When it launched in 1995, the Playstation was only joined at retail by a handful of games. While Namco's arcade racing hit, Ridge Racer
, did turn heads, Psygnosis' WipEout
was easily the most progressive title in the pack. The developer's clever blend of ultra-fast gameplay, a remarkably good, CD-quality techno-filled score, and beautiful visuals quickly won over critics and made fans of Sony's then-newborn console brand.
In passing years, WipEout
was expanded with four sequels of varying quality on three different consoles; while the series' popularity peaked just following the release of the first PSX sequel Wipeout XL
, it has become less and less relevant in recent years thanks in part to a mediocre showing on the Playstation 2. As such, it's rather astonishing that the series has returned to help launch a new Playstation console; what's more surprising though, is just how great it is.
Developer Studio Liverpool, the team responsible for the PS2's Wipeout Fusion
, has undoubtedly learned from its mistakes and returned the series to its former glory in Wipeout Pure
. As the title implies, many of the gameplay systems that were modified or added to Fusion
to poor effect have been dismissed while many of the series' former ideals have returned. With the bone set back into place, Studio Liverpool was free to build upon those old concepts to create what is very likely the most polished futuristic racer to ever hit the market.
is a return to form in many different ways, none is so obvious as the way vehicles handle. Fusion
's courses tended to be very wide and thus the vehicles were much more prone to making harsher turns. This was a bother for old players who had to essentially relearn to play, and for fresh pilots who simply found the learning curve too difficult. Thankfully, the vehicles in Fusion handle similarly to those in earlier games. It's much easier to keep the nose of the ship pointed forward, for example, and air-brake-assisted drifting becomes second-nature after little practice.
Studio Liverpool has wisely removed pit lanes from the game entirely. Now, energy is absorbed from unwanted power-ups at the touch of a button. This advancement keeps races feeling much more fluid than before. Also, a barrel-roll technique has been added; if executed correctly in mid-air, (tapping left-right-left or right-left-right on the d-pad will do the trick) the ship will receive a speed-boost upon landing. Additionally, it looks quite amazing, especially at high velocities.
Though a bit too deadly, in my opinion, the game's arsenal is quite polished. Old classics such as rockets, missiles, mines, and quake are easy to wield. Disruption bolt, one of the most evil weapons in series' history, has the ability to impair vision, disable air-brakes, or reverse the controls of vehicles it contacts. Bombs have been improved, as well. They now have a much larger explosion radius that initiates when ships enter its proximity. My favorite change is in the way auto pilot and shield now function. Even while active, players will still have the ability to grab and fire new weapons. Auto pilot, too, is much less of savior than in previous games, which is welcome; thankfully ship speed doesn't decrease anywhere near as much while active as series' fans would expect. Pure
has a number of different racing modes to keep gamers occupied; Single Race and Time Trial are available to test speeds through courses in one of five different classes with or without computer-controlled opponents. Vector, the first class, is relatively slow and should be easily playable by most. But from Venom on, be prepared for some serious challenges. I recommend that players unfamiliar with Wipeout
's controls spend several hours in Time Trial or Free Run modes to get comfortable handling the vehicles and getting accustomed to the course layouts. There's plenty of gameplay to be had prior to unlocking the later classes, as well, so don't worry about it getting too quick, too fast; by the time Flash, Rapier, and Phantom were unlocked, I was able to deftly navigate all of the courses.
Tournament mode requires gamers to finish a series of races consecutively before being awarded a medal. While I do enjoy this mode, playing through some of the early tournaments in Pure
was somewhat frustrating. Computer-controlled ships tend to finish in the same place in each consecutive race meaning that it was a constant battle between myself a one other ship. Based on the way points were divided at the end of a four-race tournament, I was pretty much required to get first in three of those events, and second in the other. It's not that I mind the game pushing me to become a better driver; I simply wish the results were more varied and realistic. In later tournaments which require players to compete in more than four races, it's much easier to stay in the game, even with poor placement in a race or two. As such, I found these events more enjoyable.
