Developer: Sony Liverpool
Release Date: February 12, 2008
When it comes to high-speed, futuristic racing, no series has the market cornered quite like WipEout. The racer has been going strong for well over a decade now, and it isn't showing any signs of slowing in the near future. Honestly, it's hard to think how one can innovate an already innovative game, and it seems that the lads at Sony Liverpool decided it would be best to keep the winning formula intact, while making only the most subtle of modifications. The result is WipEout Pulse, a terrifically fun game that delivers in almost every aspect.
The WipEout series loves to cater to its already existent fan base, and Pulse is no different. There are no training missions, no tutorials, and no real explanation of any sort of story; you are just given your choice of eight vehicles and 12 tracks (each of which has standard and mirror modes) and told to go have fun. The game's primary mode is the single-player campaign, in which you will unlock grids and cells in order to progress. Conquer a particular cell, and the adjoining nodes unlock; beat enough of them, and you can move onto the next grid.
The nice things about the campaign are that it is lengthy and it is varied. While you will still participate in your fair share of single races, tournaments, and speed laps, there are also several special modes to spice up the gameplay. Zone puts you in an automatically accelerating vehicle that moves up through the speed classes as time passes. Your job is to keep from crashing as long as possible in order to clear zones and achieve a gold medal. While the task seems simple at first, once you reach the breakneck pace of the Phantom and Super-Phantom classes, you'll be hanging on for dear life and bracing for the inevitable explosion of your ship.
Eliminator ups the destruction even further by making the focus not about position or speed, but on pure carnage and mayhem. This mode is a race to 10 kills, and you and all your opponents are free to use whatever weapons you can find as often as you can find them. This leads to heart-stopping action as you try and dodge explosions while avoiding walls and trying to fire off shots of your own. All told, the campaign offers seven different modes, and there isn't a single dud in the bunch. Also, considering the fact that there are 16 grids and each grid averages over 15 cells, you'll be at this for a long time.
When you're tired of racing alone you can go online and take on up to seven other challengers in any of the game's race modes. If you're tired of getting blasted to pieces by the AI in Eliminator challenges, then head online and rest easy knowing that the ship that is killing you now is being piloted by a real person rather than a heartless computer. That doesn't make the other players any less heartless, but at least you know that they'll eventually die and go to hell for their meanness.
Actually, the AI warrants its own discussion considering just how smart and ruthless it can be. Even on the easier difficulties, CPU ships take perfect lines and are deadly accurate with their weapons; they just tend to be generally slower than you and miss more speed boosters. However, racing through the pack can border on frustrating at times, as it seems every other ship is apt to pick up the most devastating weapons available and they all seem to be pointed at you. In one instance, I was hit by a quake attack, plasma ball, homing missile and leach beam all in a row, which destroyed my ship and eliminated me from the race. Now, you can chalk this up to pure bad luck, but that still doesn't change the fact that fourth through seventh place are the most dangerous areas to be in any race, and often your charge to the front will be interrupted and possibly halted completely by a few eagle-eyed opponents with itchy trigger fingers.
The only other significant complaint about Pulse is the limited number of available courses early in the game. While there are 12 tracks, most of them don't become available until much later, and therefore early grids are spent on the same three or four routes you've come to know all too well. While the courses are by no means boring, like anything else in life, they can become tiresome when you've come to know them truly backwards and forwards.
Aside from those issues, there's really nothing else wrong with WipEout Pulse. The visuals are terrific, with perfect lighting and great frame rates, and the music sticks to its pulsing electronica roots. Pulse, with its challenging gameplay and deep single-player campaign, is first and foremost a fan service to traditional WipEout fans, but newcomers will likely fall in love with the game, too, assuming they don't become too frustrated in the early going. PSP owners looking for a thrill would be well-served to give this one a look, as it delivers in nearly every way.
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