Concrete. Grass. Spectators. This is New York, barely a few decades away, its skyscrapers encircled by floating neon and makeshift paths through the city, the juxtaposition jarring and yet somehow rather beautiful. The crafts, too, technology barely evolved from present-day Formula 1 save for the anti-gravity propulsion that contributes to the whirring hums and muffled screams of the fledgling, embryonic engines.
WipEout 2048 might very well be future, but it’s hardly distant. Instead, think reality, tweaked: wing mounted cannons spew out empty shells like the mini gun in Predator; lap markers pepper a traffic-less Times Square and sponsors place tentative hoardings around tracks that only begin to indicate what lies ahead in other WipEout games. As the introductory movie explains, this is purely racing as we know it, but evolved.
The sublime WipEout handling is retained, and feels fine even with the Vita's digital pad.
But the sound. Oh, the sound. Through headphones 2048 has the ability to force a ridiculous grin – turn it up and the bastardisation of Star Wars’ pod racers and modern-day 800bhp open wheelers is an absolute delight; through a decent amplifier it’s astounding. Coupled with some choice music selections (the soundtrack is perfectly pitched) and the game creates a wonderful atmosphere, aurally superior to anything else on the system.
Visually, too, it’s quite something. It might only be running at half the frame rate of HD (and, by extension, Fury) but it’s pushing rich, believable graphics that hold solid even under the close proximity of the photo mode. When the screen is full of weapon trails and on the higher speeds it’s never quite smooth enough, but it’s impossible to deny that, even at this stage in the Vita’s life, the machine will be capable of some breathtaking graphics.
Hyperbole? Perhaps, but we’ve heard much the same from everyone that’s witnessed the game in motion. Everything, from the nicely designed menu screens and mission selector to the intricate decal detail on the ships had received much love, and the returning (and still sublime in its mechanics) Zone mode pushes everything to the max, with pulsating bars and colour cycling track details really pulling the player in.
Breaking the spell, though, are some lengthy load times (around 50 seconds per course) and a wilfully awkward difficulty curve that pitches some bizarre curveballs the further you delve into the campaign. Spanning three consecutive years (and thus ending in 2050) the single player mode presents some interesting modes, but frequently gets the requirements for a medal wrong (and Elite medals become ever more elusive).
It’s all possible, of course, but hardly for the weak. Even a generous pilot assist (with two levels) can’t hide the fact that the Combat mode is frustratingly unpredictable (and somewhat at odds with the otherwise race-based events) and some courses force rote memory retention rather than reactions. The air brakes work fine – once you change the default control scheme – but the highest speed events really do punish you.
But then that’s WipEout, a series that’s never been shy at being brutally tough, and, indeed, fail to meet the standards asked and you’ll be offered the chance to skip a level, your head hanging in shame but at least the campaign opens up before you. Likewise, beating an event will mark an event in green, but only by ‘Eliting’ it will it turn to gold – a compelling enough reason to spend weeks with the game, then.
The game is gorgeous, and definitely up there with Uncharted as the best examples of visuals the Vita can offer.
But more than the sum of its parts, WipEout 2048 is a deliciously addictive game. By the time you’re half way through you’ll be hooked, and then once you’re done with the campaign the map offers up time trials (with leader boards) and some hidden events that unlock Prototype ships which are well worth seeking out. Everything your friends do will be fed back to you too, which will keep you logged in more than you might think.
There’s subtlety in the ship selection, too – each brand has three main types including a race-specific one, a combat-based one with less speed and more destructive power and an agility one that meets you half way – and finding your favourites is part of the fun, especially as some are limited in terms of weaponry (and, as you’ll discover, some events limit your choices as well).
And then, just when you think you’ve seen everything the game has to offer and the end is in sight, 2048 throws up Sol, single handedly the best thing about the game and one that’ll make you smile from ear to ear, its soaring yet physically unfinished track design only equalled by a dizzying cityscape far below. There are other hints as to courses in other games, but none so obvious and yet as brilliantly devised as this one.
- Amazing visuals.
- The best sound design on the system.
- Lengthy loading times.
- Some iffy track design at higher speeds.
- Uneven difficulty curve.
WipEout’s lovely. Yes, the loading times are a problem (but hopefully due to be fixed a little with a patch) and some of the track design needed smoothing out a touch, but overall it stands as a showcase for a new console that’s only matched by the likes of Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Do everyone a favour and make sure this is part of your day one bundle, if you’re a fan of the series then this is absolutely fantastic stuff.