If you’ve been searching for your next bout of dazzling, fast-paced futuristic racing, look no further. The WipEout series has been around since the PSX days and its most recent installment, WipEout Pulse, has just been released on the PlayStation Portable. Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Liverpool Studios, WipEout Pulse satiates the palettes of both casual and hardcore gamers alike, offering up a breathtaking experience rarely seen on the likes of handhelds.
Set in the year 2207, gamers won’t be driving cars in this title, instead piloting hovercrafts at breakneck speeds through courses more like rollercoasters than roads. As a member of the FX400 Anti-Gravity Racing League, you’ll travel to courses around the world to take part in various events, seeking the gold medal in each one.
Pulse’s interface is simply stylish. The title opens with a short but sweet intro movie, which places you directly into the accessible yet encompassing main menu. The menu touts a bounty of options, from a range of single and multiplayer options to access to the game’s official website (which offers the option to create and download custom skins among other things).
If you plan on playing through Pulse solo, the Race Campaign, which includes seven different modes across 12 reversible tracks, offers a substantive amount of content. Set up across four hexagonal grids, the 44 assorted events will keep the average player busy for a long time. The seven diversified modes of play include Race, Tournament, Time Trial, Speed Lap, Zone Mode, Elimination and Head-2-Head. Across these seven, we found plain old eight player races to be the most enjoyable, but Zone (staying alive at ever increasing speeds) and Elimination (destroying a set number of other players) were great fun as well. Our main qualm with the campaign is how gradually new tracks unlock. You’ll see three new courses every new grid, and until you unlock them in the campaign, they can’t be selected in custom single or multiplayer events.
If you’re a veteran player of the WipEout series, you know what you’re getting into. If you aren’t, gameplay may be a bit daunting at first. Piloting the ships accurately and knowing when or when not to use the left and right air breaks is undoubtedly a tad tricky for newcomers, especially when you’re traveling 300 miles an hour while enemies are laying mines in your face. Even if you were experiencing difficulty in the beginning however, everything should click after about 30 minutes of play, and then you’ll begin to truly appreciate the game. From the meticulously balanced combat system consisting of offensive and defensive items to the demanding reflex-based gameplay of past WipEouts, Pulse has some of the most polished gameplay seen on handhelds today. We almost forgot to mention the absurdly exhilarating courses with loops and 90-degree drops in tow. Intrigued yet?
Picking the right team for each event is a huge component of your success throughout the game. Ships are graded in four categories – speed, thrust, handling and shield. While some teams are better than others for particular events, it’s better to stick to only one or two, as Pulse contains a loyalty system where players get bonuses for using a particular team regularly.
If you’ve completed the campaign, head to the Racebox to create your own custom grids. Even better though is the multiplayer; Pulse provides the ability for up to four players to go head-to-head in Ad-Hoc Mode and up to eight players utilizing Infrastructure Mode. From what we played, the online play offers a high-speed lag-free experience worthy of the WipEout name. As mentioned before, the only downer is that when hosting a game, you can’t choose a track you haven’t previously unlocked, essentially forcing you to play through the campaign even if you bought the title for its multiplayer component.
Moving on to presentation, WipEout Pulse is gorgeous. The tracks all have fantastic textures with top-notch lighting effects. These aspects are then combined with a brilliant sense of speed — the rock-solid framerate helps — giving the game a vibrant feel. Some effects, such as explosions, could have been a bit better, but we’re nitpicking. Pulse looks subtly improved over PSP launch title WipEout Pure, which was a fantastic looking game to begin with. Now though, you’re able to stop and observe your surroundings with Pulse’s new Photo feature, a mode not seen in past WipEout titles. You can capture your best moments with this new feature, and upload a snapshot to show the world on the official game site. Just as an example, all screenshots within this review were taken with the new Photo mode.
The audio is filled with features a soundtrack filled to the brim with high-octane techno music from cutting-edge artists including Mason, Loco Dice, Stanton Warriors and Kraftwerk. If that’s not your style however, the game features custom soundtracks, so you’re able to race to whatever music you please.
WipEout Pulse doesn’t seek to re-invent the series, but it does manage to improve it. With adrenaline-fueled gameplay and a bounty of options, Pulse is an awesome entry in an iconic series. Racing fans will enjoy this title for months to come.