Wipeout Pure marks a rather impressive recommitment by Sony to revitalize its flagging futuristic racing series. Having peaked fairly early in the original PlayStation life cycle with the seminal Wipeout XL, the series never really found its footing again. Sony couldn't even be bothered to publish the last Wipeout game in the US. It seems, though, that Studio Liverpool has put the three years since Wipeout Fusion was released to good use, and the series is back in top form with Wipeout Pure. The name says it all--Wipeout Pure is a distillation of all the Wipeouts that precede it, highlighting the traits that earned the series its fan base and straining out the impurities that have crept in over the years.
In the most generic terms, Wipeout Pure is a futuristic racing game, not unlike F-Zero or Extreme-G. You pilot unreasonably fast hovercrafts on narrow racetracks that have been carved into a broad spectrum of futuristic landscapes, and using your wits as well as the strategically placed weapon pickups and turbo boost pads, you try to outrun your opponents. The sins of Wipeout Fusion, which included wider tracks and a greater focus on weapons, have been all but swept away, and Pure takes most of its cues from Wipeout XL and Wipeout 3. There are several new ship teams to choose from this time. All of the hovercrafts have a familiar look to them, though the actual designs have been streamlined, resulting in even leaner, faster-looking boats.
On paper, Wipeout Pure doesn't really sound like anything special, but it comes together beautifully in the execution, especially with regards to the presentation. This is easily one of the best-looking PSP launch games, and it's a fantastic showcase for just what Sony's new handheld is capable of. On a technical level, there's an incredible amount of detail, both in the ship designs and in the tracks themselves, and the game makes liberal use of really great-looking particle and lighting effects. For instance, the explosion triggered by the bomb and the light-bleed effect when you head toward a tunnel exit are simply impressive. But it's the artistry of Pure's idyllic vision of the future that completely permeates every aspect of the game and really makes it look so inspired. Every track has a unique look to it, but this doesn't affect the overall style of the game. There are at least two memorable set pieces for each track. Even the menus and the loading screens have an abstractly futuristic vibe to them, as though this is what you might see inside the cockpit of one of the hovercrafts. Really, the only issue to be taken with the graphics in Pure is that the frame rate never hits a solid 60 frames per second, and it can fluctuate a bit when there's a lot of action on the screen. It's definitely a noticeable problem, but it's not bad enough to be a deal-breaker.
More interesting, though, is how the sound, most of which is brand new in Pure, is still able to evoke the Wipeout feel. The hum of the ships gives a great sense of the incredible futuristic power contained within: the robotic voice that announces the names of weapons as they're deployed sounds like what you might expect the ship's onboard computer to sound like, and the weapon effects sound as nasty as they really are. Great electronic music has always been the backbone of Wipeout, and though the genre isn't quite the cultural Zeitgeist it once was when Wipeout XL came out nearly 10 years ago, the selection in Pure works. There's a definite focus on breakbeat and drum 'n' bass from artists who may be well liked within the DJ scene but don't really draw much water anywhere else. Of the 19 tracks included, there really aren't many that stand out, but it all generally works well in helping to define the game's mood.
But it's not all just good looks. The speed may seem a little tame in the lowest-rated class, but the boats become significantly more difficult to handle every time you advance to a new class. Once you work your way up to the third of the five available speed classes, you'll find that you're moving so fast that you'll need an intimate knowledge of each curve if you're going to place. It's a challenge, and the artificial intelligence puts up a pretty good fight. But when you find your groove, there's a Zen-like satisfaction that, once you get a taste for it, will keep you coming back. Regardless of which class you're racing in, though, the boats maintain paradoxically floaty-yet-responsive controls.
The tracks put a pretty serious emphasis on hairpin turns, and mastering the air brake controls is critical for swinging around the many sharp turns without banging up your ship too badly. There are a good number of tracks in the game, including several classic Wipeout tracks that have received some pretty severe aesthetic makeovers. The inclusion of these older tracks makes it fairly apparent that Studio Liverpool didn't want to take too many chances with the new track designs, which follow roughly the same ratio of twists, turns, jumps, and straightaways. This isn't to say the tracks aren't fun, they're just comfort food, and it would've been nice to see more-experimental designs.
The arsenal in Wipeout Pure is pulled almost entirely from past iterations of Wipeout, including mines, guided missiles, turbo boost, and the devastating and visually impressive quake weapon. The weapons seem to pack a bit more punch than they used to, as a direct hit will take out a good chunk of your shield energy as well as bring your boat to nearly a complete halt. One of the interesting twists introduced here is how your ship's shields are tied into the weapon system. In past Wipeouts, each track had a short pit stop area that you would turn into in order to recharge your shields. These bypasses, which seemed purposefully designed to slow you down, have been done away with. Now you have the option of converting whatever weapon pickup you're currently holding into a small amount of shield energy. This creates the interesting dynamic of having to decide which you need more, the weapon or the shield.
Your race options are straightforward, including standard single race, multirace tournament, time trial, and free-play modes. The most unique of the bunch is the zone mode, an endurance test where you fly solo around a track as your speed automatically increases. The test ends when you bang into enough walls and your shields simply give out. There's also Wi-Fi multiplayer support for up to eight players, which works about as you'd expect, though unlike many of the other first-party PSP launch games, there's no Internet multiplayer support in Pure. It does, however, have content-download support, which means that, at least theoretically, Sony could offer additional tracks, hovercrafts, music, and menu skins, giving this already attractive package even greater long-term appeal. There's great potential here, though as of this writing, attempts to access the download menu dead-ended at a "Coming Soon!" screen.
This is really one of the best PSP launch titles. The high-speed gameplay that has always characterized the Wipeout series is still incredibly engaging, and the visuals simply impress, both on an artistic and a technical level. Wipeout Pure is a joy to look at, and it's viscerally satisfying enough to please fans of the series and new players alike.