SAN FRANCISCO--At a Sony press event in San Francisco this afternoon we had the opportunity to get our hands on the latest versions of no fewer than eight PSP games, one of which was an almost-finished version of Wipeout Pure. Currently in development at SCEE's Studio Liverpool, Wipeout Pure is the first new entry in the popular futuristic racing series since 2002's Wipeout Fusion, and we're pleased to report that it's easily one of the best-looking PSP games we've played to date.
In case you're not familiar with the series, Wipeout games see you racing hovering craft on roller coaster-like circuits and using a varied arsenal of weapon pickups to mess up (and occasionally destroy) your opponents. Like those in previous Wipeout games, the circuits in Pure feature strategically placed speedup and random weapon pickup points that are activated as you fly over them. You'll only be able to hold one weapon at a time, so if you find yourself with one that's not to your liking or one that doesn't seem particularly helpful (mines when you're in last place, for example), you'll be able to "absorb" it (restoring some energy to your shields) rather than waste it, and you can then free up your weapon slot for something more useful.
We got to try out plenty of weapons as we played through Wipeout Pure's first two four-race tournaments (alpha and beta), including: a scatter fire that spread out across the entire track as it moved away from us; twin missiles that spiraled toward whichever opponent we'd locked onto when we fired them; a string of five or six mines that dropped out of the rear of our ship; a large bomb that worked in the same way; and, of course, the "quake," which fans of the series will remember causes the track itself to undulate, damaging any opponents who gets in its way like some kind of tsunami. Other pickups we recognized from previous Wipeout games included a shield that afforded us temporary invisibility, a speed boost, and an autopilot that lasted for between 5 to 10 seconds. Surprisingly, the weapons in Wipeout Pure actually felt much more destructive than those in previous games, not because we were easily able to destroy opponents (we actually never did), but because the explosions that we got to see (and occasionally had to fly through) whenever a weapon found its target were nothing short of spectacular.
The eight or so circuits that we got to race on were also quite spectacular in their own ways and offered some good variety as far as the track designs and scenery were concerned. The circuit that impressed us the most was one that took place in the rain, simply because the effect of the rain falling and leaving droplets on the PSP screen was so subtle and well done. Every single one of the circuits boasted at least one standout feature, however, whether it was snow falling, a glass underwater tunnel, alternate routes, subtle light-bloom effects at the end of a dark tunnel, or a lengthy straightaway with plenty of speedup points.
Although we suspect some of the craft will need to be unlocked before you can use them in the finished game, the version of Wipeout Pure that we were playing afforded us instant access to eight different ships. Racing team names like Feisar, Auricom, AG Systems, and Piranha will be familiar to fans of the series, and, as in previous games, each team has its own approach to the sport of futuristic racing--as evidenced by their very different craft designs and capabilities. Each craft in the game has a rating of between one to five for its speed, handling, thrust, and shield. We found that the differences between each craft type were very noticeable when we tried them out, but we can also report that none of them appear to be "better" than others--the craft you choose will eventually be determined by your own racing style, and perhaps by its distinct look.
We were able to play through Wipeout Pure's first two tournaments pretty easily, and for a while we were kind of disappointed that the game didn't offer the same sensation of speed that's practically a trademark of the series. That was when we realized that we were playing the game on the vector class setting, which is described on the options screen as being the "slowest and easiest" available. Wipeout Pure will feature a total of five difficulty settings, each one faster than the last. Unfortunately, only the first two were unlocked at today's press event. We're pleased to report that the game was much livelier when we shifted up a gear and raced in the venom "medium speed refresher course for veterans" class, and we can only imagine how fast the remaining classes (flash, rapier, and venom) will be.
As we continued to explore Wipeout Pure's menu screens, we happened on a few other features that are certainly worthy of a mention. Firstly, the game's soundtrack boasts around 20 different tunes that you can listen to sequentially or randomly as you play the game, and you'll be able to switch off any tracks that you're not fond of. Secondly, you'll be able to unlock (and perhaps download at a later date) new skins for all of the menus in the game, changing the screen from white to black and the text from blue to white, for example. And finally, when we checked our game progress in our profile, we discovered that every time we were awarded a gold medal for winning a single race or a tournament, we happened to unlock a new piece of concept art that we could see in a full-screen view.
In short then, Wipeout Pure impressed us greatly this afternoon, and we're very much looking forward to participating in the FX 300 Racing League again when we get our hands on a finished version. Wipeout Pure is currently scheduled for release alongside the PSP next month.