Wheelspin

WiipEout?

Archer MacLean is a name you might well recognise. He's the founder of legendary dev team Awesome Developments and the author of back-in-the-day classics such as IK+. More recently he's produced titles such as Archer MacLean's Mercury. In short he's got a fair few classics on his CV - so it's good to know his studio, Awesome Play, is working on a brand new title.

Wii-exclusive Wheelspin (known as SpeedZone outside of Europe) is a fast-paced futuristic racer with a firm foundation in arcade accessibility. We sat down with an advance copy to see how MacLean's first game in four years is shaping up.

Aesthetically, it's hard not to draw parallels with the likes of Rollcage, WipEout and even Trackmania. There are 30 tracks, equally distributed between the three modes of Race, Time Trial and Battle. They tend to be sparsely designed yet reasonably elaborate in terms of layout.

Banking curves and tight loops twist above barren landscapes while geometric tunnels barrel through flatly textured hillsides. Cars are angular, near-future affairs, retaining wheels yet spouting jet-like flames. There are speed boosters, upgrades and huge jumps. The focus, despite the inclusion of a racing line guide, seems to be on frantic fun rather than the split-second shaving of lap-times.

You've probably had a look at some of the screens now. You might have had a knowing little chuckle to yourself, disparaging the Wii's graphical grunt under your breath. You might have raised a critical eyebrow and muttered, 'N64'.

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Banked curves and twisting loops are key features of many tracks.

Fair enough. When seen statically Wheelspin is not a pretty game. The car models are simplistic, even compared to those in other Wii racers such as Excite Truck. Background landscapes are largely empty and track furniture is virtually non-existent. Track surfaces are flat and relatively lifeless. However, watch the thing in motion and suddenly these details matter a great deal less. Wheelspin's gameplay, and its appeal, is all about speed.

First up there's the impressive 60fps frame-rate. It's incredibly smooth, something which can't be fully appreciated from the YouTube video. A fully upgraded vehicle is capable of reaching virtual speeds of 650 km/h - an arbitrary figure you might think, but one which seems a great deal more relevant once the controller is in your hands.

True, graphical fidelity has been sacrificed for a higher frame-rate, but stopping to admire the scenery is hardly the point. Solid 60fps is a notable achievement on Wii, and here it has been used to great effect - enhancing the essential nature of the experience. The stylised design makes the most of the Wii's graphical power and on some of the more outlandish tracks, such as the black-and-neon environment seen briefly in the video, the two-fingered salute to realism oozes class.

The arcade style was prevalent throughout the parts of the game presented for preview, from the PES-style stat charts for cars to the spanners scattered around tracks, offering extra cash for upgrades. Cars can be enhanced in a marketplace between races, with bolt-on additions shaping performance. It's no Race Pro but realism is clearly not the intention anyway.

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