracks can be purchased in their original release form via sites such as iTunes, Beatport, Junodownload and Amazon. 

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