One single race has a number of contenders (depending on the game); e.g. in Wipeout 2048, there are 8 contenders.
The gameplay is simple, as seen in most typical racing video games. Players have to race their way to the first place. In races, all boost pads and weapon pads are active, so take advantage from these (though the weapon pads can be disabled through the weapons settings). Boost pads temporarily increase the speed, while weapon pads get players a random weapon or item. Each player can only hold one weapon or item at one time. Players can use the weapons to temporarily slow down opponent ships and inflict damage against them. Players can use items to take significant advantage in the race. In addition, they can also use the airbrakes to take the advantage when cornering. In later games, players can also use sideshifts to avoid impacts with the wall and even excute barrel rolls to get a temporary boost at the cost of a portion of shield energy.
In races (other than in Wipeout), the shield energy indicates how much damage the player's ship can sustain before being destroyed, depending on the ship's shield or health rating. This deteriorates by getting hit by weapons, hitting the wall or an opponent ship, or falling off the track. Barrel rolls also cost a portion of shield energy (depending on the ship's shield rating in Wipeout Pure, 8% in Wipeout Pulse, 15% in Wipeout HD/Fury), even if failed. When the shield energy is below 20%, there will be a warning message – "Energy Critical". There will be also a beep sound, which becomes faster when the shield energy is below 5%. If the shield energy drops to zero (and the ship gets hit once more), the ship will explode, resulting in the player being eliminated from the race. However, in online multiplayer races in Wipeout HD/Fury, eliminated players will respawn with a little amount of energy instead. It is also possible to win a race by eliminating all the opponents.
In Wipeout 2097, Wipeout 3, and Wipeout Fusion, to recover shield energy, the player has to drive through the pit lane. In later games, the pit lanes have been omitted. As an exchange, a new method to recover the shield energy is introduced. The player is now able to absorb any weapons or items in possession. The value of shield energy restored depends on each of the weapons. The more powerful weapons tend to restore more energy compared to the others when absorbed. It is highly recommended to absorb weapons when the shield energy is low.
A new variation to single race introduced in Wipeout Omega Collection, clean racing has all weapon pads disabled, though it does allow one turbo per lap, barrel rolls cost no energy, and all opponents' ships are in ghost form.
The length of a race depends on the speed class. The race ends in a preset number of laps.
In Wipeout, regardless of the speed class or game mode, each race has 3 laps.
In Wipeout 2097 and Wipeout 3, the number of laps for each speed class is as below:
In Wipeout Fusion, all races in AG League have 3 laps. Challenges have varied numbers of laps.
In Wipeout Pure, Wipeout Pulse, and Wipeout HD/Fury, the number of laps for each speed class is as below:
NOTE: The Vector class did not appear in Pulse nor HD/Fury.
In Wipeout 2048, all Single Races in the Single Player Campaign (except for Single Lap Sprints and Finals) have 3 laps, regardless of the speed class or difficulty. A+ Challenges and two of the Prototype Challenges have 10 laps. Speed Lap sessions have an infinite number of laps, ending only when the player decides to end the session.
However, with its Racebox added in Wipeout Omega Collection, the number of laps in each speed class is set as below:
- C and B Classes - 4 laps
- A Class - 5 laps
- A+ Class - 6 laps
In Wipeout, there are 8 ships with 2 pilots per team.
In Wipeout 2097/XL, there are 3 pilots per team in each race, meaning that there are 12 ships total by default, which increases to 15 ships total when selecting Phantom speed or the Piranha prototype ship. Wipeout 64 has 15 ships for every race.
In Wipeout 3, each race features 3 pilots per team with 12 ships total, limiting the grid to only 4 teams in each race.
In Wipeout Fusion, each team has 2 pilots and the grid expands to fit 16 ships total.
In Wipeout Pure/Pulse/HD, the grid is limited to 8 ships total. There is only 1 pilot per team, meaning 8 teams participate in each race. Note that this applies only to races against AI opponents.
In Wipeout 2048, each race once again is limited to 8 ships total. Any combination of ships may participate, though most single player campaign events have a fixed selection.