Wipeout HD has seen a lot of hardships in development since its announcement at E3 2007. An initial release date within that same year was pushed back several times, modes that were originally meant to be featured in the game were cut, and a failed epilepsy test caused even more delays. The wait has not been in vain, however. Wipeout HD has the most polished audio and video presentation that I have ever had the pleasure of playing in a PSN title, and is also a great racing game to boot. As a warning, if you own the last two Wipeout games for PSP then this may not be the game for you. Most of the content in Wipeout HD is taken from both Wipeout Pulse and Pure, so unless you direly want to play Zone race through the same tracks in beautifully redone visuals then this might be a game you should skip.
In Wipeout HD you play as a pilot of a futuristic racing ship which can most easily be described as a hovercraft that floats several feet off the ground and is propelled by a jet engine. Your choice of craft is based on which company you would like to work under, with each company owning a single ship with specific speed, thrust, handling, and shield capabilities. This is as much back story as the game provides you, for better or worse there is no explanation given on why these races occur or what each company does beyond own a ship. I suppose that sponsoring a racing vehicle for a televised event and putting your logos all over it makes as much sense in the future as it does in the present, so no further story is truly needed.
There are 5 different racing modes in Wipeout HD: Single Race, Tournament, Time Trial, Speed Lap, and Zone mode. Single Race and Tournament are fairly self explanatory and have you competing against 7 computer controlled adversaries with weapons available if you so care to pick them up and medals awarded for placing. Time Trial is a race against the clock. You attempt to get the fastest possible time on a given track for a certain number of laps with medals award for certain times. Speed Lap is similar to Time Trial with the goal of the fastest single lap possible given 7 laps per attempt. Zone is by far the most creative and interesting of the modes available. You are given an improved ship with perfect attributes with the sole goal of surviving. Medals are awarded for how many “zones” you pass through without exploding because you lost all your energy smacking into walls. If this all sounds too easy, you are right. The catch to this mode is that for every zone you pass through, your ship will gain speed until you are crashing into walls at break neck speed on almost every single turn.
The controls in Wipeout HD are slightly different than most racing games released on PS3 as of late. Instead of using R2 as the accelerator, as has become the norm, the X button is used to accelerate, while the R2 and L2 buttons are used for air brakes. The button configurations take some time to get used to and if you want they are all interchangeable in the options, but I found these controls worked extremely well once I got used to them. The air brakes make your ship do a drifting motion in either direction which is useful for sharper turns. While flying down the track you can drive over boost arrows as well as red crosses that you can use to pick up weapons. These boost arrows become extremely important later in the game and knowing where each one is can be the difference between a bronze and gold on Time Trials. Once you have yourself a weapon, you have two choices. You can press square to use the weapon, or press circle to absorb the weapon into your ship. If you choose to absorb the weapon, then you gain a certain amount of energy, which can be the difference between surviving the race and going out in a blaze of glory. The energy bar is like your ship’s life bar. If it goes to zero, then your ship will explode, which is not a problem on easier levels but can become a major problem later on. Energy is also used to do barrel rolls, which give you a much needed speed boost if you can get enough air to land one. This puts forth a common predicament in the game where you are constantly balancing between weapon use against your enemies, doing barrel rolls to gain speed, and absorbing weapons to keep your energy at acceptable levels.
The weapons in Wipeout HD come with your common assortment of offensive, defensive, and speed enhancing variety. The most useful offensive weapons are heat-seeking missiles to take out those ahead of you as well as a weapon called a “quake” which creates a massive wave in the track ahead of you and slows down anyone unlucky enough to be caught in its path. There are also mines and bombs to drop behind you in case you happen to be in first with no one ahead of you (good work on that by the way). The only useful defensive weapon is a shield, which will most commonly be used to keep you safe while you smack into some turns you have trouble negotiating. For speed enhancement there are boosts (self-explanatory) and an auto pilot item. The auto pilot will give you a break for 4 seconds as the computer takes over driving for you. I sometimes felt the auto pilot misses too many boost arrows for it to be useful all the time, but it is definitely welcome on hair pin turns that you yourself cannot get through cleanly. Of course all of these items can be absorbed into your vehicle to keep you from blowing up if you can find no other use for them.
From the main menu there are three different categories for playing. The first is campaign mode, through which you will unlock all of the ships as well as the unavailable tracks. In this mode there are 8 different events, and each event presents you with a grid of possible races that you can do. For each race you will get 3 points for gold, 2 for silver, 1 for bronze, and a certain number of total points are needed to unlock the next event. Once you complete a race with at least a bronze medal, all of the races next to it on the grid will unlock and be available. By doing this the mode allows a little bit of leeway on the choices you make, although as you progress to higher events this becomes a moot point as you’ll probably need almost every race to advance to the next event anyway. The second mode is called Racebox- basically a free mode for you to set up any race you want against computers and race to your heart’s content. This is also the mode you can use to play two player split screen, which is unfortunately unavailable anywhere else. The last mode is the obligatory online, with a lobby to choose games from and the ability to create or join a game of your choice. An important thing to note is that the offline and online play are almost exactly the same, there is no noticeable lag and it’s still the same beautiful 1080p and 60 fps that it always is. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the split screen multiplayer. The time I spent with this mode had a noticeable drop in frame rate, almost to the point of making it impossible to play. Beyond the unlockables in campaign mode are some goodies that you get for gaining enough Loyalty with a given company. Loyalty is obtained by playing with the same ship over and over again in any of the game modes. So if you are getting your butt handed to you in online, just remember that you are still getting loyalty and working towards unlocking new ship skins as well as HUD’s from previous Wipeout titles.
