The WipEout series is a popular, long running series of anti-gravity racing games along the lines of the venerable SNES classic, F-Zero. The original WipEout, released along with the original PlayStation in Europe in September of 1995, and released stateside two months later, was a revelation for many, including myself. The developer, Psygnosis, was obviously aiming for the older gaming crowd: WipEout featured cutting edge, dance floor artistic design from The Designers Republic, as well as electronic tunes from groups like the Chemical Brothers and Leftfield. WipEout was fast, beautiful, and thrived on the sickest of club beats. In a word, it was amazing.
It wasn't particularly surprising that many games followed the original, including WipEout XL (titled WipEout 2047 overseas) and WipEout 3 on the PlayStation. WipEout 64 made it to the Nintendo 64 between WipEout XL and WipEout 3, the only WipEout ever to appear on a Nintendo machine. The series even appeared on Mac and Windows PCs, as well as the Sega Saturn, and the the games were consistently improving and expanding--until WipEout Fusion dropped onto the PlayStation 2. The only WipEout game to grace the trays of PlayStation 2 systems around the world, WipEout Fusion, released in 2002, was a decided departure from past WipEout games; sadly, the flavor of the game was nearly destroyed. I could hardly stand the game, even after having played the original games for seven years.
A bit of GameTZ trivia: in the middle of October of 2005, I foisted my copy of WipEout Fusion on the unsuspecting justpeople. Unfortunately, I also added $25 to my side of the trade, and ended up with the ultra-boring SOCOM: Navy Seals. Win some, lose some.
On to the review proper! WipEout Pure was released for the PlayStation Portable the very same day the PSP itself was released here in the U.S., 3/24/2005. The PSP, Sony's first foray into the scary handheld market dominated for years by Nintendo's GameBoy line of handhelds, was a sleek and sexy handheld dominated by a truly stunning widescreen LCD display. Without getting into the ensuing war between Sony and Nintendo handhelds, the PSP was the perfect platform for the resurgence of true WipEout gaming.
When I bought my first PlayStation Portable in early 2005, I was truly amazed by the graphics the PSP could generate. Compared to the graphics on the Nintendo DS, which were more along the lines of a Nintendo 64 game, the PlayStation Portable was easily a generation ahead of the competition when it came to pure processing power, not to mention the outstanding widescreen display.
Testament to WipEout Pure's graphical flare and polish, it is still one of the very best looking games on the PSP. The tracks are fluid, bristling with color and activity, be it lens flares, running lights, animated billboards, falling snow or swirling skies. The hover crafts themselves are also diverse, belonging to a list of teams new and old, including Feisar, AG Systems and more, different not only in structure and design, but also in various categories like max speed, thrust and shields. Weapon effects feature excellent particle effects and the explosions themselves are massive; unfortunately, they can often be too large, hiding the track from view and often causing collisions.
Despite a simplicity of function, even the main menus are colorful and interesting, with the signature icons and futuristic designs evident in the main menu and even, to a lesser degree, within the sub menu's as well.
Unfortunately, there are moments of slowdown during the game, particularly in the faster classes. The slowdown is far from a deal breaker, but it can be annoying.
The sound effects and voices in WipEout Pure are great, but it has always been the soundtrack itself that has definied a WipEout game. The WipEout series is known for featuring some of the best electronica on the market. WipEout Pure is no different. There are tunes from groups such as LFO, Freq Nasty, Aphex Twin and the series favorite, Tim Wright, otherwise known as CoLD SToRAGE. The soundtrack is amazing, every tune a perfect fit to the futuristic anti-gravity motif, and the soundtrack is even more amazing heard through capable headphones, even the Sony 'phones that ship with the PSP.
Sure, WipEout Pure looks great, sounds even better...but how does it play?
For fans familiar with the series, WipEout Pure is a throwback to the original games, particularly the feel, control and accessibility of WipEout XL. Thankfully, WipEout Pure totally disregards the fast turd that was WipEout Fusion, saving only the Zone mode from that mess of a PS2 game.
