Reviewed: October 7, 2008
Released: September 25, 2008
Wipeout was one of the very first games I ever played on the original PlayStation. Coincidentally, Wipeout 64 (on the Nintendo 64) was also one of the very first game reviews I ever wrote, back in 1999 as a freelance journalist. I lot of games have come and gone in those ten years and so have a lot of systems, but Wipeout has always been a consistently good brand for the PlayStation, PS2, PSP, and now the PS3.
Having recently come off of another futuristic racing title, Fatal Inertia EX, also on the PS3, I knew what this next-gen system could do with the genre and I was looking forward to seeing how Sony Studios Liverpool was going to exploit the massive power of this new system with wipEout HD.
wipEout HD puts the pedal to the metal with gravity defying racing at speeds that burst the sound barrier, and for those with the hardware to enjoy it, you can experience all this blistering action at a full 1080p resolution running at silky smooth 60fps. wipEout HD isnít just going to show off your PS3; itís going to rock your HD home theater unlike any racer before it.
The designers chose to spend much of their time making this the smoothest running racing experience you can partake in. Rather than spend a lot of time and money creating new tracks and vehicles they chose to include a selection of the best tracks taken from previous versions of wipEout, then remodel and retexture them in glorious high-def detail. There is a great sense of dťjŗ vu in that those who have played other wipEout games like Pure and Pulse will certainly remember some of these twisting courses, but you wonít remember them ever looking this fantastic.
The PS3 also offers a new means of controlling these unstable racers by using the motion-input abilities of the SIXAXIS controller to pitch and yaw your craft around the track. When I first heard about this feature my excitement was tempered with a bit of skepticism based on past experience with the SIXAXIS, and it only took a few races to figure out that trying to mimic the motion of your ship with the gamepad is a foolhardy endeavor. Stick with the sticks.
Combat is furious with all your favorite weapons making their triumphant return. Rockets, mines, bombs, energy draining tethers, turbo boosts, shields, and the powerful quake bomb that sends a rippling shockwave ahead of your ship are all at your disposal. You can either fire them or absorb them into your shield energy if you are prone to bouncing off the walls. And yes, the cannon is still as worthless as ever.
wipEout HD is really not that different from any of the other racing games when it comes to the style and presentation of the racing. You have a killer techno opening followed by stylish menus that will blind you with their whiteness. Fans of Pulse will recognize the eight racing teams carried over into this game.
One new and much appreciated feature, especially for newcomers to the franchise, is the Pilot Assist mode, which will help navigate you around the tracks and keep you off the walls thus avoiding a premature death. Itís a great learning tool, but you will eventually have to turn it off to complete the game.
From the first menu you can jump into any of the five race modes including; Single Race, Tournament, Time Trial, Speed Lap, and Zone Mode. Of course, the Tournament will include a mix of all these styles in its honeycomb menu of unlockable race events. Finish one race event and connecting hexes will unlock allowing you access to new events. You are scored based on your finishing position with a certain cumulative score required to unlock the next chapter in the tournament. This scoring system means you donít always have to finish first and you donít always have to excel in all types of events.
Like past games in the series, even on the easiest of difficulty settings, wipEout HD gets very hard very fast, almost to the point where you will want to walk away. Some races all boil down to simply having the right racer, and it might take you several attempts with each type of vehicle before you figure out which mix of acceleration, top speed, and handling will get you across the finish line first. Winning a Time Trial event can all come down to hitting or missing a single boost pad.
In addition to the standard split-screen two-player racing (and yes, you can split the screen either way), wipEout HD also lets you to take the action online with races including up to eight real pilots in a variety of events and game modes. While there is no connectivity with either of the PSP versions of the game, there are plans for downloadable content, new ships, teams, and extra tracks, so the wipEout experience is going to keep going long after you have finished the core game.
wipEout HD looks amazing for a wipEout game, but itís hard to compare it to anything else in the racing genre. Everything is so original and fresh. The hovercraft look like something from a Star Wars pod race and the twisting tracks have no comparison to anything fact or fiction. Just imagine every wipEout game youíve ever played before then amp those graphics to infinity.
A lot of the glitz is hard to appreciate when you are screaming around these tracks at Mach 3, so be sure to check out the new Photo Mode that allows you to pause the action and move a virtual camera around the scene. Zoom, pan, tilt, rotate, and then apply any of numerous photo effects to create some awesome stills that are put directly into your XMB photo channel. This is the best photo mode Iíve seen since Gran Turismo.
The Zone Mode races are of particular interest since all of the fancy textures are removed and the game gets a TRON facelift with simple polys and flat shaded textures that ripple and change colors as you change into new zones. Itís very retro and very cool.
Even back on the original PlayStation wipEout was known for its amazing music selection that focused on heavy European techno and trance beats. Every installment of the game since then has included great, if not obscure music that is more suited to an underground rave than a futuristic race. WipEout HD is no exception and includes no less than 9 licensed music tracks that will have your adrenalin pumping as you frantically work the controls of your race machine. The energy and intensity is unparalleled. If, for some reason, you get tired of the included music you can always load in your own custom soundtracks and race to whatever gets you across the finish line in record time.
The sound effects are amazing with hissing engines, sonic booms when you break the sound barrier, and powerful weapons effects. You also have the cool commentator voice that does the countdown and announces the weapons that are being fired at you.
wipEout HD supports Trophies which will keep you working hard at the game even when things start looking hopeless. Trophies have quickly adopted that same addictive quality as 360 Achievements, so good luck in your quest for the Platinum. Some rewards come naturally while others will require superior dedication.
Just completing the Tournament will take countless hours simply because of the excruciating difficulty. You can race a time trial 20 times and be 1/100 of a second from winning. What make the game so compelling is the use of a ghost racer that projects your best time so far as a holographic version of your ship. This gives you something tangible to race against rather than a faceless clock. It also lets you know when you are sucking it up and need to restart.
The online racing is surprisingly functional and you can find plenty of people anxious to beat you up and down the tracks. It would be nice to have some sort of matchmaking or lobby system so you can play against people and still be competitive. Most of my online matches were either way too easy to win or way too impossible, but either way, it seems to be more fun than playing against the computer AI, which becomes relentless about 3 stages into the tournament.
For $20 you arenít going to find a cooler racing game than wipEout HD. Sure, most of the content is remodeled from the PSP games that have come before it, but Iím guessing that if I hadnít told you that then you would never make the connection. The game looks amazing and is a technical achievement in graphics and sound. You wonít find too many games like this that can get your adrenalin pumping with this much vigor.
wipEout HD is easily one of the top five, if not top three downloadable games this year. If youíre a fan of the series then this is the best version yet, and if youíve never played a wipEout game before, strap yourself in and prepare for the ride of your life.