The first Wipeout was one of the games that drew me to the original Playstation and it was one of those titles that really shaped the view many people had of the console. With Wipeout 2097 the series hit ts peak and while later titles weren’t’ terrible they never quite reached the same heights. This makes Wipeout Pure even more important as not only is it an ambassador for the new Sony handled hardware but also responsible for getting the anti-gravity racing franchise back on track.
Those unfamiliar with the Wipeout franchise are in for a treat. In the future racing is still popular but wheels are so last century. Instead racers strap themselves into anti-gravity craft which catapult down narrow tracks at breakneck speeds. Making contact with the sides of the track causes damage but the real danger comes from your opponents. These guys pack a deadly arsenal of weapons and are not afraid of using it. Fortunately craft can only have one weapon active at a type and must fly over special floor tiles to do so. These tiles are usually positioned next to speed pads that give a helpful boost so it comes down to a choice of which will be more useful for your present circumstances. Weapons tend to disrupt more than destroy so don’t expect to just shoot your way into first place.
If you are looking for a good story you won’t find much here or indeed anywhere in the franchise. The game takes place in the year 2197 with the new FX 300 racing league. You play as a pilot for one of the teams in the league but your choice influences nothing beyond the look and stats of your vehicle. The game opens with a very impressive rendered intro that shows off the storage capacity of the UMD format. You are then presented with some stylishly minimalist menus that allow you to jump straight into the action. Initially you only have access to “Vector” class races which is the slowest of the slow but a perfect introduction to the game. It also allows you to familiarize yourself with the tracks as when you reach the “Phantom” class you’ll be travelling at “blink and you’ll miss it” speeds. “Single Race” allows you to try out the tracks on any class you’ve unlocked which is a great way to win some gold medals which in turn unlocks even more things.
“Tournament Mode” is where things get intense and you have to complete a series of tracks with points awarded for your podium positions. “Time Trial” is a test against the clock and your own ghost racer. “Zone” is a separate mode that takes place on its own set of tracks. The goal is to survive for as long as possible as your craft speeds up for every zone it passes. Overall a nice selection of modes and this isn’t even taking into account the Wi-fi multi-player and selection of free downloadable content. The game keeps track of your progress and every gold medal unlocks a nifty bit of concept art.
Visually the game is a work of art and fits the PSP widescreen perfectly. Everything looks crisp and clear with excellent color and lighting. Most of the tracks are set in bright daylight and the bloom effect when you exit tunnels look particularly impressive. There’s still plenty of neon signs and moody rain effects to install that futuristic feel. Despite racing against seven opponents with explosions going off all over the place I only experienced minimal frame rate stutters. Considering the speed at which the game runs that is quite a feat.
The gameplay is focused on speed and racing which is a relief seeing as how past entries have started to stray too much into the combat aspect of the franchise. The pit lane has been done away with and you can now “absorb” your weapon pick-ups on the fly to regain some shield power. This adds an extra strategic element as you have to sometimes choose between firing a weapon and taking the lead at the risk of getting hit from behind when your shield is low. The controls are very responsive but if you’ve never played a Wipeout game there’s a slight learning curve. The shoulder buttons are used for air brakes and once you’ve mastered them you’ll be zipping through the tracks like a greased python. You can even perform a little barrel roll when airborne which will drain some of your shield power but give you a speed boost upon landing. Playing the game from a first person viewpoint is quite disorienting so while it looks impressive you’ll probably end up flying off the track or banging into walls until you’ve grown used to it.
The Wipeout series is almost as well known for its electronic music soundtrack as its striking visual design and even though Pure is on a portable platform it doesn’t skimp on the tunes. For your listening pleasure there is tracks by Cold Storage, Tiesto, Aphex Twin and many more. Overall the music is very upbeat and you can remove tracks from your play list if they don’t’ catch your fancy. As great as the music sounds its best experienced with a set of earphones. Sound effects are equally impressive with crisp, clear samples. The hum of your vehicle engines are strangely hypnotic and easy to pick out from the rest of the effects. Speech is minimal but there is a nice futuristic sounding announcer. You get a voice-over warning whenever a weapon is used but at the pace the game runs this is usually too late.
With the slick presentation and addictive gameplay Wipeout Pure is a no-brainer for any PSP collection. This is one of the best launch titles I’ve ever played let alone on a handheld console. To sweeten the deal there’s even some free content available for download online. Don’t be surprised if you spend more time playing this game than you’ve bargained for.
*Review originally published October 2005.