WipEout 2048 Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
Gaming is still a young art form and often heritage is hard to come by. Franchises can come and go all too easily, or even slip into a pattern of annual release which sees innovation and progress lost to the march of the easy pound. One of gaming’s most respected old boys is none other than WipEout, a franchise that has been popping up over the last seventeen years ever since its introduction on the PlayStation. With the franchise famed for being pretty much fabulous in everything it does the latest iteration, WipEout 2048 is fast staking a claim to be one of the PS Vita’s must see titles, especially if you went for a 3G model and get a nifty deal on the software. And boy, at first glance WipEout 2048 doesn’t disappoint.
From the very moment the introduction video hits the visual direction of the game is apparent. Set from (you guessed it!) 2048 this latest version of WipEout is grimier than you may expect, the colourful anti-gravity routes of the future not making up the entirety of the tracks here. Instead your race course runs through the stained urban landscape of the near future, the sport of anti-gravity racing revelling in its newness. The distinction of the visuals as you progress through the city scape from greys and browns to shiny luminescents is astonishing, the Vita never seeming to struggle to put out fantastic quality graphics as you zoom through the various backdrops. If you were after one game to use as a Vita tech-demo for pure looks, then this is your game.
The single player campaign sees you progress through three seasons of racing from 2048. While straight up racing is present in the series of events, you will also see Time Trials, Combat tracks and Zone mode. These all help to break up the action and offer you challenges to beat (which inevitably gifts experience, which helps unlocks new vehicles, yawn) but before long the ten tracks on offer begin to feel overly repetitive which is a crying shame as the production quality on them all is so high. To compound this loading times are painfully long when entering an event, the long wait at odds with the intended accessibility of handheld gaming. Thankfully these loading times are massively reduced if you manage to fail and need to replay an event (or, indeed, just want to take another punt for fun) but they do make chopping and changing throughout the seasons a chore. While everyone will find a favourite event, special mention must go to the Zone mode tracks; immersed in psychedelic colours with the music perfectly attuned and your anti-grav racer accelerating ever faster, Zone offers you a pure WipEout experience and never seems to outstay its welcome.
As a comparative, the multiplayer options provide a bit of a mixed bag. The main career mode is where you will spend the majority of your time, but without the option to create private rooms or invite only races the ability to connect with your PSN chums is limited. In game, instead of simply racing to win racers are given tasks to perform, somewhat mitigating the fact that you will be up against some seriously skilled racers against whom you have no chance. Still, with loading times a consideration too, it all feels a little bolted on, missing the point of multiplayer handheld gaming. The much hyped cross-platform races with PS3 WipEout players is still something of a breath-taking addition however, even more so as it gives you access to four more tracks to use. Ultimately though most players will treat WipEout 2048 as a single-player experience, and that just feels like a bit of a shame.
Thankfully the gameplay is as tight as the graphics, the quintessential WipEout speed still providing the core experience you know and remember. Power-ups now come in two flavours, defensive and offensive, allowing you an extra level of tactical planning depending on where you are in the positions and where you need to get to. As with other WipEouts the easiest racing line isn’t necessarily the best, and the game forces you to zip and weave over the tracks to hit the plentiful speed boosts along the way, throwing experience bonuses at you if you manage to hit a decent amount in a row without finding a way. Alternate paths are present as well, offering either extra speed boosts or short cuts, or sometimes just letting you get away from the maddening crowd to catch your breath. As with any racer learning the tracks is critical to your progression, although the sheer speed of WipEout means that sometimes you just need to trust in instinct to hit that partially hidden entrance.
Even for WipEout experts the controls take a little while to zero in on, the Vita’s analogue nubs not quite providing the level of accuracy that can be quickly gained on a full size controller. This is mitigated somewhat in track design, with the majority of the courses being a little wider than one would expect from a WipEout title. Once you’ve mastered the analogue nubs however these wider tracks do detract a little from the experience, providing far easier racing lines than you need once the tracks are learnt.
While a tilt control variant is offered it provides only a frustrating experience of oversteer and understeer, which, while amusing to anyone watching you, won’t be making you laugh anytime soon. With most of the Vita launch titles having some form of touch or tilt control arbitrarily pushed into them WipEout 2048 has got away fairly lightly with the rest of the poking being confined to menu options and race set up. Quite why an option to just hit a button to continue couldn’t have been added to most of these titles is beyond us, but at least it doesn’t detract from the experience here.
Soundtrack wise the music on offer is as outstanding as ever, the electronic tunes pumping their way into your brain as your eyes zip along the track following the race. Orbital, deadmau5, The Chemical Brothers and even Kraftwerk are all present here, each one of their remixed tracks merging perfectly with the on-screen action. Even if the band names above make you recoil in horror (and as an out and out metalhead I had the same reaction) step into WipEout 2048 and give them a chance, because you won’t find a soundtrack that matches the game so perfectly anywhere on any console for a long time.
If this is your first introduction to the anti-gravity racing of WipEout then the game is very nearly a killer app, offering compelling gameplay with the looks and sounds to match. For franchise veterans however there will be nowhere near the level of development that they would have liked, the developers sticking instead to delivering tried and tested mechanics. But, who can really blame them. What’s clear is that WipEout 2048 pushes the Vita to the limit and offers you a console-quality game in the middle of your palms. It looks impressive, it plays impressive, it sounds impressive. Just cross your fingers, hope for some DLC tracks in the future, and everything will be just fine.