Okay, I'll admit, I like playing videogames. But I'm not very good at them. Many of the games I loved I didn't even finish. It really doesn't matter what the genre is, I usually get stuck halfway. Earthworm Jim? Played it, loved it, didn't finish it (though part two was easy, even for me). Panzer Dragoon Zwei? Same story here. Racing game are no different. I didn't ever finish Daytona USA and, though I could see the top quality of Sega Rally, I didn't really like the game - way too hard for me. Before I continue my review of WipEout 2097, you must realize that WipEout also belongs to the category of games I consider 'too hard for my sake'. But I've played my share of games, so I consider myself able to judge WipEout fairly.
The second game of the WipEout series is, just like the first one, set in the distant future - hence the "2097" in the title (the game is also known as WipEout XL in the U.S.). Those guys sure had a strange way of seeing the future - in 2097 one seems mainly busy with an "anti-gravity racing league", for which future you can prepare yourself by playing WipEout (is anyone reminded of the floating skateboard in the Back To The Future-movies? I surely am.) Never mind the silly story, let's see what the game itself is about.
First, you pick a "team" (meaning: a vehicle). Secondly, you pick a circuit - there are three available right away and one unlockable, if you complete the other tracks as winner. You must pilot your floating craft successfully over the circuit, preferably without touching the sides of the course and by flying over power-up pads on the roadway which enable the player to pick up shields, turbo boosts, mines, shock waves, rockets or missiles. Oh, and don't forget your opponents: they can pick up the extras too and shoot you if you don't shoot them first.
If you're good at WipEout then the game can be supersonic fast. The circuit surroundings has been nicely worked out (though not as beautiful as Sega Rally obviously), the craft looks good and the explosions are sparse compared to post-32-bit consoles, but acceptable for a Saturn title.
The audio is one of the best things of the games - the sound effects and music are among some of the best on the Saturn (though I hate the robotic voice which mentions your lap times). As you noticed, I said the game CAN be supersonic fast. But that is only if you are an extraordinary good pilot ("craftsman" for the one of you who likes puns). I'm not, as you yet figured out from the first paragraph, so my craft usually hit the wall which slowed the game down considerably. It takes a while for the ship to get its speed back: luckily there are turbo boosts scattered all over the circuit.
Running out of time or running out of shield (due to too much running into the walls and taking fire from other enemies) results in an exploding craft, and that means you're going to be starting the circuit all over again.
Before I formulate my judgment over WipEout, I must say something about the differences between this version and the PlayStation game. The first WipEout was one of the launching titles of the PlayStation, and it took a while to get a Saturn version. Unfortunately, the Saturn couldn't create some of the visual flair (mainly explosions and framing) of the PS1 version, which made the long wait not entirely justified. While that could be overseen, the biggest letdown is the lack of a 2-player option. It is unclear why this sequel couldn't have a simultaneous 2-playermode, just like the first one. It is possible to use a "link-up mode" (two Saturn units and two TVs) but that is not what we want. Because of this shortcoming, I subtract at least 5% of the total score.
Which leaves us with an excellent, professional, well-presented game which seems mainly meant for hardcore gamers or gamers with a lot of patience to practice. Personally, I found it a little too hard. If you managed to finish Sega Rally, and you don't mind WipEout is 1-player only, you should check this out. The rest of us will get back to Manx TT or Virtua Racing and practice some more before we're ready for the real job ...