With ultra-fast anti-grav racing mixed with tight, crash-prone courses and sometime psychedelic visuals, Wipeout could easily have been a VR nightmare. Instead, it’s practically essential and it leaves any doubts I might have had in the dust.
It does this by dropping you directly into the cockpit of one of the anti-grav racers for the first time, rendering the pilot, the controls, the monocoque and frame of the glass canopy. You have a whole new perspective into this world, and as I looked up at the crowds of spectators, the buildings towering over the track, and raced along the twisting and turning tracks, it felt like I was seeing them anew for the first time.
Simply put, the work that’s been done to translate this to VR is remarkable and feels so natural to me, but there’s an obvious wariness about the suitability of this game for some players – thankfully the update is free and Sony are planning to release a new demo soon. The first time you load up in VR, you’re confronted with a notice about the various VR comfort settings, from different degrees of cockpit stabilising to a “peripheral mask” and dynamic field of view. Even once you think you’ve found some settings that you’re happy with, some tracks and modes come with a notice that they’re more likely than most to induce motion sickness and that they’ve altered your VR settings because of this. It’s good that they’re concerned about this, but it’s also a little off-putting that if the developers are worried about this, then it could be about to get messy.
Thankfully, despite having barely touched my VR headset this year, I felt right at home with the game and was able to turn off all of the comfort settings to get as close to anti-grav racing as possible – I’d still suggest starting off with all the assists on and dialling them back one by one. There’s a wow factor to sitting in the ship’s cockpit on the start line and looking around to take in the surroundings. As you race, the verticality and gravity defying twists, turns and ramps are fantastic. There’s a real sense that the track on certain tracks is just taking a hard 90º turn so that you’re suddenly flying up what is effectively a wall.
There’s a wealth of content in Wipeout Omega Collection, and all of it can be played in VR, from delving into the custom Racebox to the three pronged career and racing online. Some of it feels better suited to VR though, with the conceptual differences between 2048 and the HD and Fury levels. When Studio Liverpool came to define the PS Vita Wipeout, they took us back to the very start of the anti-grav racing league, designing a world that mixed modern day with Wipeout’s future minimalism. Tracks could race through parks, down wide avenues in the middle of cities, and then swoop onto more futuristic constructs and light bridges. There’s much greater width to the levels and more alternate paths to try out, and they’re a touch more forgiving and accessible for it.
By contrast, the tracks from HD and Fury, all of which stemmed from the PSP era Wipeout games, are much tighter and more clinical, representing the zenith of Wipeout design that evolved from the series’ very beginning. It’s on these tracks in particular that I feel almost unusually large, simply from the perspective you’re given and how high above the ground you float.
Finding your VR comfort sweet spot is an interesting one, not least because the initial pop ups don’t really tell you much about what the menu settings actually do. Field of View settings will dynamically and artificially close off your periphery the faster you’re travelling, but “Headset Settings – VR” is actually about whether there’s a physical feeling shroud obscuring the top and sides of the glass canopy and how big it is. Camera settings is at least much clearer, with the options deciding whether your view follows the track, the roll of the cockpit, or your avatar’s body (this allows both track and cockpit to shift within your view). Finally, if you want, you can switch to a chase camera, with overlays a permanent HUD over your view, to give you the fixed points you need.
Intriguingly, I actually found that these settings affected how well I could pilot the ship. The Camera Setting in particular seemed to let me race and intuitively turn in much better when locked to cockpit than to pilot, while I personally found the lock to track feeling a bit artificial. In either of these options, I’d still do what I’ve learnt to through the course of other VR racing games and peer into corners to try and follow the track and where my ship is heading, it’s just that I’m also having to look up a hell of a lot more because of the rollercoaster track design!
As a whole, the game looks fantastic in VR thanks to the comprehensive work done for the remaster, but it does exhibit some of the weaknesses of the PlayStation VR headset and current VR in general. Racing games in particular have you focussing at a point in the distance, and it’s here that VR suffers with the resolution per eye. It’s something that I’ve become accustomed to in the last eighteen months, but I find the absolute minimalism of Zone mode exacerbates the issue. It replaces all the world textures with flat colours and gradients as you test your reflexes and race ever faster around a circuit, but while the clean lines and bands of colour look great up close, the aliasing and jagged edges mar the view as you approach each and every corner. It’s nothing that the game can really do about, but shows just how far VR still has to go – early reviews of the HTC Vive Pro with its higher resolution still complain about this kind of thing.
Given the limitations of PSVR and VR in general, Wipeout almost has no right to work as well as it does, and yet it exceeded all my expectations. Not only does it just show just how flexible VR – as if games like Skyrim VR, Doom VFR and Farpoint hadn’t already done that – it’s almost effortlessly one of the best VR experiences going, taking a game that many people will know inside and out and giving you a truly new perspective. This is the kind of game and experience that people think of when dreaming of what VR could mean for gaming.