Developer – SCE Studios Liverpool/Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Memory Stick Duo – 544 KB
Wi-Fi Compatible (Ad Hoc): 2-8 Players
Wi-Fi Compatible (Infrastructure): 2-8 Players
I remember when I first got my brand new PSP at launch in March 2005 and how I took the day off to line up with the rest of the gaming public, even though I preordered my unit. The PSP was Sony’s first handheld venture and it was greeted with both excitement and trepidation. One of the first launch games that really caught my eye was Wipeout Pure, which was the series first foray into the world of portable gaming. I have to say that at that time I was really blown away with the look and speed of that racer. Well fast forward to 2008 and Sony once again reaches into the vault and releases a new Wipeout game for the PSP, aptly titled Wipeout Pulse. Developed by SCE Studios Liverpool, high speed anti-gravity futuristic racing returns to Sony’s handheld and does so with the same style and flair we have seen in other Wipeout games of past.
Wipeout Pulse is all about speed and futuristic backgrounds; SCE Studios Liverpool has utilized a very solid graphics engine to accomplish these images. From the sweeping camera at the start of each race to the feeling of completing a vertical loop, everything screams quality visuals. I found that each track definitely had a nice individual look to it, as some were on the ground while others weaved high above through the tops of futuristic skyscrapers. None of the tracks are recycled from another either. This helped in providing me with a satisfying feeling that I was actually traversing the globe in an effort to defeat all other racers I encountered. The very distinct look for each track carries over to the available eight ships that you can choose from to race with. Each team has a very distinct style and flavor and you can very much tell who is who while racing down any one of the 12 tracks. Of course all the Wipeout games are set in the future, and each track and its corresponding city definitely look as though you have time warped far ahead of what we see in present day.
Technically speaking Wipeout Pulse is rock solid. The first thing that really struck me was how fast this game moves. As the ships in Wipeout are anti-gravity based you can hit some pretty high speeds upwards to 800 km/h. As the game flies along there is nary a hiccup in sight. The framerate is rock steady, even with all the weapon’s special effects in full play. Clipping and tearing was also non existent too. As I was acquainting myself with each track I was not the most graceful racer as I found myself bouncing of various walls and falling of the edge now and then. During these instances all the visuals stayed right in place as there was no seeing through the walls, no seams present nor was there any disappearance of any trackside detail. As for any draw in, well that too was absent. Sure, a lot of this is attributed to the excellent track design, however even on the odd straight away nothing seemed to just pop-up as all the detail in the distance was visible as far as one can see.
Special effects are also in abundance in Wipeout Pulse. From lighting, shading and transparencies to all the particle effects used, the amount of stuff that can go on on-screen at once is pretty amazing. You have a lot of different weapons to use, but nothing is more impressive then the using the ‘quake’ power-up and watching the track in front of you get hit by sonic waves and lift up. The wave carries down the track causing all your opponents to lose speed. Everything else from missiles, mines, to the leech (energy) beam has a very impressive look to them. It is very evident that SCE Studios Liverpool put a lot of hard work into the visuals of the game and they are to be commended for their efforts and all their blood, sweat and tears pays off with a great looking game.
Sound is another area where Wipeout Pulse shines. The series has always been well known for its electronica soundtrack and once again Wipeout fans get the same style music. I remember buying the soundtracks from the first two titles that were released on the PSone. Although I definitely don’t mind the music at all, I am not well versed when it comes to the artists behind the music, but one look at the back the instruction manual shows me that artists such as Mist, Booka Shade, Stanton Warrior or Rennie Pilgrem & BLIM are featured. The music tracks that are included in the game really match the futuristic look and feel and they really meld well with the on-screen racing. Should none of the available artists on the UMD strike your fancy you have the option to download up to 30 MP3 tracks of your favorite music into the game. This is a great feature and only adds further options for your music listening pleasure.
As for the rest of the sound effects, everything is well represented including the announcer, crowds, ships and the various special weapons that you have to use. I noticed that each weapon has its own sound. The missiles sound very different from the mines or bombs while the machine gun sounds very different from the leech beam. The sound that comes out of the PSP’s external speakers sounds good too, but put on a set of head phones and you have a more in depth field of sound including a bit of directionality so to speak as enemy ships come from behind and whiz by you during a straightaway pass. Overall the sound is a great compliment to the already great graphics and it really does help pull you into further into the game.
