It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new Wipeout title on a home console. In fact, the last one was the warmly received Wipeout Fusion for the PS2. After a few newer releases on the PSP, Sony Liverpool has brought the venerable racing series back to its roots, releasing it as a PSN downloadable title, and at a budget price of $20. Best of all, while it does only contain different tracks from Pulse and Pure, Wipeout HD is not just some backport to get a quick buck, containing a mix of content from different entries in the series.
As a downloadable title, most wouldn’t expect anything special in the visuals department. However, Wipeout HD looks and runs incredibly, and really gives you a sense of speed while maintaining a high standard of graphics. Everything is clean and crisp, and the amount of different effects that come together, particularly in the zone mode, will blow you away. The presentation is also excellent, with slick designs for the interface; even the loading screens have an appealing high-tech look to them, though you won’t be seeing those too much, as the load times are pretty quick due to running off of the PS3’s hard drive.
Wipeout not only looks damn good, but it also sounds terrific. There are a number of cool tunes to listen to, but if you want to hear your own music library you can do that as well with the custom soundtrack support. Obviously there’s a lot of techno thrown in the mix, and even though I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the genre it still fits well here, and is of course a staple of the series. Sony Liverpool did a fantastic job with their audio choices, as the futuristic sound effects really mesh well with everything, and overall the presentation makes you feel like you’re in a Speed Racer-like universe.
Racing your ride is smooth and worry-free thanks to the Pilot-Assist mode, which makes the generally cutthroat gameplay of a Wipeout title much more accessible and fun. I enjoy being able to just race while I listen to a podcast or the TV, which is the sort of game that the PSN needed. Weapons have less importance, and the focus seems to be on racing and controlling yourself without making mistakes. There is still quite a bit to learn if you want to get better, particularly with the track layouts and different vehicles. The campaign mode is a nice grab bag of different styles, and is not constrained to just the same old “race 6 other rubberband AI’s in an attempt to get a gold medal.” Instead, this game gives you races against a formidable but fair AI, in addition to time trials, speed laps, tournaments, and the previously mentioned zone mode. This last type is particularly fun and interesting: players race at a progressively growing rate of speed while amazing visual effects, similar to that of a music visualizer, take hold of the stage. The object is to survive as long as possible, and while you will indefinitely blow up, seeing how far you can get is both a challenge and an enjoyable experience.
A great feature that’s included with Wipeout HD which is also being included in more and more PS3 titles is the ability to take a screenshot and save it to your hard drive, including a myriad of effects options, such as depth of field; you can use these to manipulate how your photo comes out, and usually they look stunning with certain filters applied. Also present is Trophy support, though some of the harder ones seem nearly impossible for casual players. Honestly, the only thing that isn’t here is a way to store replays to watch later, which is a shame because it’s a really basic but standard feature in a lot of racers these days.
Online multiplayer is also strong, with a fast and simple infrastructure that allows you to get in and out of a race whenever you want. There’s still support for tournaments as well, but if you’re like me and just want to get a quick race in before you have to do something else, it’s incredibly convenient. Built-in leaderboards ensure that you’ll always be gunning for a better time against your friends. Support for downloadable content has been confirmed in the way of new tracks and vehicles as well.
Perhaps the only truly negative thing I have to say about Wipeout HD is that it doesn’t really do anything truly revolutionary. It’s hard to say whether or not a series like this should change too much, since it has a stable fanbase that enjoys the progressive but small changes that have gone into rebuilding the franchise over the last few years. In the end it’s just another entry in the Wipeout series, albeit a great one. Its simplicity is one of its greatest assets, but also one of its downfalls. Still, it truly is a great game worth picking up if you want ‘a balls to the wall’ racer for the PS3, and at its low price there’s really not a reason that I can think of for not checking it out; fan of the genre or not, it’s still worth a test drive.