Despite what other sites like to think, we revealed the news that epilepsy issues were behind WipEout HD’s delay, and that was after sitting on the story for a full 48 hours (you should see our ‘draft’ section, it’s scary) – but rest assured, now that we’ve finally got WipEout on the hard drive, screaming along at 60fps in full 1080p we can forgive the slightly tardy release and the toned-down visuals, because after all the hype and press, Studio Liverpool have pulled off an amazing feat: getting the whole World emotionally invested in something we’ve all played to death before.
We’re not suggesting for a second that WipEout HD isn’t technically brilliant: the graphics are a fantastic blend of Designers Republic clinical minimalism and the raw, gritty on-track headrush once you’re in a race. Likewise, the uber-fast loading and 5.1 remastered audio scream superb production values and lengthy single player mode offers a far greater challenge than all the rest of the PSN’s library put together – for £12 this is an absolute steal despite there only being 8 tracks.
But those tracks aren’t new. Sure, they’re rendered in impeccable detail with stunning high resolution textures and incredible lighting, but we’ve raced on them hundreds of times before on the PSP. And likewise, although the familiar teams are a staple of the series there’s only a token gesture to new craft. Weapons too, haven’t changed, and the music is the same soundtrack from the last WipEout game. Essentially, this is WipEout Pulse with a couple of tracks from Pure thrown in for balance, dressed up in HD with some motion-control for good measure.
Whether or not that matters to you is the key. If you’ve not already played the hell out of the PSP titles in the series, all this will be brand new and you’ll have a blast. Similarly, if you’ve mastered Pulse and Pure then you’ll know each and every shortcut and won’t have the initial period of learning the tracks. It’s a tough one to call, because this isn’t labelled as a remake nowadays, although it clearly started live as one and has struggled to shed its portable roots. Some may relish the chance to race on the same old tracks, but we’d have preferred at least a couple of new ones; hopefully DLC is only a few months away.
It sounds like a criticism, but we wouldn’t be balanced if we glossed over the fact that 95% of WipEout HD isn’t new. But if we take that as it stands, you’re still left with a brain-meltingly beautiful racer, one that’s polished to perfection and pushes the PS3 harder than we’ve seen any download do since launch. Everything works together, the Zone mode is still a visual treat (despite slightly dumbed-down visualisers) and the game’s online, although not functional at the time of review, promises a full raft of races and leaderboards, hopefully tapping into WipEout’s famously competitive time trials.
So, if you’re still with us, you’re still interested. So how does it play? Well, we’ll take the key sections from our earlier playtest. The single player mode returns to the hexagonal grid format, meaning that you don’t need to complete every race mode in each class to proceed, but highlighting each and every cell in gold is clearly the only way for purists to complete the game. New to HD, though, are the controls. Naturally we all fear when someone mentions Sixaxis controls (with acid-type flashbacks of Lair) but WipEout HD is probably the first PS3 game to do this properly, giving the player two distinct control modes (of course, you can also opt for the traditional stick controls too): pitch, or pitch and steering. The pitch-only option is cool, as it still requires the use of the analogs to actually steer the craft but gives you some flexibility in the air, but pitch and steering is where the hardcore will live – do this in first person mode and we’ll send you a cookie.
Photo mode is another way of showing off your spoils – the various camera options and the ability to save the photos directly to your PS3’s hard drive in full 1080p resolution is welcomed, despite a slightly clunky interface, but given the fun we had with the much more basic Pulse photo mode we’re looking forward to seeing some crazy shots from you. Pilot Assist is a great new feature, but it’s really for the newcomers and the way it pushes you back from the edges won’t be of any use at the higher speeds. Still, it’s another way of ensuring that less-able racers get the most from the game, and we can’t fault the inclusion of such an option.
If you’re excited for today’s PSN update and can’t wait to get your hands on HD then you’ve got a solidly crafted, highly playable and visually stunning upgrade of Pulse. If you’re expecting much more than that, well, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a game that surely proves that the PS3 is capable of 60fps 1080p graphics, something it does with aplomb, but there’s nothing here we haven’t already seen before. A tricky one, to be sure, and the budget price offsets the issue slightly, but we’d love to hear what you think once the download appears on the Store later today.