Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: WipEout Pure

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

WipEout Pure

The original WipEout and it's follow-up, WipEout 2097 (aka WipEoutXL) were instrumental in establishing the public's perception of Sony's Playstation as a new breed of games console. The intoxicating blend of futuristic techno-industrial design, hypnotic visuals, incredible speed and killer soundtracks from the cream of the UK's early nineties electronica scene encapsulated the feel of the burgeoning electronic culture that the Sega generation had grown up into. WipEout was a real cultural landmark.

The WipEout franchise has certainly lost much of it's cultural significance over time, and it's widely acknowledged that the last outing, 2002's WipEout Fusion, did not live up to expectations. The fact that Sony didn't even bother to publish it in the US (it was eventually picked up by budget publisher Bam! Entertainment) seemed to signal the death of the series.

Nevertheless, here we are in 2005 and Sony are once again releasing a WipEout game alongside their new console. Fortunately for Sony, WipEout Pure on PSP marks a return to form. WipEout 2097 is popularly regarded as the peak of the series, and the fact that Pure is set in 2197 is significant of Studio Liverpool's desire to bring the game back to its roots. For the most part, they succeed.

Pure certainly looks the business. The intro, menu systems and in-game graphics are all beautifully polished and very reminiscent of the WipEout of old. The overall design takes a more stark stripped-back approach than that acheived by tDR (the Designer's Republic), and successfully plants the old WipEout look within a contemporary future style (if that makes any sense whatsoever).

The in-game graphics are beautiful, featuring lushly detailed craft and courses, liberally sprinkled with impressive lighting and particle effects. The environments can be truly breathtaking at times, such as the Sol 2 course that weaves through the sky high among the clouds. It's the best looking WipEout yet, but the beauty comes at a cost. In racing games based around outlandish speed, the framerate is everything. Sega and Nintendo's comparable uber-fast hover-racing game F-Zero GX springs to mind here. In my experience, it's framerate was always an absolutely rock-solid 60fps even when there were twenty other competitors on screen. Perhaps I've also been spoilt by Ridge Racer on PSP whose silky framerate never faltered. I'm sorry to say that WipEout Pure suffers in this regard, never seeming quite as fluid as Ridge. It's framerate can drop significantly when there's a lot of action on screen, and it's at those exact moments (like when you're flying through an explosion into a corner in between other craft) that you need every frame your eyes can soak up. It doesn't cripple the game by any means, but it's a disappointment nonetheless. WipEout Pure is being hailed as the best looking game on PSP so far, and I don't disagree, but I would have happily sacrificed some background poly-count for a locked 60fps framerate.

The all-important soundtrack line-up fits the bill. Artists include Tiësto, Freq Nasty, Aphex Twin, Röyksopp, and some returning WipEout veterans like Photek and Cold Storage. On the whole, the soundtrack stays true to the feel of the earlier WipEouts (particularly Photek's brilliant "C-Note"), but it just doesn't have the same resonance it once did. The BGM is exactly that - background music; lacking the pounding stand-out tracks that were the signature of the first two games.

Pure offers competitive racing in Single Races and Tournaments. The craft tuning options of Fusion are gone and the game is better for it. The AI is solid and the varied range of weaponry on offer is effective without feeling cheap. There are no more pit lanes. Instead, Pure now gives you the opportunity to either use or absorb any pick-ups to restore a little shield energy. This really improves the gameplay dynamic, so you never feel like you're trying to complete a lap by limping carefully back to the pit lane. The focus stays squarely on speed and rivalry.

I don't want to sound overly critical, but I have to say as a portable console game, Pure could have handled tournament progress better. Despite the fact that your profile is auto-saved at the conclusion of each race, if you shut down the PSP mid-tournament, your tournament progress is not saved. Namco's Ridge Racers on PSP handled this perfectly. I can't imagine why Studio Liverpool didn't take the time to implement the same system in Pure. There's always sleep mode of course, but using sleep mode to maintain tournament progress means you can't listen to MP3s or do anything else with your PSP until you complete the tournament.

Time Trial modes are also available of course, as well as the reworked version of Fusion's Zone mode. Zone mode is WipEout at it's purest. No competitors, no pick-ups, just you and the track going faster and faster until you explode. The zen-like Zone experience is made even purer by taking place on dedicated highly stylized tracks. The real-world scenery of the racing courses is cast aside in favour of ultra-slick minimalist futurism. Thankfully the framerate is much more solid in Zone, as there's much less going on.

In terms of unlockables, Pure is probably the deepest WipEout yet, with extra classes, courses and even a gallery of artwork to unlock, and Studio Liverpool are promising a variety of extra content over the coming months via the (now notorious) download function. If you didn't already have a reason to buy a bigger Memory Stick Duo, this is it. Extra courses are expected to eat up 8MBs of stick space each. Other impressive features include the ability to broadcast and share your records tables wirelessly, and the ability to choose skins to alter the look of the menu system. Despite the ground-breaking interent downloads, Pure's multiplayer is supported in "Ad Hoc" mode only (ie. local multiplayer, not true online).

WipEout Pure reveals it's true nature over time. Your first few races in Vector class will seem painfully slow, but it won't be long before you start cursing your mere mortal reflexes in Rapier class. Right now the gaming press is awash with reviews hailing WipEout Pure as the second coming, and in one sense, it is. Pure has given the WipEout franchise a second lease on life. It's an extremely good game that makes up for the failings of Fusion and delivers what fans of the series have been waiting for. Just try to keep your expectations in check. The new WipEout may be Pure, but it ain't perfect.



Blogger misterdna said...

Thanks - this is a great review and a very interesting read. Also a nice history of the Wipeout series... save for one thing.

WipEout64 I can understand not mentioning because it is nearly identical to 2097/XL (save for 4-person onscreen play and extremely fluid controls), but...

no mention of WIPEOUT3?

It was a great successor to WipEout2097/XL, featured tDR in top-form, and really elevated the series. I'm very surprised to find no mention of it here.

5:09 am  
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