The dearly departed Studio Liverpool's much-loved series is given a lush makeover in this generous compilation.
22 years on from the PlayStation original and over five years since the last instalment, WipEout still feels like a taste of the future. Carbon-scorched ships skimming across impeccable brushed concrete tracks that loop beneath futurist skyscrapers, 100-foot maneki-nekos and pulsing Tokyo neon; style like this never really goes out of fashion.
And so WipEout Omega Collection feels cutting edge, despite its greying roots. In essence this is a compilation of the last three entries from the dearly departed Studio Liverpool, bundling together the PlayStation 3's HD, Fury as well as the Vita's 2048, giving them all a gentle makeover with improved lighting, textures and - if you're playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro - 4K and HDR support.
WipEout has never looked better, though it's not as if the originals Omega Collection draws upon (early and all-too-rare examples of 1080p60 games on the PS3) looked that shabby. Still, there's something warming about how WipEout remains the perfect showcase for new technology long after the studio behind it has gone - with the cleanliness of its image and the sharpness of its design, this is one of the more handsome examples of 4K support on the PS4 Pro.
And it's not too bad to play, either. The three games compiled here all have their own distinct personalities. 2048 offers the biggest improvement over its source material, the busy urban backdrops of the previously Vita-exclusive prequel receiving an impressive makeover. It's a homecoming of sorts, as 2048 always seemed a mite too ambitious for Sony's handheld, the action getting lost in Studio Liverpool's attempts to show what the Vita could do.
The added real estate of a TV screen and a jump to 60fps give the curious style of 2048 the spotlight it deserves; with tracks lined by brownstone buildings and familiar sights such as Brooklyn Bridge, it's the missing link between modern-day Formula E races and the far-fetched fantasy of more traditional WipEout. There are delirious highs to be found here; the razor edge ribbon of Sol that soars into the heavens, itself a thrilling callback to one of WipEout HD's greatest tracks, Sol 2, or the brilliant impossibility of Empire Climb, a track that sends you racing down the side of a skyscraper.
HD, meanwhile, is a cleaner spin on the formula, a belated homecoming for the series upon its initial release in 2008 after WipEout had been confined to the PSP for more than half a decade. Pure and Pulse were both exquisite entries, though, boiling down the formula to something mean and powerful. They can also lay claim to introducing the heavily stylised take on Zone mode, whereby the speed is steadily ramped up from the pedestrian Venom to the near-impossible Phantom as you thread your way through lysergic recreations of existing tracks. It's WipEout at its pulse-quickening best.
Fury, finally, is an offshoot that's purposefully aggressive, folding in new modes Detonator, which effectively retools WipEout into a fast-paced shooter, while Eliminator turns each race into a breakneck round of deathmatch. All three campaigns included in the Omega Collection are neatly partitioned off, while a Racebox mode allows you to dip into any part of the generous package - there are 26 tracks and some 49 ships to play with here - for a one-off event. Throw in online and splitscreen multiplayer across the board and you've got a compelling compendium of a cherished series.
It's a timely one, too, given how busy the futuristic racer is right now. An unloved genre for so long - you can perhaps partition some of the blame for Studio Liverpool's closure on its lack of popularity - there's been a resurgence in recent years. Formula Fusion is an effective if overly straightforward WipEout cover version, while other games such as Redout and Fast Racing Neo have benefited by cribbing from Sega and Nintendo's F-Zero GX - a game that still stands as the very best racer in its class.
WipEout Omega Collection pointedly doesn't touch the fundamentals, and may well prove an acquired taste. The floaty, frictionless handling still has the capacity to frustrate, the crowded track design requiring more prescience than would probably be ideal, while the weapon selection and combat lacks a little by way of imagination. It's not the greatest futuristic racer out there, even if it most definitely is the most iconic.Why did ancient Egypt spend 3000 years playing a game nobody else liked? One of the great gaming mysteries explored.
To get caught up on such details seems besides the point, though. This is a perfectly polished window onto a much-loved series, and to a formative time for video games as a whole. WipEout - alongside Tekken, which also is enjoying a comeback of sorts - defined PlayStation back in 1995, and played a part in making gaming cool, dragging it out of the playground and into the hazy swirl of the post-club 2am living room.
The Omega Collection is a wonderful reminder of those heady times, as well as a reminder of the potency of the formula concocted by a small team in Liverpool. When WipEout clicks - when the track falls away in perfect tandem with the bassline, sending your stomach turning as if a Mitsubishi Turbo has just spun into action as you take your first step onto the dance floor - there's nothing else like it, and given the premature demise of Studio Liverpool it's quite likely there'll never be anything like it again. There may well be other, better futuristic racers out there - but there are none that can boast this much style.