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Welcome Back Games – WipeOut HD

Welcome Back Games – WipeOut HD

With the PlayStation Store back up and running you’re probably trying to decide which of the free games Sony is offering you would be the best to grab. To help you out we’re posting our original reviews of all five of the PS3 titles being made available.

Wipeout HD

Fast, futuristic fun in full HD

Speed has always been the essence of WipEout’s success. Gloriously excessive, unchecked speed. And since its debut on the PlayStation way back in 1995, Studio Liverpool’s emphasis on sheer velocity has made WipEout something of a PlayStation institution. Don’t get us wrong – the games have always been slickly presented and visually impressive (especially the PSP entries Pulse and Pure), but scenery tends to zoom by unnoticed as you concentrate on keeping your ship out of the wall.

With WipEout HD, Sony has given the series a high-definition makeover – the game’s eight tracks are taken from previous titles and expansion packs, and on the surface everything about this update feels very familiar. So is the PlayStation Network download worth your hard-earned cash? Considering the game is set to retail at a mere £12, the lack of new content is perhaps forgivable, although Gran Turismo Prologue was criticised for pulling a similar trick. Much has been made of WipEout’s new look – if a resolution of 1920×1080 wasn’t impressive enough, the game zooms along at 60 frames per second. While such a high frame rate probably isn’t crucial to the game’s playability, at no point during our testing did the unbelievably smooth motion falter. As you can see from our screenshots, graphical detail is still of the utmost quality, but static images don’t do Studio Liverpool’s achievements justice – you have to see it running to appreciate just how many pixels the black box under your telly is really shifting.

Most importantly, the game is still a lot of fun to play. Veterans will be able to jump right in, but piloting one of WipEout’s antigravity ships is as accessible as always, and as you get to know the tracks (if you don’t already) you’ll learn to use your airbrakes more effectively on corners, hitting the strategically placed blue speed-boost pads along the way. The feeling of raw pace is as euphoric as ever and there’s immense satisfaction to be had from setting up a quick race and posting a record lap time. However, you won’t get far if you don’t learn how to get competitive – WipEout HD starts off with only two tracks, so you’ll need to get ahead in the campaign to unlock more. Each campaign is made up of separate challenges from single races to multiple track tournaments, or time trials – success in each challenge gets points on the board, eventually unlocking new campaigns and tracks.

Competitive races are by far the most exhilarating aspect of WipEout HD. Battling against seven AI pilots requires a different mentality to racing alone; the red pick-up pads become an integral part of your strategy, forcing you to choose between all-out speed, offence, defence, or damage limitation. The action is quick and ruthless, with classic WipEout weapons including missiles, heat seekers, mines and bombs enabling you to attack opponents, while speed boosts, autopilot, and shield give you more options to help move up the field. If your ship has taken damage all pick-ups can be absorbed, restoring some energy to avoid crashing out in a burning wreck. Tactics are crucial considering that all this can be going on at around half the speed of sound, requiring split-second decision-making, and if you do manage to wonder off the course you’re quickly reset back on the track. As you hone your skills, you’ll advance to higher speed classes, and the campaign mode offers a relatively manageable learning curve – getting to the next level isn’t necessarily dependent on straight wins, meaning there’s always an opportunity to go back and grab gold in the increasingly difficult events.

Once you’ve unlocked all the tracks, you’re also able to race around them backwards. At this point attentions will turn to the rollercoaster of emotions that is multiplayer. WipEout has traditionally always offered a competent multiplayer experience, but it’s where HD really shines. Firstly, the two-player split-screen experience is nigh on flawless – at no point during races with six AI opponents did the frame rate appear to slow down. Then there’s the online multiplayer, in which eight people can battle it out in real time – as long as Studio Liverpool have sorted out any lag issues, this will be where the game’s longevity lies. Like Call Of Duty 4, or FIFA, there’s something about beating another human being on WipEout that’s just undeniably satisfying, and for many this will be the primary reason to invest. Add to this the polished bells and whistles included in WipEout HD; the usual pumping soundtrack and audio effects delivered in Dolby 5.1 surround, (with the option to import your own MP3 playlists) a Photo mode, and an options menu that enables you to switch off weapons for pure racing, add pilot-assist for novices, and to control your ship with the motion sensor in the Sixaxis controller.

WipEout HD isn’t without its niggles. The track selection is quite limited, although new circuits will be available to download in the future, and we’d have liked a four-player split-screen mode (maybe a technical stretch too far?). Also, the Sixaxis doesn’t work as well as it should, with a slightly delayed response time making motion control difficult, but these are all minor quibbles. WipEout HD is slick, addictive entertainment and well worth £12 of anyone’s money.

Final Verdict

HD is the most polished WipEout game so far, but doesn’t offer many new features. The single-player campaign warrants the low cost, but fans and newcomers alike will spend the most time seeking multiplayer thrills.


Originally printed in Play 172

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