wipEout 2048

Back to the future.

If there is one game that has defined the PlayStation brand throughout the ages it's wipEout. Psygnosis's 1995 original arrived alongside Sony's very first console, bringing with it a promise of the future - a vision that was as chic and urban as the twenty-somethings the game's marketing sought to seduce.

More recently wipEout has come to define Sony's first steps into a more digital age. wipEout HD and wipEout Fury brought that future to life in vivid 1080p and at 60 fps, all at a cut price and without the need for a bothersome Blu-ray.

So it's heartening to see Studio Liverpool's racer resuming normal duties in its debut outing on the NGP. wipEout 2048 explores reaches of the handheld that the rest of the current line-up has yet to discover, all the while delivering the closest approximation of an existing PlayStation 3 title. Even better, it does this at the same time as giving the series perhaps its most serious makeover since its inception.

Set four years before the very first wipEout, this a game cast in that most pervasive of cinematic molds: the gritty reboot. Yes, it seems that Christopher Nolan's fingerprints reach all the way to the raceways of the future.

As a prequel wipEout 2048 thrusts a strange new aesthetic on the series, its races taking place before the abstracted backdrops of HD and Fury took hold. A track that zips through a near-future New York shows this off best, the track dancing between the high-rises of Manhattan before making for the city's skyline.

There's a thrilling and surreal edge to the experience of coursing through a familiar backdrop at impossible angles, and Studio Liverpool's track designers play well to this particular novelty. The rhythmical weave of New York's circuit has a show stealing virtuoso moment as the track scales a skyscraper before taking a violent vertical plunge towards the streets.

It's a stomach churning set-piece reminiscent of the first wipEout's gravity-defying leap on Altima VII, and it suggests that Studio Liverpool has cast a fond glance at the series' past while defining its future. That much is explicit in the fact that 2048's championship will climax with a race at Altima VII itself, the game's ending coming at the very moment that the series began.

The development team has clearly got one eye on the future, too. wipEout 2048 does an incredible job of fulfilling the hazy notion of a handheld PS3 in all but name that accompanied the announcement of the NGP. At Sony's recent preview event there was a version of wipEout HD running on the PlayStation 3 for an easy reference point, and 2048 came out favourably from direct comparisons.

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