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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Wipeout Pure (PSP)


By Michael Palisano

The futuristic racing series Wipeout seemed to have fallen into a bit of a rut over the past few years, as several mediocre installments tarnished the series' reputation. Happily, the series has been reinvigorated with the release Wipeout Pure on the PSP. The gameplay offers the same frenetic speeds players have come to expect, with a some novel twists. Visually, Wipeout Pure really shines with a cohesive design that showcases the PSP's abilities. Tracks and crafts are crisply designed and the game flows at a smooth frame rate throughout. There are also some cool extra modes as well. Read on and find out why this sleek racer is the highlight of the PSP launch, and a must-purchase for any fan of the series.

Launched nearly a decade ago alongside the first PlayStation console, Psygnosis' legendary Wipeout was truly a landmark game that set new standards in the genre. It's sleek techno by the Desigers' Republic, created a visual language that was unique and groundbreaking for its time, informing many other titles' attempts at design and aesthetics. The game's thumping techno beats and fast addictive play defined the system, creating a new set of expectations that defined the mid-90's cyberpunk feel. Countless titles tried to imitate Wipeout's edgy futurism, but none really came close to creating the same type of impact. The subsequent installment, 1996's Wipeout XL pushed the limits even further with more elaborate courses and a brilliant licensed soundtrack consisting of some of the best dance music artists around. The underrated Wipeout 3 was another solid title that was overlooked by many players, despite its solid play mechanics and understated, minimalist design. By the time Wipeout Fusion came out on the PS2, the series seemed to have become a sad shadow of its former glory, and was barely released in North America. Fortunately, the series seems to have undergone a major renaissance with its debut on the PSP. Mixing elements and tracks from the previous games, Wipeout Pure is a brilliant distillation of what's made the series so appealing over the years - and takes things much further with brilliant visuals that redefine expectations for handheld systems. As soon as you plug in the game and watch the monochromatic, understated opening cinema, you know something special is about to happen. Once you get to the menu screen, you'll find a variety of options and game modes to choose from.

Wipeout Pure offers many of the standard racing modes players have come to expect, including Single Race, Time Trial and, Tournament modes which are fairly self-explanatory. The tournaments allow you to race a succession of four races which unlock additional tracks, classes and crafts when beaten. The first few tournaments are fairly easy, but the game becomes unforgiving when you reach the upper tiers, where even small mishaps can lose the race. This is the main part of the game, but in one of the more unique twists, there's also a slick new mode called Zone, where the player races around a virtual track. There are no opponents in this mode, instead your ship gains speed constantly until you are racing at an absolutely unbelievable speed. The object in Zone is to survive as long as possible, doing so earns you medals and unlocks additional Zone tracks. Mastering the Zones is much harder than it sounds, especially as you get deeper into each zone and the pace starts to increase exponentially. These single-player modes are quite excellent, but Wipeout Pure also offers a number modes that allow you to race against a friend using the PSP's Wi-Fi connectivity. The developers are also promising new content, such as extra ships and tracks will be available for download in the future. Players can choose to race against a nearby friend or go online and challenge players on the net. While we encountered some difficulty finding a game to play, once we did, the experience was as smooth and intense as the main game itself. .

Before each race, you can choose from eight different racing crafts including many of the familiar manufacturers such as Auricom, Fesiar, AG Systems and Piranha, along with some new makers. The vehicles are rated in different areas such as acceleration and top speed. This gives each craft a unique feel on the track. Some are faster, while others take more damage, so choose the one that best fits your style. Once you're on the track, most elements should be familiar to any veteran Wipeout player. Players control and steer their craft using either the d-pad or the PSP's analog nub, which allows for some smooth, responsive control that makes playing the game an absolute joy. While the d-pad controls are a bit simpler and easier to understand, we found the analog control offered more nuance and better controls, which improved the feel when turning around tight corners. Players can also use the upper shift buttons as air-brakes, which allows you to take corners quite easily, but cause the ship to slow down noticeably. The objective in each race is to cross the finish line without being destroyed by the opposing craft. Along each track, players will find a variety of power-ups such as bombs, quakes and defensive items such as shields and autopilots. One interesting twist this time is that the energy lanes have been eliminated, instead players can choose to use any collected power-up to add to their energy levels. This is really cool and makes the gameplay much smoother, without interruption. This new system has the effect of changing the players' strategy - it also makes it easier to survive when your energy level is low, since you can add to your energy at any time. Wipeout Pure definitely has the classic feel that's been missing from the series recently, with aggressive opponent AI, brilliantly responsive ships and frenetic play.

As stated earlier, the series has long been renowned for its sleek, futuristic style and this installment doesn't disappoint. While the last few games seemed to have missed the mark aesthetically, the beautiful, cohesive design of Wipeout Pure is outstanding. The track designs are superb throughout, creating richly detailed racing environments that are absolutely breath taking in their expansive design. The game has an incredibly polished appearance throughout with an impressive level of detail that extends from the flawless ship designs to the beautifully rendered trackside objects. Wipeout Pure's extensive use of lighting effects makes the weapons look absolutely gorgeous, as do the signs and banners throughout each level, which glow in beautiful neon hues. One of the more impressive aspects of the game that truly sets it apart are its environmental effects, which include extensive lens-flare, shadows and naturalistic lighting. The game's stylish visuals are quite astonishing on the PSP's crisp, wide screen, which enhances the presentation with its superlative design. The developers have also used the console's cinematic aspect ratio to good effect, with the extended horizontal perspective allowing players a greater field of vision, making the game feel even more immersive. Another key aspect of the game is its soundtrack, which may be one of the best in the series to date. Featuring a variety of artists including Aphex Twin, Photek and Paul Hartnoll to name a few dance music luminaries, the driving beats and epic feel of these tracks fits the feel and mood of the game perfectly, creating a sleek, futuristic vibe that feeds into the game's forward looking, expansive spirit. Wipeout Pure definitely exceeds expectations for handheld titles, and definitely shows off what the PSP Is capable of. The game's look brings the series back to the forefront with a cohesive, polished look that creates a beautifully realized and immersive world.

After playing Wipeout Pure obsessively for many hours, there can be little doubt that Wipeout has definitely regained its position at the forefront of the genre it invented. From a visual standpoint, Wipeout Pure impresses with every element coming together to form a brilliantly realized game world. The smooth controls and smooth interface makes the game a joy to play, with several new addictive game modes and wi-fi play allowing for an even deeper gaming experience. The streamlined approach, frenetic racing action and addictive gameplay make Wipeout Pure one of the most impressive PSP launch titles, and a definite must-own for anyone who purchases Sony's handheld system.

Grade: A

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