Has it really been almost five years? WipEout 2048, the last proper entry in the series, hit the Vita in January of 2012, and so much has happened since. The developer behind the series from the start, Sony's Studio Liverpool, is sadly no more, and since then the PlayStation 4 has been around long enough to already feel like something of a seasoned beast. Yet in its three years on the market the console has felt like it's had a little chunk missing. It doesn't really feel like a proper PlayStation without a WipEout to play on it.
Ever since the original WipEout launched in 1995 and was at the forefront of PlayStation's push for an edgier, more mature audience, the series has been synonymous with Sony's hardware. In Pulse and Pure it bolstered the PSP, with 2048 it proved the technical chops of the Vita, and now it's doing a decent job of making the case for 4K gaming on the PlayStation 4 Pro. WipEout Omega, viewed on the right equipment, looks shockingly good.
Sublime enough to make you forget this has its roots in a brace of PSP games that are over a decade old. WipEout Pure and Pulse laid the groundwork for WipEout HD, of which this an ostensibly a remake with content from 2012's 2048 remastered and bundled in. In total that's some 26 tracks, 46 ships and nine game modes. All of which adds up to a fair amount of WipEout.
The refit is enough to cover those roots up, too. The textures have been remade for circuits and ships, the poly count has been upped significantly and there's a new level of detail that's been layered in. Ships bear marks and scratches, while track surfaces have a tangible feel of smoothed concrete and brushed steel. It's a remarkable looking game, and as good an advert for 4K gaming as anything else out there on the PlayStation 4 Pro.
With Studio Liverpool no more, who exactly is behind this new WipEout? XDev, Sony's internal unit that works with independent studios - and is in the same building where Studio Liverpool once lived - is collaborating with developers Clever Beans and EPOS for WipEout Omega. The former studio, situated in Manchester, even contains a handful of ex-Studio Liverpool devs.
Studio Liverpool's work provides the foundation, of course, and the developer hinted before its closure that it was working on bringing the tracks of the Vita version into HD. "We had access to archives, and we've got the 2048 game in there," explains XDev producer Mark O'Connor. "That's going to give us the biggest bang for buck - it was on the Vita, it looked great on there but having it on a TV like this..."
Those tracks aren't on show just yet, but they promise to be the fresher part of WipEout Omega. 2048 had its own unique and busier aesthetic, its races taking place on bustling city streets in a prequel to the cleaner, more hard-edged games in the series. "The tracks are wider, the ships look different," says O'Connor. "They're obviously set at different times, there's 150 years between them. It's more street-based, there are more alternate routes. It looks a bit different and it plays a bit different, the way the back end swings out on the ships."
Beyond the visuals, WipEout remains untouched - the feel of the originals is intact, as are the weapon-sets and features. "Because WipEout works so well, we didn't want to tinker," says O'Connor. "There have been various games over the years that have tried to imitate WipEout, and they haven't quite got it for me because the handling isn't really there. So for now we've left it alone. It's already balanced."
It feels good, too. It's nice to get reacquainted with WipEout's particular feel, its floaty ships disguising an often punishing difficulty. Come to it off the back of something like Redout, a recent success on Steam that has a clear debt to WipEout, and it's clear the series has some secret sauce that has yet to be replicated elsewhere. Some might be understandably disappointed this is a repackaging of an older game (it will introduce split-screen for the first time to 2048, though, alongside eight-player online), but it's certainly one that's worth reviving, and the developers behind Omega have done a great job of polishing it up. It's early days, too - the build being shown at PSX is the result of only a few month's work, with many visual features such as particle effects yet to be implemented.
There's the hope, too, that Omega will lead on to other things, and that maybe it'll pave the way for an all-new WipEout. "I would hope so," says O'Connor. "It's within the PlayStation DNA. I would hope this would bring new people in who've not played the franchise before, and whet the appetite of those who have played before. It's been a long time since we've had it on PlayStation."
Having WipEout finally on PS4 helps the console feel a little more complete, and strengthens its ties to PlayStation's rich heritage. You could tell from the tingle of excitement in the room when Omega was announced what this series means to the fans, as well as what it means to its creators. Shawn Layden worked on the original as his first job when at Sony in Japan in the 90s and has said it's a personal favourite, while O'Connor's own history is entwined with the series.
"I tested the original WipEout back in 1995," he says. "It was the dawn of the PlayStation then, we had Destruction Derby and Toshinden. We thought we were onto something big. I worked on that! These are great games that keep coming back. My last title was Shadow of the Beast - that was another classic of the time. When you get a nugget of gameplay that works really well, it transcends console generations, and you're just adapting them to the power of whatever console you're working on."
This might be an older WipEout spruced up for the PS4, then, but that's not such a bad thing. The essence of this series, Omega so handsomely proves, has the ability to feel pretty much timeless.
This article is based on a press trip to Anaheim. Sony covered travel and accommodation costs.