Let’s face it: there are no surprises here. The title alone should tell you all you need to know about this: namely, the pinnacle of “love it or hate it” racing games running at 60 frames per second in 1080p. It looks rather glossy and plays exactly like all the other WipEout games, especially since the tracks are taken from previous versions and the teams are nicked from WipEout Pulse. And it’ll do very nicely indeed until PS3 gets a true, new next-gen WipEout game. If you already have Pulse on PSP then there’s very little reason to splash the cash on this, other than the chunkier analogue stick being easier on your thumb than the handheld’s awkward nubbin.
For an even greater challenge, you can also control your ship by tilting the Sixaxis, but at the speeds these ships fly around the narrow tracks, it isn’t something we’d recommend. In fact, ditch it right away. The Sixaxis isn’t your friend here. Stick to the old-school set-up where the sticks and shoulder buttons are the only things you need to worry about.
It’s still an obnoxiously tricky game to get to grips with of course, hence the “love it or hate it” comment. The curves and bends are frustratingly tight, forcing you to be best buds with your ship’s airbrakes and the boost pads that litter each track. If you haven’t played a WipEout before (hang your head in shame now) the airbrakes allow you to take corners without losing speed. If you don’t master them, you won’t get anywhere. The first few races are fairly forgiving, even when you’re recklessly slamming into the barriers at every corner, but it isn’t long before one or two mistakes end your chances of getting among the medals. It’s harsh and uncompromising, and that’s the main reason why we all love it after all these years.
Playing through the Campaign mode is a test of skill and endurance like no other racing game – and in that respect it even kicks dirt in the face of intense racer MotorStorm. Your seven rivals in the actual race events are nothing short of evil, taking every opportunity to unleash their weapons on you (usually from behind, so you have little chance of seeing them let alone getting out of the way) and seizing on every mistake to nip in and steal a weapon pick-up from under your nose. The number of times we were either blasted by a rocket out of nowhere or emerged from a corner into a chain of mines would have been enough to make us throw the controller against the wall – if we weren't giving our enemies the same brutal treatment, of course.
In fact, every mode presents its own challenges, which require either searing concentration or a slight shift in your racing style. Speed Lap gives you seven laps to beat a highly competitive lap time, and the trick here is to know when to use your one free turbo charge per lap. Time Trial is slightly different in that you have to beat the ticking clock over a number of laps, so a balance must be found between driving aggressively and getting the airbrakes right on every single corner. The truly hardcore racer will favour the fast and furious Zone mode, where you race one track for as long as your ship lasts. It sounds simple enough, and the first few laps prove to be the case - except your craft speeds up automatically after each ten-second zone. The track suddenly feels a lot narrower the quicker that you go, and the psychedelic palette doesn’t help your concentration a lot.
Choosing the right craft for the right event is important too, if pretty obvious. For instance, there’s no point worrying about shield power in a solo Speed Lap or Time Trial event, just as it’s foolish to rely on speed and thrust alone in a race. Picking the right one isn’t exactly brain surgery. During races, you’ll also need to decide whether to use a pick-up or absorb it for a little extra ship energy. Where WipEout HD scores big is in putting your skills to the test against up to seven other players online. With a large number of highly skilled racers present and everyone firing weapons every few seconds, these fast and furious online battles aren’t for the fainthearted or the easily discouraged. And for all the barrage of rockets, shocking explosions and nitro effects lighting up the screen, the game never slows, shudders, jerks or tears and remains at a steady 1080p throughout.
So, while the circuits and gameplay are the same, you simply won’t care as it looks so ruddy brilliant. The action remains as deeply entrenched in speed and thrills as ever it did, and just to play online in high definition is worth the entrance fee alone.
Sep 26, 2008