The Wipeout series is one which has always been associated with the launch of new Sony hardware. From the very first game being the ‘killer app’ the original PlayStation needed, through Wipeout: Pure releasing with the PSP, a Wipeout game has regularly been available early in the life of each member of the PlayStation family. In fact, while Wipeout HD was a reasonable success on the PS3, it is also arguable that a handheld PlayStation is the ideal home for this racing franchise. Something about the pick up and play nature of the title no doubt contributes to this feeling, as does the ability of Studio Liverpool to get the most out of new hardware at an early point. While some see Mario Kart as the definitive Nintendo handheld game, there is a good argument to consider Wipeout as the PlayStation equivalent.
Not that the two games are that similar. Mario Kart is a fun game of course, but its racing credentials usually take a back seat to the chaos caused by the weaponry and shortcuts employed. Wipeout on the other hand has always featured weapons, though more as an additional tool crafted towards giving you a slight edge over your competitors than a game changing addition.
So that’s the series at a high level, but what about Wipeout: 2048 specifically? Does it do its job well of showing off the best of the Vita while delivering an enjoyable and dynamic gaming experience? The answer to that one is a definite yes, but the game isn’t without its flaws and has one or two niggles that prevent it from being the all-conquering must-have launch title it could have been.
The biggest selling point of Wipeout: 2048 is spelt out right there in it’s name. This is in effect a prequel to the other games in the series, showing the first few years of Anti-Gravity racing. As a result, the tracks generally seem to be set in more recognizable urban environments than the crazily futuristic worlds shown in other games. We have tracks therefore built around what seems to be the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park, as well as a great one set in and around a Baseball stadium. There are only 10 new courses in all, but they each have a unique and distinctive feel. In a familiar story for any Vita owner, they look great as well, with genuine console quality looks similar to or slightly better than Wipeout HD.
There is a slight downside to all of this gritty realism and track detail however, on a smaller screen the courses themselves can be difficult to read, leading to frequent and frustrating brushes with the scenery. Of course this issue becomes less and less of an issue once you learn the courses and I wouldn’t trade the impressive graphics, but as a test I went back to play Wipeout: Pure and its more minimal graphics and lower speed did make for a more fun and less frustrating game.
One other change from the earlier PSP titles is that the tournament race structure has been ditched in preference for a system much more like the one in Wipeout: HD, where players complete tasks on a grid system, with challenges like basic races, speed laps and battle arenas leading you through three separate years of the Anti-Grav racing circuit. The much praised Zone mode returns as well within this grid structure and impresses with its neon look. Although this structure allows for more variety than just straight up racing, I must admit that I did miss the tournament mode familiar to long-term fans of the series, although I do concede that having bite size challenges is more fitting for a handheld game. One definite minus point is that you aren’t able just to select a one-off race or time trial to play, instead you need to pick a challenge you have already completed on the grid which is pretty unforgivable.
A couple more niggles – why does the speed run challenges not provide an on-screen marker for how well you are doing against the target time while you are racing, just like nearly every other racing game in history? I like the idea of the game being set in 2048, but in that case why is it that only the courses look more realistic? Surely the anti-grav ships themselves should have a slightly more underdeveloped look as well?
I don’t want to cloud this review with complaints since overall Wipeout: 2048 is a very good game and the central core of racing is as solid as ever. There is an unique multiplayer mode to compliment the fully online mode, which involves the player working to complete a campaign mode similar to the one in single-player mode, only with online combatants. I like the dedication needed for this aspect of the game, though again I would have appreciated the ability to also dip in and out and just play a single race of my choice with players online, something that apparently may be added via DLC, along with the option for cross-platform play with PS3 owners on Wipeout: HD.
Basically, if you know and love your Wipeout you will pretty much love this game. There are some things that will probably annoy you, and you may find the courses tough to navigate at first, but the general look and presentation of the title will undoubtedly suck you back in. If you have previously tried and hated the slippy slidey handling of anti-grav racing ships then there will be nothing here to drastically change your mind. A solid launch title with a little room for improvement in a potential sequel, but definitely well suited to Sony’s new wonder machine. 8/10.