WipEout is as synonymous with PlayStation as a superfluous capital letter, even sharing the same trait. It helped shift the first Sony console on its launch in 1995, and it is hoped that the latest in the franchise will do the same this time around.
There are further parallels that can be drawn between the futuristic racer from the 90s and the latest iteration. While the PS Vita edition, WipEout 2048, is set four years before the incredible first outing and has had a lick of paint afforded by time and technological advancements, there is a sense that a back to basics approach has been taken by SCE Studios Liverpool (formerly Psygnosis).
In a nutshell, the gameplay feels like it did back then, and that is no bad thing. In the interim years, we feel that the WipEout series had lost its way at times, some versions were way too tough, some graphical embellishments were unnecessary and distracting. There were two things that worked with the PSOne edition that were not necessarily always present; sheer gutsy playability that anyone, not just hardcore gamers, could tackle, and banging choons. Plenty of them.
Hardcore, know the score
The music was very much a part of what made us all want a PlayStation originally, and seems totally at home on the PS Vita. Tracks by Orbital, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy captured the zeitgeist of the time, and no WipEout should be without such radio-friendly house dance fare.
Thankfully, WipEout 2048 delivers on this front in spades. Indeed, by using, among others, tracks from Orbital, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy (along with a bit of deadmau5 and the drum and bass madness of Camo & Krooked).
Graphically, there’s a touch of the retro in there too. Where many of the latter day titles featured high-concept futuristic landscapes inspired by neon-heavy Japanese design, because WipEout 2048 is set beforehand, there’s a much more organic feel to the surroundings. You even get to race on grass and dirt at one point. The Anti-Gravity League has just started, so all your favourite teams are present (Feisar, AG Systems, et al) and many of the ships are similar to those you will have piloted before. The only difference is that you have to unlock them as you progress, with only the Feisar Speed initially available to you.
Season until done
But that’s all part of the fun. The main single player challenge is presented as a Campaign Mode, where you get to play three seasons of the Anti-Gravity League, competing in different types of races and meeting set goals to progress. Normal ship versus ship races are undoubtedly the most fun, but there are also time trials, zone races (where you simply have to survive for a set time) and combat, with the latter, perhaps, being the least welcome. The race types are all a bit WipEout HD-esque, but if it ain’t broke why fix it?
What are broken, however, or at least a bit wonky, are the multiplayer gameplay options. Cross-platform play is superb, where you can use WipEout 2048 to compete against PS3 WipEout HD players both online and in the same room, but there’s a distinct lack of flexibility in other areas.
Like single player, multiplayer is presented as an Online Campaign that you have no customisable control over. Therefore, while eight-player races are fun, you have to compete under strict rules and guidelines, meaning some races are great, whereas others seem like a chore.
It’s hard to be too upset by this though, as the rest of WipEout 2048 is such a blast. You can even change the controls to make the most of the unique features of the Vita, with the touchscreen, motion sensors (to steer) and even the rear touchpad coming into play, but we’re happy to stick to the basics. Experienced WipEout-ers can also change the top bumpers to have more precise control over the airbrakes.
We're not bothered by such things, however. For us, where WipEout 2048 succeeds is in its ability to allow you to jump on board and get straight into the game without having to faff about with new control systems, or finicky gaming devices. You can easily get around a track without hitting every wall on the way, and while you won’t necessarily come first each time, the game doesn’t punish you for slight errors. Other WipEouts, we feel, did.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t get insanely difficult as levels are passed, but by then you should be a more-than capable graduate of a clever learning curve.
Graphically, the PS Vita title may look muddy at times, thanks to a lot of brown in the scenery, but it sure uses the crispness of its host machine to present clean lines. Okay, a frame rate of 30fps isn’t going to be as good as a PS3 counterpart, but come on, this is portable. And to that end, we suspect it’ll be coming with us everywhere we go.