Thursday, October 23, 2008

Review: Wipeout HD

Sony Liverpool


First things first: while it is brilliant, Wipeout HD isn’t a new game – it’s essentially a high-def conglomeration of the well-received PSP title Wipeout Pure and its sequel Pulse. It features the same vehicles and teams as the handheld games, and even the licensed soundtrack has the same mix of dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and techno. Where HD shines, though, is in recreating and recompiling the two games in full high definition – 1080p, screaming past your eyes at 60 frames per second. It’s a gear junkie’s dream: simultaneous justification for hardware investment and supplier of bragging rights – the gaming equivalent of BBC’s Planet Earth, or Dark Side of the Moon in blistering stereo sound.

So it looks good. But there’s more to the game than just its visuals – there’s also the small matters of gameplay, enjoyment and Wipeout’s traditional punishment of newcomers.

As with most games designed in-house for the PS3, Wipeout HD supports the Sixaxis’ accelerometer controls. Unfortunately, as with most non-Nintendo games supporting motion control, the additional control method offers very little of substance to the actual game – simply put, you’ll be racing so fast that the very slight delay in the accelerometer’s controls will outweigh its coolness factor. That said, though, once you become familiar with the easiest tracks, steering by leaning into the corners is really quite fun.

Newcomers to futuristic hovercraft racing (and surely there’s someone out there who’s never tried it) can turn on the new ‘pilot assist’ feature, which basically forces the craft away from the edges of the track. Past the first two or three events, however, the helpful robots or magnets or whatever the hell they are become a hassle – you’ll want to cut some corners closely to pick up certain weapons or speed boosts, and getting a weak nudge away from the wall often hinders more than it helps.

As mentioned above, HD offers much the same as its PSP predecessors, right down to the track selection – Chenghou Project, Sol 2, Vineta K, Sebenco Climb, Anulpha Pass and Ubermall are in the mix from Pure, and the fantastic Moa Therma and Metropia from Pulse round out the eight available tracks. While the tracks have the same layout, and can still be played in both directions (with slight alterations), the transition to high-def really makes them shine. Zone races, in particular, are a visual treat – textures are stripped from the levels you race through, replaced with fluorescent colours, and your aim is simply to survive through as many ‘zones’ as possible, as colours change and your vehicle inexorably increases its speed well beyond the capability of mere human reflexes. Unlike the other modes, where you effectively choose your own skill level before the race starts, zone events are increasingly challenging; and, being able to survive longer and longer as your skill level increases is correspondingly satisfying.

Wipeout HD clocks in at $33.90 – great value for such a range of content, even if you’d played through both of the PSP games before. And since the PSP games had such great downloadable content options (new packs with extra tracks and vehicles were made available to PSP owners every six months after the games’ release date), there’s a great chance that even more content will be added to the title over the next few months.

Despite its obvious roots in the handheld genre, Wipeout HD feels more like the spiritual successor to the three games released on the original PlayStation – it’s not every day that a game comes out so perfectly suited to a hardware platform that it can define a console. As Wipeout 2097 flooded the market and became a given purchase for PSOne owners, so should Wipeout HD – and, at the low price point afforded only to downloadable content, why would it not?

[This review first appeared in Critic magazine.]

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