WipEout Pulse

Preview: Improved, expanded and now online

It's great when a developer takes a step back to criticise its own product, then works to improve it in every way, does everything it can to push the series forward while taking care not to break a winning formula.

That's exactly what Sony's Studio Liverpool has done with WipEout Pulse - the core gameplay has undergone minor tweaks but retains its core essence, while improved game progression, AI and a whole list of other features have been added to make this is the most complete WipEout (curse that 'E') game ever.

That said, if you're a fan of the series you'll jump straight into Pulse and start clocking in some blistering lap times. And we mean blistering because you'll be able to select any of the speed classes right from the beginning of the game, instead of having to trawl through slower modes.

It's a simple change, we know, but we mention it because it's a minor tweak that does heaps to improve you experience with the game, and that sets the tone for what Pulse is all about.

Improved AI is another one of those minor changes that makes all the difference. Sony took a look at the previous games and noted wisely that while you share the course with seven other ships, they were so spaced out it never felt like real race.

So now, all the racers will bundle in much tighter together and it's better because rather than playing a game of catch-up, you'll find yourself in a constant battle with at least two other ships.

Now consider the carnage that brings - with the new tightly-packed ships in your sights, you'll always have someone to shoot your weapons at and in turn, you'll be constantly dodging the fire of other ships.

A more significant tweak made to the single-player career is the way you progress through it - instead of consisting entirely of basic races in a pre-set order (and forcing you to repeat them in faster ship classes), the races are set out in grids, with a single event on each grid spot. Notice we said 'event' - this time the main career incorporates all the game modes like time attacks, hotlaps and races.

This mixes things up nicely, and as you unlock the grids you can tackle events in varying orders, which is cool. And if that's not good enough, a new Race Box mode lets you make your own campaign, setting events in your own preferred order which you can then send to mates to tackle.

The race courses themselves feature plenty of variety, too. There are 12 environments, each one allowing you to race in normal and reversed modes, and we must say that the futuristic scenery and soft lighting in this game looks absolutely stunning on the PSP screen. We wish all PSP games looked this good.

These new courses throw you in around in ways no previous WipEout game could thanks to new the new Mag Strips - panels of magnetic track that keep the ships glued firmly to the course during extreme turns, loops and cambers. That allows courses to spin you upside down and feature steep corners that rotate to a vertical angle, and the ships won't fall off the course.

All the usual weapons are in there, so our favourites - the homing missile, the course-rippling Quake Disruptor, and triple rockets - all make a welcome return. The final game will also boast four new weapons: the Cannon, Leach beam, the Shuriken and the Repulsar, the first two being powerful energy-draining weapons that can be used in any mode of the game, and the latter two being exclusive to the new Eliminator mode.

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