Version tested: PlayStation 3
WipEout HD has left me agitated and dissatisfied. Before the usual suspects scamper off to post a comment, with their PS3lols at the ready, perhaps I should clarify. WipEout HD has left me agitated and dissatisfied because the crisp 1080p visuals and rock solid 60fps presentation have made me realise just how compromised the Great HD Gaming Revolution has been.
We've become so accustomed to accepting 720p resolutions and mostly stable 30fps frame rates as the best we can expect that when something really does take full advantage of the display technology available, it can't help make everything else look like a half measure.
In other words, WipEout HD looks f**king phenomenal.
I'm usually the last person to care about the minutiae details of a game's technical presentation, provided the experience is fun. I'm also a firm believer that gameplay is vastly more important than graphics. Yet with WipEout HD the presentation and graphics are arguably the most important elements, since the gameplay is mostly a known quantity - with tracks and features ported across from WipEouts Pure and Pulse on the PSP.
For this generously priced PS3 version (it's GBP 11.99), you get eight tracks culled from the two PSP titles, Pure and Pulse, both of which caused Tom to excitedly rub oily 9/10s all over their firm oak-like thighs. Vineta K, Anulpha Pass, Chengou Project, Sebenco Climb, Ubermall and Sol 2 all appear from WipEout Pure, and are joined by Moa Therma and Metropia from WipEout Pulse. More are planned as downloadable extras, of course.
Progression through the campaign mode also takes it cue from Pulse, with a hexagonal grid structure opening up access to adjacent events as you win medals. The campaign is broken down into eight events ranging from Uplift (easy-peasy) to Meltdown (ohmygodwhatshappening) with each new event unlocking as you earn enough points.
Control is exactly as you'd expect, with acceleration and airbrakes still your twin lifelines in the rough and tumble world of high speed futuristic racing. Memorising and hitting the turbo pads remains the key to success. Learning which ramps and jumps can be used to pull off a speed-boosting barrel roll can be the difference between gold and bronze. Weapon deployment is mapped to the square button, while circle allows you to absorb unwanted weapons to repair ship damage.
You can also make use of the optional Sixaxis motion sensing feature, and the game can lay claim to being one of the first PS3 titles to find a truly intuitive use for the function. Motion control comes in two flavours - pitch and steering, or just pitch. Opt for the former and tilting the joypad controls the entire craft. It's fiendishly difficult, if only because it's an entirely new way of playing.
More interesting is the option to just use the motion sensing to control the pitch of your craft. Fly off a ramp, and lifting the joypad raises the nose of your ship. If you're one of those players who sways in their seat while playing a racing game, chances are you'll be doing this anyway - so it feels completely intuitive.
For those who are new to WipEout there's now Pilot Assist, a passive auto-pilot function which nudges you away from track edge. It sounds like a cheat, but it's actually a cleverly balanced little feature. If you race like a lunatic, it won't do you much good and you'll still clang and scrape your way around the circuits. It's less of a sop for rubbish players and more of a gentle helper for intermediate players.
If you're racing well, but haven't quite mastered the air brakes yet, Pilot Assist will pick up some of the slack. Rely on it in the higher speed categories, however, and you'll soon discover its deliberate limitations. Given how uncompromising the series has often been, it's a thoughtful way of opening the game out to newcomers without trashing the delicate racing balance.
This balance is important, since WipEout HD comes with a bunch of multiplayer options. Local split-screen play is a feature that too many games have ditched in this bold new online age, so it's nice to see it retained here - and with no noticeable effect on the frame rate.
Of course online play is also supported, although it is perhaps the one area that feels slightly undercooked. Up to eight racers can take part, but your choices are limited to single races or tournaments only. Competitive modes from the PSP such as Elimination are conspicuous by their absence.
Then there's Photo Mode, which can be activated during the automatic replay at the end of each race. Tap the square button and you can skip from one ship to another, and save your own screenshots. The options are numerous - you change the exposure, saturation, lens focus and add effects such as depth of field or add motion blur to the track or ships. Shots are automatically saved at full 1920x1080 resolution in your console's Photo folder for easy sharing. The only downside is there's no way of rewinding or forwarding the replay from within the Photo Mode itself, so finding a specific moment to capture involves too much trial and error.
But in the end, it all comes down to impact. With its cool, clean design and mixture of chilled ambience and frantic action, WipEout has always been at the heart of the PlayStation brand - so it makes sense that all the stops have been pulled out to make this HD debut something truly stunning.
The extra effort has paid off. The result is a game that commands your attention, ruthlessly hauling your eyes into the flatscreen while tickling your brain with impeccable track design and spine-snapping speeds. Sackboy may be the new face of PlayStation, but the console just hasn't been the same without WipEout. It's great to have it back.
9 / 10