Wipeout HD

A classic racing series on Playstation consoles, Wipeout, returns with an HD iteration that shows there's still plenty of life in the older genres. While the Playstation world gets ready for LittleBigPlanet, Studio Liverpool have released a game on the Playstation Store at a budget price that, for me at least, steals a great deal of thunder from the big blockbusters arriving in late 2008. Wipeout HD has all the best ingredients that have stuck throughout the series: interesting tracks, great weapons, an awesome soundtrack and, of course, insane speeds. However, where the Playstation 2 entry in the series, Fusion, had perhaps lost its way in a vital aspect - handling - Wipeout HD has got it absolutely nailed.

The game has a variety of modes to choose from, including a racebox that allows you to experiment with every track, speed class and mode unlocked so far, an online mode, discussed a bit more below, and a campaign mode. The main challenge lies with the campaign mode, featuring eight events, each containing a collection of races, time trials, speed laps and zone events to take part in. As you gain medals, you unlock points to progress. The difficulty is apparent fairly early though, with many of the time trial events requiring serious dedication to progress.

Wipeout

Being casual about speed pads (the famous blue arrows return, allowing you to fly your craft over parts of the track to gain a speed boost) and barrel rolls (a new technique added to gain a speed boost off jumps) isn't permitted in Wipeout. If you want to achieve the gold medal times, you have to know where every boost pad is, every barrel-roll opportunity and have total mastery of the trickiest corners. The learning curve is well balanced though, causing you to learn the right tracks at steadily increasing speeds which, each time, prepare you for a related zone, time trial or race. It's extremely well structured and, as a result, very satisfying to play.

As with previous Wipeout games, there are different speed classes to choose from, ranging from Venom (which seems fairly fast at first) through to the insane Phantom speed (though it's worth noting that you can enter even faster speed classes in the inspired Zone mode, where the pace is increased everytime you successfully traverse a zone). Each course in the game, of which there are eight - playable in reverse as well - can be played at any of the available speeds. The difference in feel of your ship is incredible when moving from one class to another. Starting with Venom, you might feel fast and nippy, weaving in and out of tight bends, but moving to Rapier speeds will see your craft hurtle along like a scared TIE fighter, with every touch sending the craft plunging in the desired direction. With the stunning speed available in the game, the handling is critical and, as mentioned above, this game cracks it perfectly. If you end up in a wall you're left with the uncomfortable fact that you only have yourself to blame. With practice, you find yourself using air brakes to pull yourself around corners in ways that defy all laws of physics (including, of course, gravity) and it feels both satisfying and, importantly, right.

The variety in ships is, in some ways, stereotypical; if you want a fast ship, obviously it won't handle very well, but it might have good shields. Conversely, you might choose a slower ship, but you'll be rewarded with great acceleration and handling. That said, the ships are perfectly balanced and many favourites from previous entries in the series return - Piranha, Goteki, AG Systems, Auricom, Quirex and, of course, Feisar are all there, with several other options to choose from. To encourage you to try out different ships, there is also a loyalty point system that rewards you for spending time with a particular team - spend enough time with one, and you're likely to be rewarded with new paint schemes for your vehicle.

Of course, Wipeout isn't just about the racing - it's important to fling weaponry at eachother in a race. There are items to help you progress (speed boosts, autopilots, shields and energy leaches) as well as wepaons designed to hold back the opposition (ranging from simple missiles through to the classic and devastating Quake Disruptor). Again, balance is key and it feels just right in Wipeout. The autopilot is clever enough to provide an advantage through tough corners, but won't necessarily gain the user an unfair lead and, in fact, advanced pilots may even discard the item in favour of their own flying. Weapons like the Quake are as satisfying as ever though, giving Wipeout a perfect blend of racing and weaponry.

Wipeout

The gameplay in Wipeout HD is as good as any entry in the series. The variety of ships, tracks, modes and difficulties means you'll never be stuck for an exciting challenge to try and, incredibly, this level of quality is matched by the visuals. To add to the package, all the race events can be tackled in split-screen multiplayer, with a full race line-up of eight pilots on the grid.

