Wipeout Pulse Hands-On Impressions

We get some hands-on time with the latest Wipeout game for the PlayStation Portable and burn some futuristic rubber.

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Studio Liverpool is no stranger to the Wipeout franchise, having created 2005's well-received Wipeout Pure, a game that helped the PlayStation Portable establish a foothold in the handheld market. Two years on and Liverpool is back at it again with a new game for the PSP: Wipeout Pulse. We got some early hands-on time with the new title and took it out for a thrash in anticipation of the game's December global release.

Just in case you're new to the series, Wipeout is a futuristic driving game with high-speed antigravity vehicles which race above increasingly convoluted tracks--usually accompanied by a thumping dance soundtrack. Regardless of what kind of racer you are--whether your penchant is time trials, competitive AI slog-fests in the single-player campaign, or just blowing stuff up--Pulse seems to have all the major bases covered. Several different modes are available to play, including head-to-head, which sees you and another AI-controlled competitor race to be first past the post. There's also the obligatory time trial mode that lets you race the clock and break your own personal best times. Then there are speed laps, which are almost identical to time trials except that you receive one "boost" power-up per lap to be used at your discretion. Speed laps also allow you to do up to seven laps of the same circuit per attempt, and experience tells us that even on well-known venues, the last few tend to be your best as you Zen out and hit the perfect amount of airbrake per corner.

Zone and eliminator make up the last two modes. In the case of eliminator, players will try to destroy fellow drivers' rides while staying on course and protecting themselves from attacks. Zone is much like a crossover between speed lap and time trial mode in that you race it solo and without power-ups, but you race for as long as you can survive. This mode is particularly useful for first-timers to the Wipeout series or those who want a quick indication of their skill level. A dynamically generated rank flashes up above the vehicle as you do laps showing you what level you should be competing at. All the weapons and power-ups you've come to love from the Wipeout series make a return, with energy shields, machine guns, rockets, and mines randomly assigned once you drive over a power-up panel on the track's surface.

The single-player racing campaign in our demo included 16 grids, with each grid made up of between eight and 16 stages. These include various challenges from the six types listed above, and while you'll race across only three different tracks in the first grid, there's enough variety in the modes to keep it interesting. The mixture of time trials and races also helps you quickly learn the acceleration, braking, and power-up points of each track--skills that become invaluable when you take on other AI-controlled players.

Based on our race times and general progress through the demo code, completing each of the challenges per grid and then all the grids themselves means you won't blow through this game in one afternoon. Once the game is completed, you have the option of replaying to unlock more high scores and gold medals, or you can simply bump the difficulty and start all over again with faster vehicles and smarter AI. If after all that you're struggling for things to do, Wipeout Pulse will also offer both ad hoc and infrastructure wireless modes and Internet play. Sony has also said that it has plans to offer new tracks and vehicles via download once the game goes on sale, and while we have no idea what the intended release schedule looks like for this content, it's nice to know there will be extra content straight away as well as further down the line.

As always, music plays a huge role in the Wipeout series, and Pulse is no exception, drawing on licensed music from known DJs and artists such as Dopamine, Stanton Warriors, Aphex Twin, and Kraftwerk to provide the game's soundtrack. The range of tracks contributes to the gameplay, and we found ourselves dodging and weaving through traffic in time with the music on more than one occasion.

Wipeout Pulse will include a photo mode, allowing drivers to snap a couple of photos once their race is finished. Simply hit the select button after your race is done to enter the mode. From here you'll be able to cycle through internal camera, external front, and above-vehicle views, as well as shots of the track. You can use the PSP's analogue stick to cycle around the camera or zoom in or out depending on which view you're in.

So far, Wipeout Pulse doesn't present any significant departures from the games that helped make it a PlayStation identity. Fans of Wipeout won't be disappointed by the franticness and pace of the driving, while the arsenal of weapons at your fingertips means if you can't outrace your fellow competitors, you can always just blow them away. There's plenty here for both returning gamers and those who may have missed the boat earlier on in the series. Stay tuned for the full review on GameSpot in the coming weeks.

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