I would love to delve into the story of Wipeout Pulse, but hey, there is none. This game is about high speed futuristic racing plain and simple so there is no need for any story here. The crux of your playtime will be eaten up in the Race Campaign Mode. This is an extensive series of race events arranged over dozens of grids. Each grid is made up of individual cells and each cell contains a unique race event from such things as a single race, quick lap, time trial or tournament to name a few. Upon completing a specific cell you are awarded a gold, silver or bronze medal in the event, and each medal has corresponding points to it (gold=3, silver=2, bronze=1). You can also adjust the skill level for each cell you enter. Placing in the top three opens up the cells adjacent to the one you completed. Once you have earned enough points you open up a new grid. I found myself somewhat addicted to this aspect of this game as I would always say to myself “I’ll just play one more cell”, and the next thing I know an hour or so would just fly by.
The learning curve for Wipeout Pulse is pretty well balanced as the races manage to seem somewhat even across the board. That being said, the AI can provide quite a challenge and you must learn each track inside and out in order to beat them, especially in the more challenging and somewhat twitchier ships that are found in the higher classes. As mentioned earlier on, the speed of this game is amazing, and it this speed that calls for some quick reflexes given that the design of the tracks can be quite challenging with hairpin turns and blind corners galore. This game is not for the faint of the heart and it really does get the adrenaline pumping as you battle it out for dominance on the track.
I think if I had one major complaint about the computer AI it is that the game is somewhat favorable to their circumstances. Now I don’t want to claim that the game was programmed with rubberband AI, but I can’t help but wonder. I can’t count the number of times that I took the lead in any given track only to get hit with a barrage of weaponry that I myself rarely got even once during a race. There was only so many times that I could get hit by a missile, then a leech beam, and then a quake, only to see myself fall from first to fourth or fifth in a matter of a heartbeat. To see these better weapons hit me so many times in a row was somewhat frustrating. That being said, the AI racers themselves really did provide a great challenge in terms of bumping and grinding you for each position on the track.
Speaking of tracks, there are a total of 12 different courses for you to race on and these tracks are also raced in reverse, for a total of 24 tracks in all. If anything I would have liked to seen more variety in the number of tracks as racing on the same tracks (forwards or backwards) proved to be somewhat less exciting in the later grids given that I had already put in a lot of time on the same tracks earlier in the game.
Wipeout Pulse also offers an array of non campaign racing modes. You can compete in a single race, race head-to-head, set up a tournament, complete a time trial, try a speed lap, complete a zone challenge and try the eliminator mode. Generally speaking everything is self explanatory, but the two last modes deserve further explanation. The zone mode has your ship accelerating in top speed every 10 seconds. This higher speed is reflective of a higher class of ship. Each ten second time period is classified as a zone and your goal is to survive as many zones as possible as each medal is equivalent to a set number of zones. The eliminator mode has you racing for kills, not position, in a single race against a full grid (8 ships). The goal is to eliminate a set number of opponents in your effort to place for a medal.
One thing that also really struck me during my time with Wipeout Pulse was how many extras there are. First off the game tracks absolutely everything, from the vehicle you pick, the types of weapons you use to even what music tracks you listen too. You can see the stats on a ‘ticker’ that scrolls at the bottom of the screen as you get ready to race. You can also customize your races and race grids with criteria that you pick, from class of ship to the weapons on the track. There is also a pretty cool photo mode included on the UMD. You can take pictures either at the end of a race or you can pause the race and take a picture of your ride mid air. You can then take these pictures and send them to your friends or post them online.
Wipeout Pulse’s online capabilities are pretty impressive themselves and deserve a lot of mention. You can log on to www.wipeout-game.com for a whole host of features. Once online you can view your details and statistics, check out the leader boards, download customized skins made by other gamers, download tracks and even challenge other racers for online supremacy. I found that surfing the community boards with the PSP’s online capabilities was trouble free. As for online racing, each time I logged on there seemed to be very few people online at the time, so my online multiplayer experiences were quite limited. That being said what I did manage to get in was pretty smooth and surprisingly lag free. Those looking for robust online support will definitely find it here.
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