The eight courses available may be familiar to some, having featured in PSP versions of the series, but the HD remake takes each course to a breath-taking new level of detail, with visuals that bring into question how Studio Liverpool managed to release the game at a budget price rather than as a full-priced game. Sol 2, a track that arcs through a beautiful blue sky interspersed with fluffy white clouds is simply majestic and easily rivals anything seen in Motorstorm and Gran Turismo for beauty. The level of detail in the track might not be up to Gran Turismo standards, but the futuristic world of bright and exciting tracks is beautifully crafted.

The ships are a match for the courses though, with detail that easily withstands the inspection made possible by HD visuals. The subtle marks and aging on the sides of ships adds a level of realism that was perfectly captured in the original Star Wars films. Like the Millenium Falcon, the ships are machines that are purely fictional, but they look real, believeable and perfectly normal.

Wipeout

Perhaps aware of the visual success of Wipeout, a photo mode was added which provides an extra avenue of interest for the game. With relatively simple tools available, it's surprising how beautiful the photos from Wipeout can look.

As can be seen from the pictures, the vehicle models are at the same standard the tracks are (perhaps even more detailed) with crashes resulting in thousands of tiny pieces of shrapnel being distributed across the scenery in a shower of flames and smoke. The cars also transform whilst they're racing from pristine, fresh-out-of-the-garage models to mud encrusted wagons held together by little more than a single rattling bolt. I have on a couple of occasions noticed a slight dip in the frame rate, but almost all of the time, everything runs extremely smoothly at a top notch speed. Races are fast, frantic and beautiful to watch.

Weapon noises are suitably meaty in bass and power, though admittedly there one of the less impressive parts of the game. Still, the resulting explosions often compensate for the relative quietness of, say, the machine gun. The automated voices lend the game that special Wipeout quality though. That ominous feeling when the ship's systems announce an incoming Quake or the ship's voice in Zone mode alerting the pilot to an increase in speed; both add atmosphere to the proceedings. It's the music that really seals the deal for Wipeout though. I couldn't tell you who any of them are - I'm about as music-aware as Bugs Bunny - but I can tell you that it fits. Whatever those tunes are, they make me want to race and race fast. One tune in particular fills me with adrenaline and sends me surging around the course. It's a perfect mix of speed and rhythm.

Wipeout

With 8 race-filled events of differing difficulty and speed, racebox events, multiplayer split screen and even an online mode to experiment with, there's enough to keep people busy for a decent length of time; something that is particularly impressive for a game considerably cheaper than the average full-price box release. To add to the draw, there's a substantial collection of trophies to aim for, ranging from simple things like gaining your first gold medal through to monster achievements like reaching the incredible speeds of zone 75 in zone mode (the aptly titled "Zone Zeus" trophy). This is not a game that you'll want to put down after just a few hours of tinkering.

That the game is able to provide such a wide range of tracks, ships, modes and events is stunning enough for a store title, but adding to this impressive package is a fully functioning 2-8 player online mode. Every race event in the racebox, and associated tournaments, can be tackled online with friends or against online enemies. Whilst it may not have the range of statistics and achievements that may be seen in games like Warhawk, Wipeout has plenty to do online and there's a lot of fun to be found. If you're happy playing online, this network mode can add a significant amount to the lifespan of the game.

Wipeout is a stunning release for the Playstation Store and one that perfectly fills a gap in the available line up. The combination of speed, handling, visuals and sound make it a thoroughly enjoyable racing experience that is augmented perfectly with online modes and trophy support. At this point in time, it has my vote for the best game on the Playstation Store, I highly recommend it.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Sony

Developer:

Studio Liverpool

Players:

1-2

Online:

1-8

Release:

2008-09-25

Trophies:

51

Review summary

Gameplay:

Perect controls and balanced objectives

Graphics:

Not detailed, but sharper than Stephen Hawking

Sound:

Great tunes and meaty effects

Lastability:

Tough challenges and plenty to do

9.7

Meteoric

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User comments

MeteorStorm

16:42:03, May 10 2009

This game still absolutely rocks, and the addition of little medals to win in the online mode is welcome. Still the trophies are a serious challenge, and I've still not managed them all. That Zone Zeus is still a few zones away, and Zico... my barrel roll fingers just aren't quick enough...

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