One of the best features in Pure
is Zone mode. In it, players will race through marvelously abstract circuits adorned only with speed boost pads. As the race progresses, the ship will zoom through zones. (lap fragments) Without the ability to grab power-ups, there's no way to recharge the power meter. Thus, the race continues until the vehicle explodes into tiny pixelated pieces. The object, of course, is to reach the highest zone possible. The catch, then, is that as each consecutive zone is reached, the vehicle's top speed increases. In very little time, the track is simply soaring by which in turn makes it that much more difficult to navigate. It's quite exhilarating, quite inventive, and a rather nice distraction from the standard races. There are four courses exclusive to zone mode, with the last being the finest. I'd like to reiterate just how enjoyable it is, in fact. If you want a preview of just how speedy Pure
will get in the late game, there's no better way than to hop into the Zone and enjoy. Like many of the titles in the PSP launch line-up, Pure
does support Wi-Fi play for up to 8 gamers. While the racing is smooth and wonderful once connected, I was a little disappointed in the lobby system; that is to say, there really isn't much of one. After a host has created a game and players connect, the race begins. Once it's over, all players are booted back out to the main menu. So if you feel like playing again, the whole process must be repeated. While I'm wishing for better, I would have loved for online play to be included, but I'm not very bothered by its absence; while we've yet to see exactly what Studio Liverpool has produced, the promise of downloadable content is almost more interesting anyway. I love the idea of new tracks, skins, music, and vehicles hitting the game after release. We'll see what Sony and the developer deliver in time.
While its gameplay is of upmost importance, its hard to deny the impact of Wipeout Pure
's visuals. This is without a doubt, the finest looking Wipeout
title ever produced; it's also worth mentioned that you won't find a better looking PSP title at launch, either. Each of the game's eight new standard racing circuits are marvelous to behold; while the course design in the series has always been wonderful, never has so much effort been spent to ensure that each track feel as though it's part of a vast, living world. City courses cut through roaring metropolises, with ships flying overhead and crowds of fans in the stands. The courses set outside the cities are just as lush; forests of trees stretch adorn Blue Ridge while gamers will race through the clouds in Sol 2. Four classic tracks have also been included. Rather than remake them exactly as they once were, the developer has given them a virtual makeover. While I had initially hoped to witness a graphically superior version of Wipeout 3
's amazing Manor Top course, for example, I am quite impressed by the new Tron
-esque treatment the courses have been given.
Additionally, both Wipeout
fans and fledgling pilots will be stunned by the effects at play in Pure
. While bloom techniques are employed more and more often in modern console and PC titles, to see such effects in a handheld game seems both impossible and unlikely. And yet, in Pure
, it's the reality. Urban, neon signage glows distinctively as ships pass by. Other lighting effects, including the oft-used lens flare, are heavily applied to each scene to give the image life. I particularly enjoy the over-brightening effect used as vehicles move from indoor to outdoor spaces and the static-laden screen distortions activated by vehicular damage. Weapon particle effects are also much more attractive in Pure
than in prior series entrants. In fact, the menu systems, 2D artwork, iconography, and ship design are truly without peer.
Unfortunately, during hectic moments in some races, the framerate can be a bit unstable. Yet, the retail version has been cleaned up respectably from what we'd seen in earlier preview builds, and gamers shouldn't have trouble racing at any time. It's only worth mentioning because these slight framerate drops are the only chink in Pure
's otherwise flawless appearance. Presentation is key to the Wipeout
series and for the most part, Pure
does not disappoint.
Historically, games in the franchise have also been applauded for their scores, which typically contain licensed music from the various electronic artists. In this respect, Pure
bests its predecessors by offering not only a higher quality selection of tracks, but also more of them. The game ships with 19 different pieces of audio from the likes of LFO, Orbital's Paul Hartnoll, Photek, Tiesto, and most notably Aphex Twin. The series' former composer, Cold Storage, has even lent a new track to Pure
never feels as much like Wipeout
as when jamming along at top speed to one of his tremendous cuts. Thankfully, the rest of the game's sound design lives up to the standard of this unbelievable soundtrack. Wipeout Pure
is an aural delight, to be sure.
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