Wipeout Omega Collection is not a history lesson. It most certainly doesn't remind players of Wipeout's significance during PlayStation's early years. It isn't a greatest hits package either--given the absence of Wipeout XL and 3--although this gorgeous remastered trio of games represents a hefty helping of the series' most recent outings. In other words, it's sensory-overloading anti-gravity racing that sublimely blends often-chaotic vehicular combat.
This collection feels like a thoughtful bundle when you consider that Sony could have easily released an untampered standalone PS4 port of Wipeout HD. Instead, the 2008 PS3 classic--which was considered a return to form--got a minor visual makeover while being sandwiched by its excellent Fury expansion and a much-improved version of Wipeout 2048, previously a PS Vita exclusive. While these games are strengthened by their frenzied racing commonalities, their differences are equally compelling, enough that you can find yourself jumping from installment to installment in one play session in pursuit of variety. The Detonator and Eliminator modes exclusive to Fury, for instance, offer an engrossing combat experience, even more so than your typical Wipeout race. 2048 stands out with its courses' unusual natural landscaping, indicative of the game's place as the first in the timeline, before tracks were completely man-made.
No matter the mode or game you choose to play in the Omega Collection, there's consistency in how the myriad ships control, from drift cornering to speed-boosting barrel rolls. You keep one eye on the track for acceleration pads and incoming corners while the other maintains awareness of your nearby competitors. And as you pass over weapon pads, you quickly assess the value of each pick-up based on your current race situation. For series vets, such appraisals take less than a second, and having to constantly make these decisions underscores Wipeout's involving gameplay. Do you fire the high-damage Plasma or would it be best served by converting it into energy (i.e. health)? Do you hold on to the Turbo for the next straightaway even though you'll miss out on the next five weapon pads? If you've played Mario Kart, you can relate to these split-second value judgments, only that in Wipeout, you're piloting ships that are the equivalent of 300cc karts.
One of the draws of the Wipeout series is how AI competition changes and evolves as you unlock tougher (and therefore faster) competitions. In the first couple speed levels, it's easy to focus on the closest racer in front of you, systematically passing competitors one by one until you (hopefully) reach first place. The more feverish, pupil-dilating races later on produce a totally different beast of collective aggression among all the racers. You, along with all the AI, are perpetually in a forward-moving swarm where no one is out of contention until the home stretch, barring a significant crash. It's during these races that certain weapons can change fortunes for everyone in an instant. For example, the Quake--which sends a wave over the track--can slingshot someone from last to first in seconds, making it the bizarro Blue Shell of combat racing games. Such dramatic outcomes in the higher speed classes are the reason why these races captivate time and time again. And that's not even taking into account online play, which is appropriately unpredictable and riveting against an array of veterans.
Experiencing Wipeout in its prettiest form to date only adds to Omega's already enticing gameplay. It's a tall order given that Wipeout HD and Fury already looked gorgeous to begin with. While many of the improved details can only be appreciated with side-by-side screen comparisons, enhancements like the ships' flaming exhausts and contrails prove that it's not a straight PS3 port, to say nothing of Omega's 4K support. Driving the point home is 2048, which visually bursts out of the small-screen confines of the Vita with an eye-pleasing presentation that stands up to the rest of the compilation. One can imagine how transcendent these races would be if Wipeout Omega Collection had PSVR support.
These games already benefitted from an established universe where racing teams are brands unto themselves and anti-gravity racing is a global sport with a 100-plus year history. It's a near utopian vision of the future, one that has always been fittingly paired with electronic dance music. Tracks by DJ Kentaro and James Talk represent the best of Omega's tunes, though the playlist as a whole can't compete with the greatness of Wipeout XL or even Wipeout 3's soundtrack. Should you feel nostalgic for Underworld's or Fluke's contributions to the series, using the PS4's Spotify app while you play this collection will take you back to 1996 in a pinch.
By focusing on this specific era of the series, Wipeout Omega Collection maintains a level of cohesion you wouldn't get if this compilation included, say, Wipeout Pure or Fusion. While each of the three games exude style and stimulation in their own distinct ways, they collectively showcase the best elements of franchise's engrossing racing and silky smooth visuals. And even though it doesn't completely scratch the itch that only a completely new PS4 sequel can offer, this collection is easily the next best thing.