Dance Party, 2097.
Back in 1995, you couldn’t spit on a college campus without hitting a rave promoter in the eye. Glow stick manufacturers were wealthier than they’d ever been, and Burning Man was just entering the mainstream. Electronic music was riding high on a wave of sweat, drugs, and synthetic beats.
[image1]When WipEout was released for the original PlayStation that same year, those of us who couldn’t dance—or didn’t want to spend a week in the Nevada desert with a bunch of free lovin’ “concept artists”—stayed home, cranked up the home theater sound, and raced super-sonic spaceships instead. Now, thirteen years and nine WipEout releases later, the series has finally got its futuristic groove back.
Like seeing Grandma in skinny jeans, playing the two most recent WipEout releases on PSP reminded us that this series was still alive and kicking. The PSP titles tested the waters, making sure that the world was still interested in the bass-heavy tunes and face-melting speed of the series. Like a biblical voice in the wilderness, these prior titles prepared the way for the WipEout that was to come.
While WipEout HD borrows heavily from its immediate predecessors for its game modes, ship types, and track layouts, the level of detail and polish makes it all seem as new and refreshing as the day the first title in the series was released back in ‘95. For the inexpensive $19.99 PSN price tag, you might expect a less-than-full experience, but you’d be far less than correct. The game includes an eight-stage Campaign mode, each with multiple races, tournaments, and other play types. The single-race Racebox mode allows you to customize your races and play offline split-screen multiplayer. An added online mode allows you to race against up to seven other people in both tournaments and single races. All of these events can be further divided by racing class and A.I. difficulty.
[image2]For the masochist in all of us, Zone mode returns. For those unfamiliar with Zone, think bull-riding, but instead of a bull, you’re riding a ticking time bomb with wheels. You know you’re going to get blown to a bloody pulp, but that doesn’t stop you from trying to outlast the other guys. In Zone, the longer you survive, the faster your ship flies, and the faster your ship flies, the more you slam your ship into the sides of the track until your ship eventually disintegrates into a polygonal mess. In Zone mode, success is measured in ten-second increments, and failure is measured by the number of colorful invectives you utter with each wall-slam.
It's true that there are only eight course layouts, but with four different event types, three different play modes, a large group of differently performing ships, and a whole slew of other difficulty tweaks along the way, this game isn’t lacking content. What’s more, even on its easiest settings, this is a seriously challenging game.
If you haven’t played a WipEout game before, expect to feel more like a pinball than a supersonic spaceship for the first few hours. To ease the learning curve, the game includes a “pilot assist” feature that prevents you from hitting walls and falling off the edge of the road. It’s like bumper bowling—and, yes, it’s just as humiliating—but it’s a great way to learn the ropes since you can use pilot assist in almost every event type including the online races. The single drawback to the assist is that it does slow you down a bit. But once you're comfortable enough to take the training wheels off, you’ll be slipping and sliding your way around the roller-coaster-like tracks with the best of them.
[image3]For every event you complete, you’re given a set number of loyalty points for the specific team you’re racing for. You’ll get bonus points for completing a flawless lap, and as you reach certain point-total milestones, you will unlock more skins for your team’s ship. That way, even if you lose, you still get something for all your pain and frustration. In addition, getting a medal in every event in campaign mode will unlock even further skins, as will getting a gold medal in every event. Trophy support is also included, giving you even more incentives to find new and creative ways to fly at ball-crushing speeds.
At 1080p and a nearly constant 60fps, WipEout HD joins an elite class of current-gen racers—so elite that its only other graphical equal in the racing genre is the stellar Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. The tracks feel like they exist in a real world, alive with its own people and culture living in richly detailed environments.
Further enhancing the visual presentation of WipEout HD is a robust photo mode. At any point during or after a race, you can satisfy your inner shutterbug by switching to a photo mode that lets you move between ships, adjust the camera position, change the focal depth and lens aperture, and apply a host of other optical effects.
[image4]Keeping this title from true adrenal nirvana, however, are some irksome bugs and glitches. The game menus are prone to occasional hangs and pauses of about 30 seconds. Worse, the online leaderboards are completely broken. Very few scores are posted globally as of the time of this review, even though the game’s been out now for over a week. According to what’s posted, my scores would put me in the top ten in nearly every course. As much as I’d like to believe I’m that good, I know otherwise. Hopefully a patch will appear at some point in the future, but for now, it’s an annoying issue for us leaderboard whores.
If you’ve played the previous PSP titles, much of WipEout HD will feel very familiar. But chances are, if you enjoyed the PSP entries in the series, you’ll immediately want to get this repackaged and retooled version of all the brilliant tracks, modes, and ships. And if you haven’t already played the PSP games, you’ll be kicking yourself because you could have been playing WipEout all this time. It’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s challenging, and it’s a much less embarrassing way to relive the ‘90s than reuniting your old band.