Back when I reviewed Pure I mentioned I wasn’t a huge fan of the racing genre. With an analogy about houses and fire I highlighted the Burnout series as the only exception to the rule. Well there’s another.
The first thing to know about Wipeout HD is the metaphorical box doesn’t lie. Street Fighter II HD Turbo Remix, Rez HD, Alien Hominid HD, even games like Modern Warfare and Uncharted, they all boast high definition graphics but fail to deliver in the 1080p department. They’re not true high definition. Wipeout HD is true HD; it’s the only game in existence that plays in 1080p despite this generation being hailed as the high-def generation. Even at a year old it looks stunning. The truth is it hasn’t aged a second, the pristine blur of a colourful world rushing by at a thousand kilometers an hour is stunning. Every. Single. Race.
It’s effortlessly cool and no amount of adjectives or photos can encapsulate just how incredible it looks running on an HD screen at sixty frames per second. It really has to be seen.
Luckily Wipeout has far more to pride itself on than prepossessing graphics and gorgeous art direction. With eighty-seven races split between eight events it has more than enough substance to sustain the style. Though arguably the style is also the substance.
Races come in five varieties. The individual races and tournaments that make up the majority of the game are adrenaline-fuelled shots of momentum straight to the head. Raced alongside seven adversaries they’re the bread and butter of any racer but in true Wipeout fashion, with tenfold the speed, tenfold the awesome. Scattered about the tracks are speed pads, indicated with a blue arrow, and weapon pick-ups, a red cross. Speed pads are self-explanatory, vital on the tougher difficulties offering a brief injection of pace. Weapon pick-ups transform the otherwise standard races into a Hollywood blockbuster, launching missiles across the track, firing mines, and ultimately causing havoc. Races are fast lived and perilous.
Speed laps and time trials are the proverbial race to beat the timer; free from the jostling threat of another seven racers they’re a welcome break from the fiercely competitive AI.
The most remarkable of the five events is inarguably Zone Mode. Zone races begin as slow paced affairs, but as your score increases and zones are progressed the speed quickly increases. By the twentieth zone you’ll be weaving in and out of corners, desperately trying to keep your ship from careering into the track walls. They last as long as you can and reach ludicrous speed. In faultless harmony with that, the detailed aesthetics from the standard tracks are replaced with a retro solid colour vaguely reminiscent of Tron and, reflective of the name, colours change as zones are transcended. At the end of each race a medal is awarded depending on the position or score attained during the event, and points won (three for gold, two for silver, one for bronze) go toward unlocking the next event.
Though anyone having played either of Wipeout Pulse or Pure for the PSP will be familiar with the race modes, playing in high-definition transforms them into different beasts, Zone mode in particular is a joy to play on a big screen. Eliminator, Zone Battle, and Detonator however, are nowhere to be seen.
The lack of new modes is a little disappointing, and those who own Pulse or Pure may feel this is more of a director’s cut (cutting out one of the best modes too) than a new game. The tracks are also all hauled from previous PSP versions of the game though the high definition upgrade and added attention to detail mean only the layout transfers identically. Billboards, blimps, the distant glimmer of the ocean all convert them from racetracks to breathing worlds, each with their own identity and personality. Sol 2 in particular, floating in the clouds, with a precarious lack of track walls is fantastic to play, seeped in character. All of the eight varied tracks are playable in reverse, and all are designed impeccably from the tight corner-ridden Sebenco Climb to the wide and often vertical Metropia.
Charged at 700km/h it was vital Studio Liverpool crafted a control scheme allowing the utmost control and precision and it’s perhaps the most praise-worthy success they’ve achieved. It’s as accessible to seasoned Wipeout veterans as it is to the newcomer. The phrase ‘my gran could play it’ is more true here than ever before with the addition of an autopilot acting as a gentle introduction to the usually unforgiving pace. As a passive assistant, it nudges your ship away from the track edge at the expense of some speed and is a perfect inclusion for newcomers. And even for competent racer fans, by the time the fourth of the four speed classes arrive, the autopilot might be a necessity. For those worried it’s very existence could remove the challenging nature of the game, it’s entirely optional and three difficulty levels and four speed classes craft a flawless balance between challenge and enjoyment, though the two are rarely mutually exclusive.
The controls themselves are equally slick in their implementation. Air brakes assigned to the left and right triggers aid the ships in turning, particularly on hairpin corners at top speed (there’s no conventional brake after all). Success above novice difficulty relies on avid use of the air brakes and weaving in and out of corners at the highest speed is a thrill time and time again.
There’s also the option of sixaxis control. Available as either pitch, or pitch and steering it’s a novel inclusion but one that never matches the control of the thumbsticks and will no doubt only act as a five-minute reminder why those thumbsticks work so well.
Wipeout has always had a pulse-pounding soundtrack to match its glossy visuals and liquid gameplay and HD is no exception. With a familiar blend of electro the soundtrack may be limited to under a dozen songs but they’re all deftly in tune with the game. It also supports custom soundtracks so when the soundtrack does grow tired there’s the option to upload your own playlist to the Playstation.
And Wipeout HD is littered with subtle player-friendly additions. Each of the twelve ships has additional skins unlocked after enough loyalty points have been accumulated. There’s three HUD variations, one original to HD, two from previous Wipeout titles. A new photo-mode allows the player to take photos from any moment in a race. Better still they can be uploaded to the Playstation and used as full 1080p XMB backgrounds. These are all minor inclusions but they piece together to make Wipeout an even healthier package, and priced at £13.99 they’re all the more impressive.
Outside of the single player campaign and Racebox (which allows you to customise your own events), two player split screen and an online mode round out a nearly flawless offering. Online modes are a little scarce, only races or tournaments are available to play, though the options available are diverse and allow for all kinds of races and tournaments. Finding and entering games was no problem and rarely did any of the games I tested suffer from lag. The inclusion of spectator mode is a nice touch, even if it’s only really useful you’re when waiting for a race to end.
Players are ranked based on performance, but this has more to do with bragging rights than creating fair games. You’re as likely to race level 1’s as you are level 34’s which, although frustrating at times, is a good choice considering there were only twenty or so servers worldwide at any one time I played.
Leaderboard integration is of a noteworthy nature. Split between global and friend boards, they allow quick and easy access to the best times and promote sociable competition between groups of friends. They do take some hours to update though, which is curious as they synchronise every time you enter.
All this way with scarcely a criticism to be said. If I’m being pedantic, placing you at the back of the starting line for every race (particularly during tournaments where you’ve won the previous race) is an irritant. Working your way passed the slower ships whilst they compete with missiles and bombs is more of a challenge than maintaining a lead and it feels a little facetious forcing the player to begin at the back of the roster even after they’ve proven their worth previously. Unfair and meticulous searching would be required to find more at fault with the game than this though.
Wipeout HD has it all. Style, substance, enough of both to warrant twice the asking price. It’s no surprise that it received a retail release in the States and at £13.99 it’s cheaper than a slew of inferior racers. Slickly cruising at 1080p it’s unrivalled in natural cool. Blistering speeds, formidable weaponry and some of the most exciting modes in a racer make Wipeout HD the pinnacle of the genre right now, despite being the combination of two previous games. A couple of new modes and a slightly weightier multiplayer are all this needs to reach perfection. As it stands it’s less than a second off.