Version tested: PlayStation 3
It's rather disheartening that almost a year after its release, WipEout HD is still the only game properly delivering on the glittering promise of the high-def generation. 1080p resolution and 60fps should be the rule, not the exception, and returning to Sony Liverpool's ferocious future racer it still retains its power to impress. Even hours into a prolonged session, there are moments where you're distracted by some particularly lovely moment - some gracefully detailed track curve thrown past you at eye-watering speed that makes you sigh inwardly and wonder why all games can't look this good.
The lush visuals are nothing new, however, and we are gathered here today, dearly beloveds, to consider the game's first salvo of downloadable content. The Fury add-on has a lot to prove, not only maintaining the high standard of its parent but justifying its price, which, standing at a big and scary £7.99, is almost equal to what the full game costs.
You'd be forgiven for expecting the usual track pack, with a few new vehicle skins sprinkled on top. What we actually get is an honest-to-goodness expansion, a suite of three new game modes that transform and evolve the core WipEout experience in major ways. Some of the new stuff will be familiar from Pulse and Pure on the PSP, but blazing from a decent-sized LCD, it's meadow fresh.
Installing the hefty 700MB download instantly changes the game. The XMB graphics are altered, the menu screen is an angry red rather than pristine white, the music pounding techno instead of chilled ambient. Fury, indeed. If it's all too much you can swap back to the old front-end from the options screen, but chances are you'll be too busy diving into the new single-player Campaign grid or firing up the Racebox to try out the new tracks.
There are 12 additions to the available courses, and all are drawn from the recent PSP past of the series rather than the classic PSone and PS2 years. From the guts of WipEout Pulse we get the loop and chicanes of Talon's Junction, the rollercoaster drop of The Amphiseum and the sweeping curves and hell-for-leather straights of Tech De Ra. Modesto Heights completes the traditional tracks, dropping in from WipEout Pure with its twisting tunnel, plunging accelerated dives and a jump spot for those showboating barrel rolls.
All are worthy additions to the line-up, though it's hard not to feel that the cream of Pulse and Pure had already been skimmed off in the original download. Most fans will still be hoping for the classic tracks from the 32-bit years to make an HD appearance, and their absence is now the only glaring hole in the game's arsenal. All four tracks are also playable in reverse, while Zone tracks Pro Tozo, Mallavol, Corridon 12 and Syncopia are also available. That's 12 tracks - assuming you're happy to count reversals as separate entities - and since they cross-pollinate with the tracks already available, it adds up to a muscular selection.
More interesting, however, are the new game modes. These genuinely enhance the core of the game and, in one instance, pretty much reinvent it as a twitchy high-score arcade game.
Eliminator will be the most recognisable - it's another transfer from the PSP. A deathmatch in stylish WipEout clothes, it ditches pole position in favour of carnage, with victory coming from being the first to reach a set score rather than crossing the finish line or chalking up a certain kill total. Since you can score points for causing damage and completing laps, and lose them for each respawn, it adds a tactical wrinkle to play that the straight slaughter of the PSP version couldn't offer. You can also hit L1 to spin around and take aim at racers coming up from behind, which looks cool and is enormously satisfying.
Zone Battle is the second new mode. At first it seems like a rejigged version of the Zone challenges with a full racing grid, but there's more to it than that. Similar to Eliminator, you're trying to reach a specific Zone Level rather than win a race. Everyone is accelerating all the time, automatically, and your maximum speed keeps increasing. The longer you keep going, the more Zone Levels you attain.
Obviously, when played with more than one racer, this means that everyone would level up at the same time, so there's another twist. Hitting boost pads charges up your Zone Meter, which can be traded in for a Zone Level boost. The more pads you hit, the more Zones you'll skip. Doing this also leaves behind a Zone Barrier, which will slow down whoever hits it. Luckily, you can also opt to trade your Zone Meter for a temporary shield, which makes you immune to Zone Barriers.
It sounds complicated, and to begin with it takes some getting used to. Once you grasp the fairly simple mechanism at the heart, however, it becomes a fiercely strategic way of playing. Jostling for position to hit the pads, risking damage in the process, and then working out the optimum time to hit that boost and ratchet your speed up in one eye-popping burst - there are lots of ways to approach the race, and there are depths here that will surely make this a multiplayer favourite.
Finally there's Detonator, perhaps the strangest addition to WipEout in the series' history. Played solo, it's essentially a rail shooter, a bit like Rez crossed with Audiosurf. As with the Zone modes, you're constantly accelerating and this time each lap represents a stage. You have a cannon which can fire a limited number of shots before it has to reload, and the track ahead of you is littered with mines and bombs. Consistent accuracy in clearing these out of the way rewards you with a score multiplier and bonuses, but any that you miss on each lap become more deadly next time around. Couple that with your escalating velocity and it soon becomes a terrifying suicide run.
You do have some defence, in the shape of an EMP burst which - like the Zone Meter - is filled by hitting pads on the track. The higher you fill the EMP meter, the further your burst will travel, clearing everything in its path but clocking up a fraction of the points you would have got for shooting them yourself.
It's a leaderboard game, basically, and a fiendishly addictive one at that. Using the glowing neon style of the Zone races, the Detonator experience takes on a nightmarish Tron feel, and those who manage to stay alive to stages 10 and above will have earned their bragging rights.
With a whole new 80-event campaign designed to showcase these new modes, along with a smattering of traditional races and fastest-lap challenges, Fury almost doubles the size of an already generous game and therefore thoroughly warrants its asking price. One of the best downloadable games available now has one of the best expansion packs. If you've drifted away from WipEout's charms, having milked the original release dry, then strap yourself to the sofa and get ready to be sucked back in.
9 / 10