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Sean Pettibone


Wipeout HD (Playstation 3)

Sony's seminal futuristic racing series has arrived on PS3 with the long-awaited Wipeout HD, a superb revamp of two previous PSP titles presented in full high-definition. Featuring eight tracks, classic vehicles and multiple racing styles, this edition of the franchise includes both single-player and online modes. In terms of design, Wipeout HD features breathtaking courses, slick menus and gorgeous vehicles rendered beautifully while moving at a blistering 60 FPS throughout. Even though it's a downloadable title, Wipeout HD delivers the production values, intense gameplay and polish usually reserved for full-release titles. It points to the future in more ways than one.

Wipeout has been one of the most influential racing series to appear over the past decade, forging an indelible mark on the racing genre in terms of style, presentation and gameplay. Now, the series is breaking new ground in terms of delivery, with the release of Wipeout HD on Playstation Network. While it would have been easy to bring out a simple port of the PSP games with modest improvements, the developers at Sony's Liverpool Studio have instead opted to produce a completely robust and brilliant edition of the series. While it features 8 tracks from the two PSP Wipeout games, they have been completely redone in high definition with full 1080p support. In addition, they're available in mirror-mode, which expands the total tracks to 16. At the main menu, you can choose from several racing modes as they login to the game's beautifully designed menus. Jumping into single-player match provides an immediate energy rush, with intense battles against other vehicles providing an intense experience that lives up to the series' reputation. The gameplay should be quite familiar to series veterans with the courses and tracks laid out in typical fashion. You'll face sharp turns, dramatic drops, huge jumps and challenging items on each course. As usual, there are loads of power-up energy pods scattered throughout each course, and players can collect these by running over them. The usual selection is here including energy based weapons such as the infamous Quake device. Energy Drains allow you to suck power from your opponents' vehicles. There are also machine guns and mines that you can drop behind your vehicle. You'll also find defensive weapons such as shields and auto-pilot pods. Once collected, you can choose to use them to battle with your opponents or use them as energy to increase your ship's reserves. This is especially handy if you're running low. Finally, players will find a number of speed boost pods that immediately thrust your ship to incredibly high speeds. Memorizing their location and collecting these will give you a significant advantage in terms of your lap times, and successfully running over them can make the difference between losing and winning in some of the speed trial modes.

Wipeout HD's controls will feel immediately familiar to veteran gamers, with an incredibly responsive interface that's second-to-none in terms of feel and control. Anyone who's played the previous titles will know that using the air-brakes is essential to mastering the game and this installment is no exception. While they slow you down a bit, its not as bad as the loss of momentum that comes from hitting the side of a wall. Learning to use the brakes sparingly and not relying on them too much plays a critical role in your success or failure. While it might be a little bit difficult to learn all the nuances, the game allows novices to use racing assists to keep them on the right path, which is helpful in learning the basics. However, it's a bit too conservative and you'll have to learn the best paths on your own. Another critical factor in determining your success is which vehicle you use. Each one has a unique set of attributes ranging from top speed, to handling and shield and knowing which one to use in which type of race makes all the difference. Picking a vehicle with great handling but a slightly slow top speed isn't the smartest move in time trail modes, but the same vehicle's control might help you win a standard race. There are eight racing teams including the legendary AG Systems, Feisar, Pirhana and Auricom teams from the earlier games. Most of these ships aren't available at the start of the game, but you can unlock them relatively quickly in career mode at a rate of two per completed level. While it might not make much difference on the surface which ones you choose, loyalty points are awarded after each race and earning enough of these unlocks additional skins for your ships, which is a cool reward system.