Wipeout HD has a lot of polish and extra features that you won’t find in most games. The first thing you’ll notice is the fantastic visuals, which are able to do 1080p and stick to 60 fps, which is just the technical side of the graphics. On the artistic side, the levels are all very detailed and you can see that enormous amounts of work went into bringing these levels over to the Playstation 3. The audio presentation sets a new bar for PSN titles. The sound effects of the game are common enough, but the music in the game is extremely well done. Even if you don’t enjoy the music available, the title allows for you to use any music that you have saved onto your Playstation 3’s hard drive. As if that weren’t enough, whatever music you play is actually affected by what happens to your ship. The final addition to illustrate the game’s polish is a picture mode. Press start at any time and you’ll be able to pick a ship to look at and a plethora of effects to use. Depth of field, saturation, exposure time can all be manipulated to make your perfect artistic expression of speed. Once you are satisfied with your work of art you can save the picture as a 1920 x 1080 image onto your hard drive.
The Technical Presentation of this game got a lot of effort put into it, and it definitely shows. Added features such as a camera and getting the game to run at 1080p at 60 frames per second are highly commendable. Unfortunately the practically broken split screen multiplayer shows that there are a few things that perhaps they could have worked on from a technical standpoint, and perhaps they should have gotten the split-screen closer to being par with the single player before putting in extras such as a Camera.
Visually Wipeout HD is a treat to behold. As I mentioned, the game runs smoothly at a high resolution, and the levels and ship designs are spot on. It is unfortunate that there are only 3 skins to choose per ship; although, I was able to find one I liked for my own personal ship of choice. Also, although the tracks are quite stunning, it felt like perhaps they could have had more going on around you. At one point I was racing through Sol 2 and glanced up to see one of the many ships flying by explode in mid air, presumably hit with a stray rocket. Little touches like that would have been a welcome addition to every track on the list. It’s true that when playing you are moving too fast to really notice little details, but I just wish that there were little details there to notice if you slowed down and took the time to look.
Wipeout HD is what every PSN title should aspire to when it comes to Audio presentation. There are not many sound effects to the game, but this is not an issue since it allows the soundtrack to take over. Wipeout HD has a great soundtrack with a lot of thumping techno or electronic tunes (honestly, I don’t know the difference) but the real treat is the care they put into the custom tracks. You are able to use any playlist or album from your hard drive and set that as the soundtrack for racing. Unfortunately it does not use that custom soundtrack for the main menu, but this is an extremely minor fault. The amount of work that went into the sound is evident throughout your entire play through. Tunnels make the music echo, airtime takes the bass out of the music temporarily and getting hit with a bomb muffles everything like you’re in a war movie. Nowhere is the music more evident than in Zone, where the beautifully colored zones are punctuated by equalizers that move to the beat of your music and are pasted on almost every surface on the track. There is nothing better than listening to metal as you speed down the track at 800km/h.
The gameplay is a fast frenzy of weapons and break neck speed that will be a challenge to almost any racing fan at its highest speeds. The game does suffer from the same kind of luck based racing that any title with weapons suffers from to some degree. If you are extremely unlucky (like I have been sometimes) you will find it nearly impossible to even pass the guy in 2nd to last as he gets multiple mines and bombs in a row in his furious fight to not take your place at the back of the pack. Eventually he will run low and if you are a good enough racer you can still win the race, but it has the potential for some extremely annoying moments. My biggest complaint on a gameplay front is that I wanted more: more tracks, more modes. What I got from the game was fantastic and left me wishing there were more than 8 tracks to race down, or more than 8 events to play through. The main issue with only having 8 tracks is that there isn’t enough variety in the gameplay and I can definitely see someone getting tired of playing on the same 8 courses over and over again. I think the game could have used 4 more tracks to make it perfect, and there are rumors of track packs being released at later dates. I can only critique the game in front of me though, not what the game promises to bring, so the track count remains an issue.
Being a budget title at 20 US dollars certainly makes a good case for the value of Wipeout HD. For only 20 bucks you get a 4-5 hour campaign as well as an online mode that plays perfectly without any lag. The game is an experience that I would recommend to any futuristic racing fan, and at a discount price I don’t see why anyone would refuse. I wish that all full priced games came with the kind of polish and attention to detail that you get in Wipeout HD. The only issue is the same as in the gameplay section: the low number of tracks. Some could argue that 8 tracks are what you get for 20 dollars, but I think it should pay for at least 12. This could be remedied by track packs if they end up being free, but somehow I doubt they will.
Overall, Wipeout HD is a fantastic example of what a PSN title can be. The gameplay is fast and fun, the visuals are amazing, and the custom soundtrack allows you to pick your own tunes while playing if you don’t care for the game’s inherent soundtrack. At 20 dollars it is quite a steal, and worth every penny.