Pure and simple, and much more like the WipEout we remember.
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Anybody who thought WipEout had been wiped out by its failings since 2097 would do well to keep their eyes on this from Sony's Liverpool studio. You can tell we like it because we've even rebelled against our own standards and allowed it that preposterous capitalised "E" in deference. The reasons you should care are many, but the one that most accurately sums up its appeal, at least to us, is thus: it's a racing game again, and not some botched shoot-'em-up with corners.
In terms of content, Pure certainly fills out a fact sheet rather handsomely. Apart from the FAST and FUTURISTIC (sorry, and HIGH OCTANE) racing, there are eight main tracks, another handful of revamped classic tracks, an enhanced Zone mode from Wipeout Fusion (note the little "e") with four of its own tracks, a lessened emphasis on weapons, the removal of the pit-lane recharge system and replacement with an option to "absorb" power-ups to replenish ship-health instead, eight-player wireless multiplayer (which works really well), a soundtrack comprised of tunes composed specifically for the game by artists like Aphex Twin, and the promise of a lot of downloadable content including skins for the menus, new tracks, music and ships, and, since we're on a fact-sheet-sounding tip, "jaw-dropping 3D graphics".
Okay, so our jaws didn't really drop (apart from the between-race bits where we'd shovel in more soft drinks), but we were certainly impressed by the quality of the ship design (crap, we should have mentioned the multitude of teams including some inherited from previous games, like Auricom), the flare effects and explosions, the glare of the sun as we raced out of subterranean darkness, shafts of soft blue light wafting across the floor of an underwater glass tunnel, and the simple but stylistic geometry. It was also nice to see some familiar ad hoardings leering out at us.
As for how it played... It starts off slowly, and we mean that in a literal sense. The ponderous acceleration of the most basic race-craft is disappointing and, since we were busily trying to readjust to the inertia of the game's yacht-like cornering, a mite frustrating. But diving into the tougher single-player races in latter championships (of which there will be plenty, of course), we felt very much at home with the pace, and it became pretty apparent that the Liverpool-based team has thought carefully about the balance and what made the first few WipEouts so enjoyable.
The decision to dump the pit-lane and have you absorb power-ups instead clearly works well. You no longer have to limp cautiously round the final lap because you've overdone it up to that point, and although you could argue that the exhilaration of throwing caution to the wind and emerging victorious under those dire circumstances is something better kept than cut, we vastly prefer the rush of deciding in a split-second whether to absorb the heat-seekers and try and overhaul the leader with skill rather than pyrotechnics or to blow the hell out of them and hope we can survive the next five or six corners on a sliver of ship-health. Perhaps the sense of elation is less, but at least you won't be frustrated by it as often.
We also like the up and down nature of the tracks more, and it helps that your ships are no longer tethered to the track quite so brutally. There's something elegant and exciting about hurtling past an adversary in the narrowest of confines having swept down from above off the rim of a jump - particularly if you manage to put a missile in the back of them during the descent.
Finally there's Zone mode. For those who missed Fusion on the PS2, Zone mode is what Liverpool studio reckons is the purest form of WipEout. The levels are stripped down to a Spartan palette and you don't accelerate in the traditional sense; instead you get progressively faster and faster and faster and see how long you can last. The Zone track we sampled was nicely put together and it's pretty clear this will be a nice and arcade-y diversion.
It would have been easy for the developer to churn out a WipEout game with a minimum of effort and imagination, but it's clear that the PlayStation Portable has spurred them to think and work a lot harder, in spite of the ridiculously tight deadlines involved. WipEout Pure could still pull up short of what we're hoping for, but the fact that we're looking at it in those terms at all ought to underline our enthusiasm for it. After recent efforts, it's nice to be looking forward to a WipEout game and not just living in fear of another Wipeout.