There are only a few titles that manage to truly summon up a sense of breakneck speed. Maybe its because a lot of racers have to confine their vehicles to the standard laws of physics and maneuverability based from actual cars. But for those driving games that contain futuristic machines, drivers can literally fly across tracks at the speed of sound (or even faster). The Wipeout series has personified this accelerated racing experience for almost ten years, and now it’s portable thanks to Sony’s new handheld. Get ready for a trip into the future, as we fly through Wipeout Pure.
While there is a limited back story of a new racing league set in 2197, the plotline of the game itself isn’t really important. The true overall goal is to take first place with any one of the eight gravity-defying rocket ships initially presented in the game (we’ll come back to this point later). Obviously, with boosters propelling you along the elaborately designed racetracks, you have to be careful not to accelerate too quickly so you fly off the course. However, these aren’t the only dangers facing you during a competition. Colliding with walls or flying off the track strips energy away from your machine, which can knock you out of contention quickly. Also, strewn along the track are a various array of offensive and defensive items that you or your opponents can use to eliminate drivers.
Much more than a simple gimmick to gameplay, the ten pickups included in the game add an additional level of strategy to Wipeout Pure. There are direct attacks, such as rockets, homing missiles or plasma balls that inflict a large amount of damage on their targets. Area specific assaults, such as the quake attack that can launch opponents over walls can be effective in crowds of racers. You can go so far as scrambling rival’s controls entirely, or cover areas of track with bombs or mines. Fortunately, you can also protect yourself from some of these attacks with well-placed turbo boosts or shields to reflect the damage from your ship. Any of these pickups can be triggered at any time, although if no one’s around, you can absorb the energy they provide into your craft, “healing” any lost energy from collisions or damaging attacks. Although the damage from some weapons does feel extremely exaggerated and potentially devastating during a race, it does add a bit of white knuckled tension to the gameplay.
While the number of game modes included in Wipeout Pure might seem limited, there’s plenty of replayability in this game thanks to the progression system that awards you medals based on your performance on the track. You can race for the best time on a course in the Time Trial mode, enter only one competition in the Single Race mode or fully enter a series of courses in the Tournament mode. You can also try the accelerated Zone mode, which continually increases your speed as you go along the track, with the objective to survive as long as possible without crashing.
In fact, this mode almost stresses the need for practice, which is what the Free Mode is for: to get a sense of the tracks, with their razor sharp hairpin curves and drops. The Wipeout series has always emphasized track mastery for its players, thanks to the ever-increasing levels of speed and difficulty that arise on later levels. The game is tough, punishing at times, but extremely fair, especially when you’ve reached the Flash, Rapier and Phantom speed levels that you eventually unlock. Didn’t make that turn? You didn’t use your airbrakes at the right moment – your fault. Having trouble controlling that ship? Should’ve practiced a bit more. Opponents constantly hitting you with their weapons? You should’ve learned to evade better. Wipeout Pure’s difficulty level is such that you constantly feel a drive to reach that gaming zone where you and the game seem to be one and you’re reacting to the course instinctively. It can be done, but you’re going to put in a lot of time to get there. However, when you do, you’ll also feel a definite sense of accomplishment.
Fortunately, you’re treated to a visual feast of what the PSP can do in Wipeout Pure. Holding to its futuristic design, many of the graphical touches throughout the game are sleek, angular lines that emphasize ship and environmental form along with advanced style. There are plenty of glowing, iridescent highlights, complete with lens flares, light blooms and light trails. Tracks all have their own unique designs as well, distinguishing one course from the next. The same can be said about the ships that you can pilot, because even though the conceptual models appear to be similar geometrically in some ways, every ship is distinct and detailed enough to be discerned from each other in a race. The largest, and perhaps most impressive facet of the graphics is the sense of speed imparted during a race. Your ships go at incredible velocities on their own, and if you manage to hit turbo boosts or trigger other bursts of energy, you get a sense that you’re truly flying down the track. Unfortunately, there are plenty of moments where the game simply can’t keep up with the sheer level of acceleration the game tries to provide, so the frame rate does dip down somewhat.
The sound effects in Wipeout Pure are great. Everything, from the explosions triggered by bombs to the rushing sound released when Quake is released sounds powerful. You also have a number of the standard futuristic effects, from robotic voices to computer beeps. But the star of the sound effects has to be the soundtrack. There are 19 songs from some of the world’s biggest DJs of electronica, including Photek, Aphex Twin and Paul Hartnoll from Orbital. If you ever needed something to get you in the mood to race in the future, this music would be it.
Wipeout is truly one of those gems from the PSP launch. Even the multiplayer mode, which supports up to 8 players, has much more to it than it appears. Sure, at first glance, it’s not impressive looking, with a somewhat generic lobby. However, players can download additional courses and ships via multiplayer, expanding your replayability to near infinite levels. In fact, Wipeout Pure is one of the few games that's promised constant releases of new content that can be downloaded and inserted into your games, which is awesome. Assuming that you have the space on your memory stick, you could find yourself updating Pure for months to come.
If you haven’t ever played a Wipeout game, this is a great place to start. Combining the sense of speed that the franchise is known for with a ton of replayability and the option to continually update the game with new machines and tracks, Pure has plenty of gameplay for any racing fan. If you own a PSP, you should have this course burning game in your library.