UK REVIEW--When it launched all the way back in 1995, the original Wipeout was a poster child for the original PlayStation in the West. While games such as F-Zero had come before it, the mix of cutting-edge visuals and a licensed techno soundtrack was a unique take on the futuristic racing genre, and it struck a chord with both hardcore gamers and those who'd never been interested in the hobby before. In the interim, the series has settled on the PSP with Wipeout Pure and Pulse, two games that not only showed off the power of the console, but were great games in their own right. With Wipeout HD, Sony has brought the tracks, ships, and soundtrack of these two games to the PlayStation 3, wrapping it all up in a shiny 1080p graphics at a low £11.99 ($20) price point. The repackaging of existing content means it offers very little new for players of the PSP games, while there are actually fewer campaign modes than in the PSP games. While many fans will have trouble resisting that high-definition makeover, they'll be paying for very little that they haven't played before.
There are three main components to Wipeout HD: the single-player campaign, an online mode, and racebox for individual races. The single-player mode is structurally identical to Wipeout Pulse on the PSP, with a tiered career structure that increases the speed and AI difficulty as you progress. There are five different event types: single races, multirace competitions, time trials, speed laps, and zone. Most of these are self-explanatory, but zone is a mode in which you gradually increase in speed until your ship takes too much damage and explodes. You'll inevitably prefer some events to others, but the career structure means you don't have to win every race to progress. Points are awarded based on final positions and you have to accrue a certain number of points to open up each successive level. There are only eight different tiers in total, but each one offers more and more races, and you unlock more tracks to play in racebox as you progress. Given that Wipeout Pulse on the PSP also featured an elimination mode though, it's disappointing to see fewer race types in the PS3 version.
Like its predecessors, Wipeout HD has an incredibly steep difficulty curve. It's relatively easy to win medals on the first go during the first four tiers, but even seasoned players will struggle to do this from the fifth tier onward. Recognising this, Sony has implemented a new pilot assist mode for the first time in a Wipeout game. When it's turned on from the menu, pilot assist automatically steers you away from the edges of the track and generally makes crashing much less of a problem. In fact, it's so effective that you only really need to use your airbrakes for the sharpest corners. While this produces some erratic moves at the faster speeds, it's a welcome feature that certainly helps until you reach the peak of your ability.
Wipeout HD has both a two-player split-screen mode and eight-player online support. The split-screen mode runs at a noticeably lower frame rate than the single-player mode, and it suffers from some dramatic slowdown when a lot of ships are onscreen. The online mode fares much better in terms of performance, with a well-laid-out lobby system and smooth online racing. Real opponents create much more frantic races, and you get far more action online than you do playing against the AI; you'll find your ship taking much more of a pounding online than off, but when your ship explodes you return to the track a few moments later. The main problem with the multiplayer mode is that it's incredibly limited, with only single races or twelve-race competitions to play. Other than that, the online mode held up well from a technical level, and it also offers voice support.
There are a number of PlayStation 3-specific features in Wipeout HD, including a motion-based control system. You move the controller to control pitch and steering, or just pitch alone. Wipeout's floaty ships might seem like a perfect candidate for motion-sensitive controls, but it's unlikely that you'll find tilting the Sixaxis controller preferable to using the standard analog stick. It certainly helps land jumps a little more elegantly, but it just doesn't offer the accuracy of movement offered by the standard control scheme. Wipeout HD also has trophy support which gives you an incentive to try out moves such as barrel rolls, and there are unlockables such as the heads-up display from PlayStation classic Wipeout 2097 (known as Wipeout XL in the US). You also get new skins for the ships you use the most, but the feature in Wipeout Pulse where you can design your own decals online hasn't made it to the PS3. The photo mode has been expanded in Wipeout HD, though, allowing you to capture stills from replays and add effects such as exposure and depth of field while saving them in full HD resolution to the PS3 XMB. And while the in-game soundtrack is great for fans of electronica, you can also import your own playlists--created through the XMB from music files you've uploaded to your PS3--and play them sequentially or randomly in-game to introduce a little more variation.
Wipeout has always been about "style as substance", and that tradition follows through to the PlayStation 3 version. From the strikingly clean environments to the imaginative logos and branding, everything about the game exudes effortless cool. Much has been made about the game's 1080p, 60-frames-per-second visuals, with Sony even citing it as one of the reasons for the game's prolonged development time. Thankfully it was well worth the effort, as the finished game has strikingly artistic visuals that are gorgeous to see in motion. This isn't a game that features accurate physics, track deformation, or even weather effects, so all of the console's horsepower is focused on producing super-crisp visuals that move at a blistering speed.
Music is just as important to Wipeout as the visuals, though, and the soundtrack doesn't disappoint. The mix of techno, dub step, and drum and bass fits the game well--but that said, Wipeout HD features exactly the same tunes as Wipeout Pulse. Likewise, all of the tracks and vehicles in Wipeout HD have appeared in the PSP versions of the series. Even though the HD remix offers an incredible amount of extra detail to appreciate, the twists and turns will be incredibly familiar to long-term fans of the series. And although there are zone variations of each track, these were also in the previous games, meaning the lack of anything new to play is definitely Wipeout HD's biggest weakness.
Wipeout HD is a compilation of PSP games running in high definition, and while it looks considerably better for the visual upgrade, there's little new for fans of the series to sink their teeth into. The online mode also looks a little feature-light next to other racers, but it's technically competent and adds more longevity to the already deep single-player experience. The result is essentially an oxymoron--a game that's obviously meant for fans, but one that paradoxically gives them nothing they don't already have. If you're a fan of the series but missed the PSP games then HD is a must-buy, but Wipeout stalwarts could rightfully look at this director's cut as a bit of a cash-in.