WipEout HD Reader Review
It's like that girl. You know, the one you met at a party once. Eyes met over the kitchen table, and you thought she's so far out of your league, but somehow you got talking without making the usual twat out of yourself, and one thing led to another. Nights out, evenings in, and it's all going rock star, and you think it's all on. But then, on about the sixth or seventh date, just when you're thinking of making the big move, it starts to drift. The conversation slowly stops the sparkle. Flirts and jokes start to fall flat. You don't know what you're doing wrong. Everything that used to make her smile just makes it worse. And all the potential, all your dreams and hopes start to slide away to be replaced by the cold hard reality that you never had a chance.
Lets get the easy stuff out of the way. WOHD is gorgeous. Bright, fast, smooth as a supermodel's waxed bits. It's a real demo of what a modern console can do. Sure, it's because the game and physics are dead simple, just as it was back in the PS1 days. But that doesn't change the fact that it makes pretty much any other racer look like a Lego slideshow, and once you get used to that silky framerate, it really makes it hard to go back to a measly 30fps.
It also, thank God, rectifies most of the crimes against gaming inflicted by WipEout Fusion. Gone are the idiotic open areas where you couldn't see the way to go, the dead ends, the excessive smoke and flame impeding vision, the sh*t damage model, the handling changing on ice/dust, the gates in the track, wacky pilots, the rubbish customisation and upgrades. Back are proper speed pads, turbos, racing classes, warnings of weapons fired at you. One omision is the cockpit view - the real way to play, but I suspect it will come as a DLC at some point. Nods to 2097 and W3O are given in earnable HUDs which take the display back to the old skool, and anyone with a WO1 or WO2097 PS1 disc can slap the disk in the PS3, import the music, and get the whole experience via the custom soundtracks function. Rumour has it that the old tracks will become available as DLC in future, which would be immense.
The presentation is simple and slick - straight out of Wip3out.
The most common whinge before it came out was that it is basically a mishmash of PSP WipEout Pure and Pulse. True. But anyone who reckons a PSP can match a 50" plasma for the eye bleeding thrills that make up WO hasn't got the point. There is no comparison to playing Pulse or Pure and HD on the big screen. The sensation of mind boggling synapse frying speed is light years ahead, and there's nothing else like it on the market now. Hit the psychedelic Zone mode, and your eyes are going to be tested to destruction.
Firing up WOHD for the first time is like that perfect date with the girl of your dreams. It plays like a dream, looks like a supermodel, and blows every previous WO out of the water in every way. A couple of tries, and medals start to flow, and a future of WOHD gaming nirvana unfurls to the horizon like the snaking tracks you're flying over. Before long, the second race series unlocks, and things start to speed up, and become more beautiful than before. A few more medals, and event 3 and 4 (there are 8) opens it's doors like copping the first feel from that girl in the back of the cinema.
But then, it happens. Like hitting the turbo at the wrong time, or getting your face smacked from a hand too far, you smash head on into a learning curve like the North Face of the Eiger. Speed Laps, where a perfect lap, not touching the sides, hitting 9/10 boost pads, will leave you 7 seconds off the bronze pace. Twenty goes later, you shave a second or two off your time, and are still looking at a Grand Canyon between you and progress. Races become lonely affairs after you get smoked on the first 2 corners, unless you get a lucky run of weapons and turbos. A Time Trial flat out, a couple of human mistakes over 4 laps, and you're not on the final lap before the gold timer runs out.
It's not helped by some hangups from all WO games. Principally, the fact that enemy ships are immovable objects - hit a turbo behind someone, and you slam to a dead stop at their speed, wasting the boost. No way to knock them out of the way, and at Turbo speed, neat overtaking is nigh impossible - not much help trying to pass. Hit enemies stop in the middle of the track, so usually take you out too. There's also a severe amount of cheating going on - enemies collecting boosts from missed pads, and the effects of weapons are clearly more severe on you than the opposition. The penalty for touching the sides seems much more severe than before - back to WO1 levels, as opposed to the tolerant scrapes and bounces of 2097, 3 and Fusion.
Now I'm an old WipEout hand. Played all but the PSP versions, and have golds in every track, every class, every ship in every previous version. Yeah, maybe I've got old and slow in the intervening years. And yeah, the leaderboards and YouTube vids show they are all possible (and there are some mind boggling feats out there to see - Zone 50+s (I can hit 27 on a good day) and the Zico's run trophy. But the level of perfection required here is mad, and despite the hexagon race selection allowing you to bypass races, by level 4 you need a bronze medal in every event, or a load of golds to progress, which sort of misses the point of being able to opt out of events you suck at.
The game shows all the hallmarks of being in development too long, and the dev team becoming too good, and misjudging the difficulty horribly. I'm not suggesting the golds or trophies should be made any simpler: having such an awesome challenge is brilliant, and should be maintained. But the spread from bronze to gold should be massively increased, as should the effect of the enemy skill level. Failing to even get a bronze on a flat out perfect lap with maybe one missed pad is daft at any time, but less than half way into the campaign mode is painful. Turn on the pilot assist which should keep you off the walls, and you take a massive speed hit which sort of defeats the object.
It's such a screaming dissapointment, when after a month I'm still chipping away at the 4th event, picking up a point here and there (usually by luck), and still not seen all of the 8 tracks, let alone the reverse configurations.
So to conclude. If you've got the twitch gaming skills of Dash from the Incredibles after a triple expresso, this is a solid 10/10 game - everything wipEout could, should and would be, and cheap too. But for mortals, from a awe inspiring first few tournaments, the horrible difficulty level quickly robs it of it's shine, and the greatness of the rest of the package makes that comedown all the harder. It's still brilliant, and a blast to play, but unless a difficulty patch is released, or a cheat code, be prepared to abandon the campaign mode half done. You will still play - there's a fully customisable RaceBox, not to mention butter smooth online. But there's still that bitter taste of never getting past 3rd base.
8 / 10