Wipeout HD's racing is structured in a way that allows you to jump right in and start racing immediately. There are several race types with the usual lap races complimented by fastest lap races and time attack modes that challenge you to attain the quick times, where memorizing the tracks gives you an advantage. You can also compete in multiple races in tournament modes, where you earn a score after each race and the racer with the highest score gets the medal. These modes are self-explanatory, but Wipeout HD's signature mode has to be the Zone, where you are placed in a virtual simulation of a track, without opponents where you have to survive an ever increasing velocity around tracks, which is as unforgiving, intense and absolutely addictive as it sounds. Zone mode's visuals are really cool and trade the detailed futuristic environments for a surreal, flat-colored virtual world with pulsating primary colors that morph as you increase speed. With each zone you complete, your ship increases speed until you are moving at an incredible velocity - making it difficult to avoid collisions. Surviving at the faster speeds becomes more difficult and you need to make it as long as possible in order to earn a medal. It's definitely one of the better additions to the series that came from Pulse and Pure on the PSP, but it's flawless implementation here is absolutely amazing, and makes Zone mode one of the most intense and exciting racing modes we've seen in any title in quite some time. Going a bit deeper, players can charge into the campaign mode, where they compete in various race types to earn medals and unlock additional races. Each level in the campaign mode has a certain number of points you need to earn in order to unlock the next phase. When this is completed, the unlocked tracks and vehicles are available for use in Wipeout HD's Race Box mode, where you can set up a match to your liking, with options that let you set up the track, mode, number of laps, competitors plus the ability to create tournaments for online play. This gives you the freedom to create customized races either in single player or online, with adds immensely to WHD's depth.

One of Wipeout's major innovations was its inclusion of licensed music tracks from top electronic music artists, and this installment is no exception. The included tracks fit in perfectly with the game's atmosphere, style an attitude, driving the action and adding to the overall futuristic, forward looking feel. Familiar names like Kraftwerk, Ed Rush & Optical combine with lesser-known artists to create a coherent soundtrack that punctuates the action almost flawlessly. Some of the tracks are more drum & bass oriented than the previously techno-centric playlists, which expands the genre slightly but doesn't lose the game's futuristic focus. Wipeout HD's standard tracks are great, but players can also import their own tracks if they want, to make their own personal soundtrack for the game as well. Obviously, music is a huge component in the appeal of the franchise, but the visual design carries things even further. The game's visuals and design don't stray to far from the look seen in Pure, but the visuals have been fully upgraded to HD. Its visionary design is coherent and beautiful, with stunning urban environments, impressive trackside detail and a consistent 60FPS engine that allows the action to explode off the screen at a blistering speed throughout. The results are quite impressive, bringing the series' futuristic design to another high-water mark. Those who played the PSP games will notice a massive visual upgrade in the familiar tracks, with added detail on the tracks giving the game a beautiful look that mixes science fiction and forward-looking industrial design influences to create a world that is simultaneously breathtaking and believable. This game's long-standing attention to detail is evident in the smallest details. The course designs have made an impressive transition from what was an impressive portable title to a stunningly designed console experience. The level of detail seen in each track is quite impressive, with every element from the tracks, to the scenery rendered in brilliant detail. These robust visuals give Wipeout HD an incredible sense of cohesion that allows you to immerse yourself into the racing experience. Combined with the outstanding soundtrack, this is definitely, far and away, the best-looking Wipeout title yet.

Between its highly-polished visuals, its intense gameplay mechanics and several innovative new modes, such as the brilliant Zone attacks, Wipeout HD stands as an impressive accomplishment in the series. Its one of the best-playing installments in the series to date, refining the elements that made the previous titles so addictive while adding new modes, such as Race Box that extend its depth and longevity even more. The biggest problem with Wipeout HD is that, despite including some really cool features and modes, you are left wanting more. Including 16 tracks and 8 racing teams might seem like plenty of content, but once you've unlocked it all, you'll definitely be disappointed to see that's all there is. When you factor in the fact that this is an online title and isn't as expensive as a full game, then Wipeout HD is still a great value that delivers some of the most intense and exciting racing on the Playstation 3 to date. While we wish there was more, what's included in Wipeout HD is absolutely fantastic, making this a huge comeback for this visionary racing franchise.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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Wipeout Pure (PSP)
Wipeout Pulse (PSP)
Wipeout Fusion (PS2)