Sony sets out to show us what the Vita can really do with its showcase racing franchise.
Going back to
the days of the original PlayStation, Wipeout has been the game that gets made
when Sony wants to show off. That ambition has never been more apparent than in
Wipeout 2048, which is clearly meant to
show the new Vita at its best. For the most part it does just that, but there
are a few noticeable dents in what ought to be the showcase
game for Sony's new handheld.
To their credit, SCE Liverpool has done their best to shake things up a bit
with this one. Wipeout 2048 is a prequel, meaning that the ultra-futuristic
look of the later entries in the series is (mostly) out. Instead, you'll be
racing across more conventional locales like the Brooklyn Bridge. It's hardly a
traditional racer though, which is most apparent in moments like racing
over the Empire State Building.
These environments are Wipeout 2048's biggest selling point compared to its
predecessors. Sony's Liverpool Studio has always been an ambitious studio --
Wipeout HD was a high water mark for the PlayStation 3 in terms of graphics --
and they've clearly relished their first experience with the Vita. It's not
always apparent when you're whipping through a stage, but the environments look
every bit as good as the PS3 games, maybe ever better. An impressive
achievement at this early date.
The visual glory comes at a price though. Wipeout 2048 runs at 30 frames per
second -- a step down from the franchise's traditional 60 FPS. The Vita
version's rough edges aren't always apparent, you can sense them when you're
playing. They were most apparent when we went back to Wipeout HD and
immediately felt a sense of relief. Yes, Wipeout is known for its visual
fidelity as much as its sense of speed, but it still feels odd to trade
textures for framerate on a handheld platform.
Other changes become apparent the more you play. Past modes such as the rail
shooter-like Detonator have been cut, and tournament events are gone too. It's
also a bit harder to control this time around; though whether that's down to
the Vita's smaller thumbstick or the actual design is unclear. Liverpool seems
to have noticed though, because the tracks are somewhat wider now. We count
that last bit as a positive though, if only because they ease the franchise's
notorious difficult just a bit.
Things have changed for the online mode as well; though thankfully, they are
also generally for the better. Liverpool has opted to experiment with race
objectives this time around, with some interesting results. They can range from
simply completing the event to executing a barrel roll; and in a strange twist,
they can include intentionally losing a race as well. Make of what you will of
that last, but it's pretty hilarious to see an opponent cruising toward a win
abruptly decelerate and politely wait for you to pass them. But then, it's not
really in the spirit of Wipeout's traditionally hyper-competitive play either.
All that said, the online campaign is a credit to Wipeout. It's well-executed
in addition to being highly accessible, and it's quite easy to get a race
going. In fact, the interface in general is excellent -- a clean, shiny,
touchscreen-driven menu system that is a pleasure to behold. Clearly, this game
is as much about showing off the hardware as much as being a quality racing
Thus, Wipeout 2048 stands with Uncharted as one of the Vita's best launch
titles. It's still Wipeout, after all, and when it really gets moving, it's easy to leave behind any misgivings and just roll with it. As
the game progresses, there's a sense that Liverpool is moving steadily into
familiar territory. And when we at last reach the likes of Sol, Liverpool seems
to really cut loose with the design, throwing in terrifying drops and all
manner of other devious tricks.
But there's also no denying that Liverpool has overextended itself just a bit
with Wipeout 2048. At its best, it's incredibly fast and beautiful; breathless,
even. The little compromises chip away at the experience though, from the
framerate to the slightly chunkier handling. It’s a tremendous racer as always;
but as far as grand ambitions go, Liverpool has fallen a tiny bit short.