To those unfamiliar with the series, WipEout Pure is a futuristic racing game featuring anti-gravity vehicles. Players choose a team, each team featuring a different hover vehicle, and take on a variety of tracks in a variety of modes, including single player offerings like Single Race, Tournament, Time Trial and Zone. Players can earn bronze, silver and gold medals for completing tracks or a series of tracks in every mode.
There are also a wide variety of difficulties, grouped into five different classes. The first two classes, Vector and Venom, are the only two classes initially playable. Vector is a great place for the beginning to player to learn the ropes; Venom ups the speed and the difficulty, but is a great place to hone one's skills. Learning a new class can be a lot like starting over, which is one of the game's many strengths. Learning the best lines through the same tracks is refreshingly new each time a player advances. Successive classes not only increase racing speeds and AI difficulty, but the game also increases the number of laps required to finish a track: four laps for both Flash and Venom and five laps for the ultra-nasty Phantom class. Even unlocking the toughest classes is a feat; successfully competing in them is tough as nails.
However, even paying on the lower difficulty settings, WipEout Pure still has a bit of a learning curve. It is not a forgiving game. The AI is tough and will waste waste no time in knocking you out of the race with weapons put to intelligent, and accurate, use. Not to mention actually managing to stay stay on the track during the mayhem with enough presence of mind to make the most of booster placement and your own weapon pick-ups. However, learning all of this is half the fun. Even dozens of hours later, racing on the same tracks against increasingly tougher AI opponents, I'm still having a blast two years after WipEout Pure was originally released.
For most of my adult life, and even during my latter years of standard state education, I've been a stickler for reading manuals. Strangely enough, in recent years I've gotten lazy on cracking the covers on the manuals for longer than a quick spin through the manual to see what's inside. Maybe I've just played too many games and read too many manuals in the past to be bothered with text instructions except for the more complicated strategy games. Maybe I'm just lazy. Anyway, there is one major change in WipEout Pure that confused me for quite a few races when I first started playing. You see, each vehicle has a finite amount of energy, and when it's depleted--either from running into the walls, flying off of the track, or getting blasted with missiles and such--it's over for numero uno in a fiery blast before the "Race Again" option appears. In the original games, repairing your vehicle required you to speed through an actively lit section of track that repaired your vehicle as you zipped through. But, as I was racing, I noticed that this section of track, usually off to one side near the finish line, was missing. And so I blew up once or twice before I discovered weapon power-ups, which you can only have one of at a time, can not only be expended but can also be absorbed, repairing a portion of the vehicle. Awesome! It's a nice new facet of the game. Low on shields, carrying a homing missile power-up, in the middle of the race, it can be a tough decision between playing defensively and absorbing the power-up in order to live a little longer, or just send the missile up your opponent's arse.
In addition to the offline modes, there is also adhoc multiplayer for two to eight players, which can be a blast. Players can also share their best times and records for the entire game between themselves, adding further incentive to top your rival's (err, friend's) top scores.
And be sure to hit up the official WipEout Pure website, listed to the side. There are a ton of new tracks, tournaments, teams and tunes available online, and still more coming (albeit somewhat slowly, to the U.S.). I was happy with my tiny original memory stick for the longest time, until my saved ghosts in time trial mode and my downloaded tracks exhausted the memory on my 32mb stick. I picked up a half-price 2Gb stick--well worth it, for WipEout Pure alone.
It's seems a little silly to say, but the original WipEout changed my life. Well, yeah, that's a bit too melodramatic, it's not like it has affected my life like the birth of my child, but it did introduce me to a whole new world of music and a style of life I was just beginning to taste at that point in my life. It didn't hurt that the gameplay was spot on, the graphics wicked, and the speed eye watering.
As a whole, I'm not a big fan of racing games. I piddle with Gran Turismo, barely qualify with Forza, and race a few laps in Project Gotham from time to time. But, while far from revolutionary for the series, WipEout Pure is an amazingly fun throwback to what has always made the series great: speed, style and sick beats. Every time I fire it up, I'm lost for hours.