The Wipeout series of video games (nothing in common with the Wipeout TV series!) has always been one of the games for Sony consoles that show off what insane graphical power the machine is capable of, and the PS Vita is, to use the hackneyed term, “no different” with its release title, Wipeout 2048. The question is: is this version of Wipeout any good and worth playing? Let’s find out.
The Wipeout series dates back to the first Playstation console with the first release of the game in 1995 by developers Psygnosis. The game was an instant hit, and a big part of the attraction was the electronica-style music soundtrack. Sony’s marketing team pushed the game at the club-going pack, and they lapped it up like kittens to dairy. The following year, Psygnosis outdid themselves with the release of Wipeout 2097, and the soundtrack, which featured the likes of The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers, was even more of a hit than the first game. After the first few games, Sony realized that it was onto something good here, and bought out Psygnosis. The company underwent some changes—including a change of name to Studio Liverpool. Seven iterations of Wipeout later, most for Sony consoles, and one for the N64, and we arrive at the latest game, Wipeout 2048.
In terms of fictional chronology, Wipeout 2048 is a prequel to all the others, and the plot is that anti-gravity racing is a new sport, so dedicated tracks hadn’t been built yet. Instead, racing happens within blocked-off roads in major cities. The core idea of the game is still the same, though: barrel along the track at near-suicidal speeds in an anti-gravity car, and hope you get first place without breaking your nictitating membranes. Along the way, use your weapons and so-called “speed pads” to help you along. Can’t get much simpler than that!
The thing that I like so much about Wipeout 2048 is that it’s a game that’s not ashamed to say “Hey! Check out the power in THIS little console!”, and it shows off the power of the PS Vita remarkably well. In buckets. Large ones. The scenery is so eye-meltingly glorious that if your eyes had teeth, you’d get cavities just by watching this game. You’d need more than just toothpaste [Ed: Eyepaste?] to help you. And while you’re at it, you might as well pick your jaw up off the floor. I’m not usually a fan of inserting video clips into reviews, but if you haven’t seen what the Vita is capable of with Wipeout 2048, you had better watch this video, and watch it with the understanding that it looks better on the PS Vita than it does on YouTube.
Wiped away the drool yet? Right, let’s continue this review.
If you’ve ever played a Wipeout game in your life, then 2048 is like that. You race around insane tracks at a break-necking pace and attempt to do what you do in every race game:
try to take over the world! come first. Wipeout is a little different from most racers in that you also have access to weapons that you can either use to disable the opposition, or absorb to bolster your car’s shields. There’s also a slightly strategic element to the game, because the tracks also contain quantities of “speed pads”, areas of the track that give you a very short, very temporary boost. Using these speed pads is often the key to winning a race. Pity it’s not that easy. Anyone familiar with Wipeout will know that it takes some measure of practise to get to know where all the speed pads are, and in hitting them all, win the races.
So, how does the game play? Surprisingly, not much is lost in translation from a big screen version of Wipeout to the smaller screen. I’d not had the pleasure of playing any of the PSP versions of the game, so I really can’t compare small-screen versions. I have failed you as a competent reviewer, but I’ll soldier on, regardless. KBO, as the great Mr Churchill was fond of saying. Wipeout 2048 is still more than just decently fast, and at 30fps on a handheld console, it’s nothing to sneeze at (unless you’re spoiled by the 60fps from Wipeout HD/Wipeout Fury on the PS3). The same mechanics are all in play here. Speed pads: check. Weapon pads: check. Zone mode (introduced in Wipeout Fusion for the PSOne): check. Gorgeous visuals: check. Music aimed at the popular, club-going set: check.
On the topic of music, I hope you like your steps all dubby and your music all wobby, because you’re going to be listening to a lot of that in this game. Wipeout musical old-guards Prodigy and Chemical Brothers make a return here, but newer artists to the series such as Deadmau5 and DJ Fresh make an appearance in this game, for a total of 14 tracks by enough artists and DJs to fill over a dozen clubs. At once. Personally, I found the music forgettable, but then I don’t think I’m the kind of person the music is aimed at.
Studio Liverpool give you a number of control methods in 2048, including some esoteric methods of control that use the Vita’s enhanced features. Want to use the rear touchpad to accelerate? OK! How about using the console’s gyroscopes to steer? No problem! Feel like you don’t want to bother pressing buttons to fire your weapons? Certainly! How about yelling at the Vita to fire weapons instead? Don’t like fiddling with shoulder buttons to operate the air-brakes? Well, how about mapping it to a single button, instead? In fact, the sheer volume of controls can leave you somewhat bewildered if you’ve not played a Wipeout game before. The best I can suggest is to try them all and see which ones work for you.
Wipeout 2048’s multiplayer campaign is integrated with the game in an interesting way: all you need to do to launch the multiplayer game is tap the “Multiplayer” icon at the bottom of screen. The multiplayer game is laid out as a campaign that you work through. Each level has a criterion that you need to work toward for that course, for example, place in the top three. The bar is usually set low enough that most players will qualify. In a multiplayer race, the game will prompt you for a photo that will be sent to the other players. If you’re the variety of person who plays console games while in a…questionable state of clothedness, I suggest you decline the offer. Playing online is a fairly straightfoward affair, and a lot more fun than playing against the AI: winning against an AI is meaningless, but knowing that you’ve ruined someone’s day by beating them in a race? Not even being dressed in a banana-suit and savaged by a horde of blind chimps can dampen that feeling. Not that I’ve tried the chimp thing. But I hear it’s fun. If your idea of fun also involves regularly falling off cliff faces.
On the down side, Wipeout 2048 has some ridiculously slow load times. I was hoping that the power of the console coupled with the fact that the game ships on a memory card (or sits on the internal memory as a download) would eliminate these crazy load times, but you’re waiting almost half a minute between races. And as anyone who’s watched a large download go by can tell you, the last 10% is akin to having your tongue pulled out through the balls of your feet. The other problem I had with the game is that, although the buttons exist for ad-hoc play and Crossplay with a PS3, I could never figure out how to do it. No clear instructions exist about how to configure this, and judging by the number of forums I frequented looking for instructions, I wasn’t the only confused party. Some clear, easy-to-understand instructions for a feature you’re touting, please, Sony? Ta.
I don’t have much to complain about with Wipeout 2048. It’s the game I pull out whenever people want me to show off what the Vita is capable of, and it never fails to impress. Amongst all that, the racing itself is solid, although novice players will be faced with a slight difficulty curve because of the sheer speed of it. Wipeout has always been a game that takes some dedication to master, but when you’ve figured out how to manoeuvre your vehicle around at the speeds required of you, you’ll find a rich, rewarding experience. With the Vita’s ability to take the game online anywhere you go (3G version needed, of course, otherwise you’re stuck to playing in WiFi hotspots only), it’s definitely got that “pick-up-and-play” feature needed of a portable console game. If you’re not a Wipeout fan, you might find 2048 even less your thing, in which case I’d wait for Lord Prawn’s review of Modnation Racers for (probably) a more sedate pace of racing. If you’re a fan of insane speeds, though, and feel you have the guts and determination to handle this game, then I think you’ll find yourself in for a wonderful, portable treat.
Final score: 7.5 eye-blisteringly fast prawns out of 10
Developer: Studio Liverpool
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita
Age Rating: 7