Optimized for the PlayStation Vita hardware, WipEout 2048 bears all the hallmarks of the first game on the original PlayStation some 17 years ago, yet it combines the familiar concept of futuristic, high-speed anti-gravity races with some modern-day innovations that help bring it crashing into this new era in handheld gaming with some style.
Taking place in the year 2048 at the birth of ballistics racing, the action on the track and the regular control scheme will be instantly familiar to long-term fans. However, SCE Studio Liverpool has rejuvenated the series by putting much more emphasis on aggression and competitiveness, while furnishing us, yet again, with a stunning neon-lit world and a pulsating soundtrack that compliments the high speeds in which players hurtle around the tracks.
Racing on the streets of the multi-tiered city of Nova State, which has been beautifully rendered with its cascading tracks, sneaky short-cuts and futuristic architecture, the campaign mode follows five teams of racers who take part in the Anti-Gravity Racing Championships.
Experience points are earned in each race for anything from doing a barrel roll to successfully navigating across a speed boost pad. That in turn allows players to rise up the ranks and unlock more ships and more events. Reach the higher ranks and players get access to events - that only experts will master - and prototype ships, experimental variants of the main ship types that can be devastating in the right hands.
Though the campaign merely consists of one race after another, the diverse tracks and the variety of events, which you can pick and choose from, keep the action feeling fresh. The courses are varied too and range in difficulty so there’s plenty of challenge to be had out of learning where all the speed and weapon pads are located and mastering every twist and turn.
Players can earn ‘Passes’ by simply completing the main objective, perhaps finishing in the top five in a race, or earn an ‘Elite’ pass for acing an event, which gives them double XP and the ability to rise through the ranks more quickly, as well as get their name on the global leaderboards.
With three ship types on offer, each sporting five attributes which pits them as either an agility, speed, or fighter craft, players will soon choose their favourite ride, but the campaign switches gameplay up nicely by offering a variety of different event types that encourages players to experiment.
Alongside standard race events, where players are encourage to out-speed and out-smart opponents, there are also combat events, with the aim of destroying rival ships, zone events, with the idea being that players need to survive as long as possible on a track without smashing their craft to pieces on the course. There are also standard time trials.
On the track, familiar game features, such as barrel rolls, ramp jumps and air-braking around tight corners, feel timeless and just as exciting as ever, while the control scheme is extremely intuitive. Having the prominent analog sticks of Vita to control the pitch of the ships and guide them around the tracks brings it more in line with the console experience and makes maneuvering craft more streamlined than the superb WipEout Pulse on PSP.
Vita offers a few control methods, and though most players will probably stick to the analog stick for steering, bumpers for air-braking and action buttons for absorbing and firing pick-ups, the ‘tilt and turn’ controls work extremely well too. While the rear touchpad can be used to thrust, players can tilt the screen to move around the track and tap on icons on screen to absorb and fire pick-ups.
During the races there’s plenty to think about. Driving aids are split up into two distinct offensive and defensive classes. These power-ups are colour-coded on the track and feature the likes of cannons and mines, shields and autopilot, as well as returning favourites such as the Plasma and Quake. This allows players to think strategically and adapt their tactics on the fly, perhaps opting for defensive power-ups when at the front of the pack, and offensive weapons when playing catch-up.
And thinking about when to unleash power-ups is crucially important because the A.I. in WipEout 2048 is extremely aggressive. One wrong turn, a miss of a speed boost, or ill-judged corner can throw players from the front to the back of the pack in a split second. Consequently, it’s quite a punishing campaign mode, particularly in the mid-to-latter stages. While hardcore WipEout fans will relish the challenge, ‘noobs’ may well get frustrated.
Away from the single player campaign, WipEout looks to really excel in multiplayer, which we haven’t played due to servers being offline at time of writing. A news channel, adhoc and cross-platform play, and an online mode with 20 campaign levels should really serve the WipEout community very well. The whole game seems geared around competition and even before players start a single player campaign event they’re reminded of the highest scores on the global leaderboards.
Despite the long loading times (typically 50 seconds before each track) and the excruciating learning curve for non-pros, WipEout 2048 offers a tactically exciting, rewarding and challenge campaign mode with some gloriously-designed tracks and nice variety of events. Without testing the online campaign mode, it’s difficult to rate it, but it certainly looks set-up to offer some of the most intense and competitive WipEout racing to date.
-The Final Word-
This is WipEout at its best, with sweet visuals, a heart-racing soundtrack and high-octane racing, plus a socially-competitive edge