Please hold on.
Pulsating to the techno-electronic back beat, your inertia-damping ship swerves tightly around a deadly horseshoe corner, glides over a thin accelerating strip, and zips past the unlucky fourth-place racer. In your mind, you breathe a quiet sigh of relief... only three more ships to go. Reams of neon lights turn into straight, radiant contours as you zoom down the anti-gravity track. Flying at top speed, into the air, through narrow lanes and dizzying loops, your craft accidentally scratches the steel wall and slows to a screeching halt. The fourth-place racer rockets past you. Cursing at your luck, you squint your eyes and focus. Only one lap left… it’s all or nothing.
[image1]Welcome to Wipeout Pulse, the future of Anti-Gravity Racing and genetic predecessor of Wipeout Pure. Every nut and bolt that made the dynamic, cybernetic launch title for the PSP a racing wonder has been adjusted, tightened, and cleaned. Even without spectacular crashes and photo-realistic models, it captures the exhilarating thrill of pure, unadulterated speed with hi-tech verve. Wipeout Pulse doesn’t hold back, and when you’re in the cockpit of a Phantom-class state-of-the-art hovercraft, nor should you.
It’s not often that a game touts its campaign mode… in the main menu. With near back-of-the-box gusto, the tagline for Race Campaign boldly states: “The definitive Wipeout single-player experience”. Fortunately, it actually lives up to its own hype, especially in terms of length and variety. Taking a slow-burn approach, it eases you through precarious turns and loop-de-loops until you come to appreciate its frenetic, no-holds-barred world, where getting a speed rush is the only thing that matters.
Events are organized in hexagonal grids, a la Blockbusters or Settlers of Catan, with each hexagon marked with the event type and the speed class, ranging from (slow-running) Venom to Flash, Rapier, and (walls-are-evil) Phantom. Whether it’s the traditional Single Race, the ship-wrecking Eliminator, the second-crunching Time Trial and Speed Lap, the no-mercy Head to Head, or the walls-are-still-evil Zone, there are more than enough challenges to fill sixteen grids, each usually made up of sixteen hexagons. That's more than two-hundred events, most of which you will be repeating to earn shiny gold medals.
Of course, that means you’ll be accelerating down the same tracks over and over again, but the monotony never settles in. Tournament events, which last three or more races long, and the urge to earn a gold medal in every event (so that every grid looks like golden honeycomb) can feel artificially exhausting. Still, every race only takes at most three and a half minutes to complete, with many hitting the two-minute mark, ensuring that your eyes stay glued to the screen. Anyone that has mastered a prior Wipeout, Burnout, or even Mario Kart title shouldn’t have too much trouble getting gold medals. Besides, you will want to get in a few extra practice sessions before flinging around in the Phantom class.
[image2]Each circuit is a prime example that it’s not how much you have; it’s how you use what you have. Milking every turn and bump for what they're worth, each “White” track also has a mirrored “Black” track that turns the course into a different race with new highs and lows and new placements for weapons, arrow strips, and shortcut-revealing Mag-strips. Where you need to airbrake, which allows you to cut corners without losing any speed, and where you need to maneuver your ship before making a corner or hitting crucial arrow strips both change, but this need not come just from the severity of a flipped-around track.
Zone events turn the need-for-speed objective on its head, forcing your ship to dart through a familiar but neon-bright track, faster and faster and faster, until you ram yourself into the walls, deplete your shields, and explode into million-dollar scrap parts. Such is life, no? Suddenly, arrow speed strips that are crucial in every other event, are now turned into harbingers of smack-into-a-wall doom or jump-off-a-nice-ledge doom. Such is betrayal.
None of this would be all that appealing, however, if the package were not so brilliantly styled and produced. Not only are the electronic baselines active yet undisruptive, but the level of detail and the smooth frame-rate are staggering on the handheld. Some of the loading times can feel long, but it’s well worth the wait just to behold the meticulously constructed and wonderfully lit skyways and towers looming in the background; that is, if you can tear your eyes away from the race. Tempered yet energetic, turbulent yet structured, the attention given to even the simplest sensory morsel puts nearly every title on the original Playstation to shame.
After that praise, it might seem underhanded to say that flaws do exist, but they are few and far-in-between and only have minimal impact (plus, it's my job to point them out). Always starting in last pole position, no matter how well you did in a previous race (even if it’s in the same tournament), is likely to cause more than a few sighs. A few more will likely come from not receiving anything special for capturing gold in every event on a grid, getting a perfect lap for every lap in a race, or placing first in every race in a tournament. Yes, the reward may be in the process, but an immediate incentive that's more than a gold-medal tally would have been better.
[image3]You also don’t have to worry about your shields, aside from the Eliminator and Zone events, since you can always absorb items into about fifteen points of shielding. Loyalty, which is tied to the ship you use and unlocks special items such as extra ship skins, builds at an excruciatingly doing-your-taxes slow pace - enough so that you are forced to stick to one ship all the way through. A more severe issue, ad-hoc multiplayer is restricted to human players and to Single Race or Tournament events.
Pulling the critic’s hat down further, it’s hard not to view Wipeout Pulse as just a more refined Wipeout Pure. None of the tweaks - including an in-game manual, a smooth online mode, downloadable content off wipeout-game.com, a swappable songlist, and a photo op after winning a race - revolutionize the usual, albeit solid and reliable, gameplay. But it’s like arguing against more balloon-avenging dogs.... or more pie, more delicious pie. How can you hate pie?!
Wipeout Pulse is nothing short of being an addictive, sleek, hypersonic racer that should be in everyone's pocket. To put any of these criticisms to rest, I recommend all restless sleepers to take the game and do the following: Sneak back to your bedroom. Close the door. Turn off the lights. Change into comfortable clothes. Creep into bed. Find a comfy position. Turn on your PSP, feel the pulse, feel the rush, and you'll eventually fall asleep, happy and satisfied.