Wipeout 2097, Firestarter and the sound of a new gaming era

By Neil Merrett

Wipeout 2097, released on PsOne in 1996, developed by Psygnosis

Firestarter, the aggressive chart-topping anthem of dance music pioneers The Prodigy, was viewed as a herald of the complete moral decline and collapse of British society upon its release in 1996. 

Britain has just about held on as real existential threats have revealed themselves.

However, the terrified moral police of the era could not have known that the track was also of anthem of a new era for videogaming where genre defining chart hits and game soundtracks could be one and the same.

The track’s inclusion on the soundtrack to Psygnosis’ futuristic PsOne racing sequel Wipeout 2097 would largely have gone unnoticed in the moral furore around the fact that the band’s front man – the late Keith Flint – looked a bit scary in a musical video.

By many latter-day accounts, he was a fabulous man.

Yet the predictions of the complete and utter collapse of the nation failed to come to pass and the Prodigy would go on to become known as one of the quintessential and influential forces in British and global dance music for decades with their fusion of musical styles from metal to Asian drumming.

Enter the Playstation

The original Wipeout game, released as a UK launch title with the original PlayStation in 1995, was a technical marvel from a visual perspective – highlighting the graphical flair and fast-paced gameplay of the new CD-based console. 

The game’s futuristic rocket vehicles would float at high speeds around garish neon-clad futuristic cityscapes and industrial courses in a way that wasn’t possible on the beloved Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive with their limited cartridge space. 

But it was the music that really shined.

Jacko and Sonic 3

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 had earlier in the decade flirted with the possibility of bringing in Michael Jackson to provide his creative flair to the in-game music within the abilities of Sega’s plucky 16-bit console.

As Digitiser would later find, this proposed idea was later ditched – allegedly on the basis of both technical issues and ethical concerns about allegations facing Jackson at the time.

But even at this stage, there was a growing hunger for ever more dynamic music to match the ambition of a new generation of videogames. Even in Wipeout’s earliest form, the series was already making use of some of the biggest names in dance music with Orbital and the Chemical Brothers contributing tracks that the system’s CD-based games could play back as if they were coming straight from the radio or MTV.

But it was Firestarter, included as an instrumental on the second Wipeout game. that arguably hit home what was happening to not only the music of videogames, but a wider stylistic and cultural revolution that was changing the style of games and the demographic those playing them.

Perhaps games could also be a legitimate art form and cultural force in the UK – if they could look and sound that good.

Surging and eerily industrial – the instrumental version of Firestarter used in the game served almost as an anthem of a brave new world that would now be possible in games via the relative storage power of one, or perhaps several CDs.

The old ways and limits of doing thing were disappearing and in their place was the chart-topping fury and pioneering spirit of one of British Music’s biggest names.

Gaming never looked back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s