Wipeout Pulse is the follow-up to Wipeout Pure, an original PlayStation Portable launch game when the console arrived in 2005. Back then, Pure was one of the best reasons to pick up the handheld thanks to its superb graphics and excellent handling, and the game was amply supported post-release with a number of downloadable content packs. The sequel ups the ante with online multiplayer, a deeper and more varied career mode, and custom soundtracks. Although the gameplay remains mostly unchanged, and reflects a similar racing style as Pure and Wipeout 2097 (Wipeout XL in the US), the wealth of content make this a must-buy for fans of the series.
The main focus for the single-player game is the race campaign, which has 16 grids to complete, each with 8-16 individual challenges. These can vary between single races, tournaments, time trials, and zone challenges, all of which were featured in Pure. You progress by winning medals that open up new tracks, racing classes, and challenges, and you'll eventually unlock new race types in the form of speed lap, head-to-head, and eliminator. With so many races, the career mode offers almost too much of a challenge, and it will probably take most players between 10 to 15 hours to play through everything. You don't need to win the gold medal in every race to proceed, and you can even skip some events completely, but completing everything is a daunting task.
There are 12 new tracks, and the addition of magnetic strips has led to more extravagant track design, including loops and sheer drops. When it comes to the racing itself, Pulse is pretty much identical to Wipeout Pure and 2097 before it. The difficulty level is initially pitched perfectly, and after winning the first few medals, most players will find that it can take a couple of attempts to get on the podium for each event. Success can sometimes be a bit hit-and-miss; you might get lucky with weapons, and at other times the artificial-intelligence opponents will focus on taking each other out instead of you. But as you begin to learn the intricacies of each of the tracks, you soon find yourself adjusting your racing line to pick up the weapons, and even discovering some of the shortcuts. Whatever the level, Wipeout Pulse is an addictively punishing game that rewards those who really get into the zone while playing it, especially as the difficulty ramps up toward the end.
The soundtrack boasts the usual mix of electronic dance from established artists such as Aphex Twin and Mason. It's all licensed and of a high quality, although as a whole it's not quite as iconic a soundtrack as those featured in Wipeout 2097 and Pure. If anything, the game is a victim of timing, arriving long after the golden age of electronica ended. Thank goodness, then, that you can now select your own soundtrack using MP3 files that you have stored on the memory stick. Given that you can also take snapshots of the in-game action as JPEGs on the memory stick, Wipeout Pulse takes advantage of the majority of multimedia functionality that the PSP has to offer.
On the multiplayer side, you can race with up to seven other people locally as long as they also own the game, setting up single races or tournaments in any of the game's racing classes. But the biggest selling point for Pulse is the online mode, and the PSP's wireless-infrastructure connection lets you connect to a router and play with seven people across the globe. At the time of review, the lobbies were well populated and it was easy to get into a game within a few minutes. The performance was also fairly solid and suffered no slowdown, although ships would occasionally vanish from one position and appear in another. Furthermore, the game can connect directly to the Wipeout Pulse Web site to download new content (some of it free, such as custom-designed vehicle skins). There's a feature to send a demo of the game wirelessly to other PSP owners if you want to give them a sample of the game, although all players must own a copy of the game to play competitively.
Pure was well supported by Sony, with new skins, tracks, and music being released on a frequent basis well after release. It looks as if Wipeout Pulse will see similar releases, the only downside being that it's likely to be sold instead of given away for free. The first content pack is already available on the UK PlayStation Store (though not on its US counterpart) and features a new team and two new tracks plus their zone variants. It currently costs £3.49 (around $7), which isn't expensive, but we certainly hope to see at least one free bonus pack for fans in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, if you want to create custom decals for your ships then the official wipeout-game.com site features an uncomplicated online paint program. It's basic stuff, but working at a low resolution means that you can create designs relatively quickly and easily share them with other users. The site gives you five save slots per PlayStation Network account, and there's already a burgeoning community of online modders responsible for over a thousand skins at the time of review.
More than just an enjoyable racing game, Wipeout Pulse is on the forefront of what the PSP has to offer technologically. With an online mode, custom soundtracks, and even a photo mode, there isn't much else on the console that the developers have failed to take advantage of. True, the game itself isn't a revolutionary change from the previous entry in the series, but if you've enjoyed Wipeout games in the past and have yet to play them in handheld form, then Wipeout Pulse is definitely worth checking out.