Genre: Futuristic Racing
Developer: SCEE Liverpool
Release Date: September 20, 2008
It's been a while since the wipEout series has hit the big screen in a notable way. Both wipEout Pure and wipEout Pulse were released as PSP exclusives, and the PS2 outing, wipEout Fusion, was less than stellar. For its PlayStation 3 debut, the series is returning to the well by pulling tracks and music from the two PSP titles rather than bringing us all new content. We had a chance to spend an evening with the game earlier this week in order to see how well everything scaled up from the small screen to the full 1080p of our HD display.
The first thing you notice about wipEout HD is the rather Spartan menu system. Reminiscent of wipEout 3's menu, everything is cleanly drawn with geometric shapes and liberal amounts of white and grey. Ships and track trophies are the only items of note in full color. Also noticeable is the lovely EULA, which you must agree to before play. We're not quite sure why PSN games need EULAs while Xbox Live Arcade games don't. Someone at Sony must be in love with the legalese.
Jumping into the single-player game, the detail in the tracks was immediately visible, with a great depth of field, plenty of background animation and lots of small design touches on the vehicles. The first tournament course you'll experience is Vineta K, which also serves as an early course in wipEout Pure, making it a easy way to see how much work has gong into revamping the art assets. Yes, it looked good when it was little, but it looks even better when it's big.
Just staring at the scenery is no fun, though; it was time to get moving. This is where wipEout veterans will take note of frame rate upgrade. No matter how much was going on, wipEout HD stayed locked at a solid 60 fps. It's not such a big deal while you're hurtling down a straightaway, but when attempting to navigate a twisting chicane with rockets racing by your side, the extra precision is much appreciated. It's not uncommon to have a mere sliver of space mean the difference between eking out a win and failing miserably.
Available race modes include single race, speed lap, time trial, tournament and zone mode. Time trial and speed lap are similar, with the former having you race the clock for a standard three-lap race, while the latter gives you seven laps but only records your best single lap time. Zone mode is wipEout's version of a speed challenge mode. You're placed on a TRON-inspired track, with a maxed-out ship and an accelerator that's locked in the open position. As your speed increases, you move from one speed zone to the next, with the ultimate goal being survival while you blast down the track at absurdly faster speeds.
Control is spot-on, as was expected, with full analog support as well as an optional motion control scheme. When enabled, motion control can be set to pitch only, or pitch and steering. Attempting to race with the SixAxis was a little rough at first, but after playing with the sensitivity, it started to feel somewhat natural (though we probably looked a bit stupid waving the controller around like spastic five-year-olds). Purists will no doubt master the game with standard controls first, but the motion control setup certainly provides an extra level of challenge. Winning an online race using the motion control will certainly give you bragging rights.
Beginners will appreciate the "pilot assist" mode, which carefully nudges your ship away from the course edges and makes inadvertent collisions a thing of the past. It takes away some of the edge, but it's a nice way for a casual player to get up to speed with the game.
Competing against the AI provides quite a challenge in wipEout HD, especially on the higher difficulty levels. The AI isn't just here to race and provide a passive obstacle for you — it's here to win. Even on the novice difficulty level, the AI was playing quite competitively with liberal use of weapons and uncanny aim. It was an excellent way to prepare for racing online.
Online matches support up to eight players worldwide, the same as a standard match. The only difference is that you're now racing against real people rather than bots. Voice chat appeared to be supported, but there was no way to test since we were lacking headsets. The few races we played appeared to be lag-free, with no noticeable hiccups. Hopefully, the same bears out when the game launches. A two-player, split-screen mode is also available in case you just want to kick back on the couch with a friend.
The game soundtrack includes nine licensed music tracks, all remixed in Dolby 5.1, but wipEout HD also supports custom soundtracks, so if you prefer to jam to the classic tunes of wipEout XL while rockin' the HD, feel free. Trophy support is also enabled, with a full range of challenges to complete. Some are simple, such as taking a photo with Photo mode, while others involve insane tricks.
According to the game's producer, photo mode was included in wipEout HD due to fan request. Working similarly to Gran Turismo 4's photo mode, the game gives you the ability to pause the action at any time and snap a picture. You can move, pan, tilt and zoom the camera as well as apply a few basic visual effects, such as depth of field, ship motion blur and track motion blur. Unfortunately, there is no way to save a replay or step backward and forward while in Photo mode, so catching that perfect shot still requires a combination of luck and timing. With that said, it's perfectly capable of taking great shots. Check out our exclusive wipEout HD screenshot gallery to see for yourself. All of those images were taken by us with the in-game Photo mode.
Perhaps our only real concern is wipEout HD's length. Shipping with a mere eight tracks (16 if you count mirror courses), all of which have been seen before, raises fears of it being a little light on content. If the final game is well balanced, that should be plenty to keep players busy, but there's also the potential of blowing through it quickly and wondering what's next. While that's not a question we can answer until we get our grubby hands on the final version, we can tell you this: No matter how long the game is, the price is definitely nice. Sony confirmed that wipEout HD will launch in the US at the bargain price of $19.99. For a game that could easily be mistaken as a full, disc-based, retail product, that's a steal.
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