Technology rumbles on. Nowhere is this more emphasised than in WipEout 2048’s glorious intro video, which charts a piecemeal history of the Feisar brand; from 60’s racing cars so real Stirling Moss himself might have just missed out on them through to modern day Formula One vehicles, near future hybrid machines and – finally – ships more closely resembling the WipEout rides we’re used to.
It’s a smart, knowing slice of video. Racer competition gets tougher, the vehicles faster, and, ultimately, wheels morph into anti-grav jets with a clunk and a whirr that begs to be listened to via a decent set of headphones. Indeed, playing the game itself through the Vita’s tiny speakers, with its distinctive buzz and whine, is something of an injustice. I’ve never before had a constant grin on my face just from a game’s audio design.[drop2]2048, then, is WipEout’s first venture, the first races. The setting, New York, resembles the Big Apple enough that major landmarks are instantly recognisable (and in the case of the Empire State Building, raceable) and yet simultaneously provides a skeletal framework for bolted on sections of track and spectator-filled grandstands.
You’ll race through Times Square, for example, but you’ll do so under a Blade Runner-esque neon glow.
The setting works brilliantly, never before has the WipEout series felt so grounded, so real. The trademark elements seen in older (but chronologically later) games are found here and there over 2048’s three year career mode – huge air-filled characters, giant advertising screens – but they’re far less obvious, showing perhaps a sport’s struggle to find sponsorship during it’s début outings.
Visually the game is just as powerful as it is aurally. Much improved from an already impressive E3 showing, 2048 is now sharp, smooth and lacking any sort of compromise apart from the game dimming to 80% brightness as the countdown ticks over to Go! (like some other Vita titles, WipEout’s on what developers are calling a ‘Power Budget’) – this is a stunning, often breathtaking example of what Vita can do.
The controls are near-perfection, too. The analog stick provides precise adjustments but the d-pad, if you’re used to the tap-tap-tap digital steering from earlier games, works brilliantly. The default settings offer just a single airbrake and a simpler set-up, but switching back to ‘WipEout’ mode will instantly satisfy the hardcore. With airbrakes on the triggers, throttle on Cross and weapons on Square, all is well.[drop]But above all this is a game that just oozes masses of content.
From the stark, crisp splash screen with chunky square buttons through to the pinch-and-scroll campaign map (which offers plenty of non-linearity) and pop-up sub-menus (where you can change your craft, check your friend’s times and move between modes) everything is designed to ensure players feel comfortable within the WipEout system.
Each element of the single player grid can be any one of a number of modes, and these can be distilled further: races start off without weapons, for example, but the game now splits offensive and defensive items, and either or both can be on or off. There’s time trials, battles and the wonderful Zone mode too, the latter of which offers some of the best graphics I’ve seen on any platform for months. Running Zone at A+ speed is a mesmerising delight.
Negatives? The load times are lengthy, the Time Trial modes don’t offer a ‘best time’ ghost which makes perfecting your run trickier than necessary and you’re never told what you need to get for the ‘Elite Pass’ until you’ve tried a level and got the regular ‘Pass’, which can mean jumping back to the menus and then re-loading. Hopefully these niggles can be patched out, though.
In short, WipEout 2048 is fabulous. It’s been my go-to game for the last few days (nudging the brilliant Uncharted out of the way) and all this is without the multiplayer portion being activated yet. I’ve shown the game to a few people, and all have either added it to their pre-order list, or thought seriously about grabbing themselves a Vita – that’s how good this game looks, sounds and feels.