February 27, 2008
Gaming Steve Review: Wipeout Pulse
For those of you who have not played much of the long-running Wipeout series, allow me to explain what it's all about. Basically, the series is set in the future, where F1 racing is now seen as old-hat, so the people have decided to create anti-gravity racing machines capable of achieving speeds up to 1000km/h for their racing pleasure. Not content with injecting more speed and lack of gravity into the mix, they also apparently decided to give the racers access to weapons, boost pads, and shields, as well as what can only be described as brain-bending tracks to race their little ships on. Even the most speed-loving gamers should be quaking in their boots just thinking about it.
Back when I was younger, with my little grey PS1, I had the attention span of a small fish and the gameplay experience of Jack Thompson. In essence, I was awful at games. When Wipeout came out, I played the demo, crashed a load of times, and subsequently threw it away. The series went on without me, achieving greatness in the form of various sequels across various platforms. Following a mediocre stop on the PS2, it's now becoming a nice little series on the PSP, with the prequel Wipeout Pure back in 2005. This was a good return to past form for the series, and now we pick the story up with its sequel, Wipeout Pulse.
The game is not easier than its predecessors, but it is a refined beast, carrying on the good standing the series has on the PSP thanks to Pure. This is a game fans of the series and those that are new to it all can enjoy, and Sony chose this specific title to bring the PlayStation Network to the PSP for the first time. It's packed full of nice little bits that add up to give a nice big result.
What's most important to the Wipeout series is its unique gameplay. Pulse doesn't disappoint in this area, it's full-on, mad, and incredibly challenging. This is all achieved by the viciously tight courses and the dangerous AI, which coupled with the new weapons, will make you feel lucky every time you finish a race.
The game modes are now built to show this off, with Eliminator returning from Wipeout 3 to truly put the cat amongst the pigeons. If you cannot remember what this one is all about, it's basically what it says on the tin, an epic battle taking place across a single course, with the first team to 10 kills winning. In short, it's not for those with a nervous disposition. Other additions include the Speed-Lap and Head-to-head, which are fairly self-explanatory but they don't add too much to the gameplay, or at least not as much as Eliminator.
When information of the game was first revealed, everyone went mad about the "Mag-Strip", which basically sticks your craft to the track. This was included because it allows the player to go down straight 90 degree drops and to go through the loops. Apparently it was going to "break the gameplay", but I can assure you that it doesn't detract anything from the game, mainly because you only experience it for a few seconds as you speed straight on by. Loops are quite fun, but soon the novelty wears off when you realise it's just another distraction in the game's box of tricks to slow down the feeling of monotony so common with Wipeout games.
As is usually the case, the full game doesn't start until the Phantom Class. This is the very pinnacle of speed, where everything starts to fall into place and it all goes so fast that you are actually guaranteed to crash. That's all well, but you still have to grind through all of the other slow classes until you can get to the full meat of the experience, and that is not good at all. If there was some way to skip the slower classes, it would allow those that are fairly experienced with the game to get to the part they want.
Looking at the multiplayer features, there is obviously the traditional Ad-Hoc mode, but what I liked was the Infrastructure Mode, which actually uses the PlayStation Network, the first time it's appeared on the PSP. However, there was a few glitches signing in with the system, but once I managed to get into the server list, it was remarkably easy to join a match and get going. My in-game experience was very solid. The loading times were adequate, there was barely any lag, and it was just generally fun. Disappointingly, there is no way to communicate with your enemies, but I think a rocket up the back of their ship is all the communication that's needed in this arena.
Music is another key feature of the Wipeout series, and while this list could be described as being a bit too "European" for western audiences, I think it's a genuinely good playlist that sets the tone of the game nicely, with some thumping beats and electronic. The game also supports custom soundtracks so you can play your mp3's from your memory sticks if the included playlist isn't your bag. Another useful feature is the ability to take screenshots in-game, which came in rather useful for this review funnily enough.
To conclude, this is a great start to what could be a great year of releases for the PSP. Even though the system has an abundance of racing games, Pulse definitely stands out amongst the crowd despite its flaws and repetitiveness. There is quite a lot on offer here, and I think it shall keep you busy for quite a while. Besides, I don't think you're going to see that many games this year that let you travel over 900km/h, unless Fable 2 has an anti-gravity hovering vehicle mode or Wipeout HD finally arrives for PS3.
PLUSES: Great gameplay, online multiplayer, huge amount of content. Genuinely mad speeds that seem audacious even in today's fast world.
MINUSES: Slightly repetitive, real action still doesn't start until Phantom class, new modes seem tacked on.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.0 BUY IT!